19 April 2009

Food in 2 Parts.

PART 1 – The Justification, Followed by the Weird.

Go ahead. Roll your eyes, shake your head, whatever you want. The truth of the matter is that I very easily get sick of Asian food. I cannot help it – I get to a point where rice looks up at me from its bowl and it's like “Yeah. I know you're not gonna eat me. I know you're gonna nibble on that tofu and eat some of those weird mushrooms and just completely ignore me, and still feel totally hungry and stop and buy a Mars bar on your way home. We're cool, though. Bitch.”

Do not get me wrong. Vietnamese, Lao, Thai – all beautiful foods. I have had some amazing meals, some of the best of my life, in Asia. Most have been expertly prepared local food, some have been street foods and some have been at chef driven fusion restaurants. BEAUTIFUL, ancient traditions, delicate flavors, bold spices, wonderful street food....but in the way that I can't eat pasta everyday, no matter how much I love IT, I just can't eat stir fried vegetables and fish everyday. Perhaps if I ate meat things would be a lot easier – there would be wayyyy more choice and variety. But even then, my brain – not my stomach - really doesn't feel full unless I have had bread, cheese or potatoes. Preferably all 3. I cannot feel ashamed about this any longer. I eat a wide variety of foods at home, Lebanese one day, Japanese the next, Westcoast Fusion, Jamaican, Italian, Greek, Indian, French.... not to mention simple home cooked meals ( I throw together pretty salads and sear tofu and Ta-da! Sean spends all day in the kitchen and creates culinary masterpieces.) If I tried to eat Ukrainian food everyday, no matter how much I love it, I would die of boredom (and a coronary) so I sure as hell cannot eat rice 3 times a day. I just can't.

If I was only traveling for 3 weeks I would feel really guilty about eating a pizza. It is really important to eat authentic foods in order to experience a culture, otherwise you end up a gawking tourist and not a real traveler. But, for an entire year – I'll eat some mashed potatoes and some tacos if I want to.

I try to have this rule: When I want Western food, I do not go to a restaurant unless it is the only thing on the menu. So, for example, if the menu is the size of a phonebook, there are only backpackers around and they serve Asian/Pizza/Continental/Ge
rman/Mexican – DO NOT eat there. If the restaurant proposes to be an Italian eatery with a cute name like “Little Hanoi” with a whole checked table cloth and candles-in-wine-bottles-vibe but half of their menu is spring rolls and fried rice – DO NOT eat there. If you go to a Tex Mex diner and they do not have sour cream or guacamole – DO NOT eat there.

Let's be clear – I do not expect every small town and village in SE Asia to have a fully stocked Western kitchen and miraculous pasta making skills. But, then again – if you do not know how to prepare, or do not have the correct ingredients - why have the dishes on your menu? (Because backpackers suck and will eat anything.) It is a strange concept to me to offer things that you yourself have never eaten and therefore have no idea how they are supposed to come out. I would make a terrible congee (savoury rice porridge) because I have never even eaten congee, and it is this reason why I would not open a restaurant in Vancouver and serve Vietnamese food.... But so so often in Asia you order something that sounds delicious and it arrives and it is the culinary equivalent of Engrish. Close, and you can kind of make out what it is supposed to be, but still fundamentally and often humourously wrong. It is less humourous when you realize that you now have to eat the 'matter' placed in front of you.

I'll give you a few examples of horrifying food I have been served (most of them were in India, but the same goes here in SE Asia):

*Veg cannelloni – Chinese dim sum dumplings stuffed with cabbage and ginger, covered in melted processed cheese and creamo. Oh, and the sauce was sweet. The manager was genuinely shocked and horrified that I left it untouched. I did not tell him that it was the single most disgusting food item I had ever been served. I told him I was sick. I kind of was.

*Sundae – I got in a verbal fight, an epic war of words with a snobby, frustrated bellboy in a Madurai hotel, each of us insisting that our version of an ice cream sundae was the correct one. It sure the hell was NOT, I assured him, dried fruit and Jello kind of smooshed over strawberry ice cream. He told me, with his nose in the air, that what I was describing (chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream) was called a tutti frutti. “No it's not.” I said. “Yes it is” He said. This went on until I finally dropped the ultimate in spoiled Westerner-speak. “Listen, I'm from where ice cream sundaes are from, and so I know what an ice cream sundae is and you don't!” He slunk away, and returned 10 minutes later with one scoop of the strawberry removed and a scoop of chocolate ice cream in its place. Fucker.

*Veg Shish Kabob – Should be veggies grill on stick, right? Maybe tandoori paneer? Instead was pieces spring roll cut up and serve to Sean on skewer? Does that make party food? Maybe it should be call “Exciting Spring Roll!” instead? Super cool taste - wow!
This Engrish and the spring roll itself made less sense because WE WERE IN INDIA.

*Poached Eggs – These arrived browned on one side and with chalky, hard yolks. I called the waiter over – this was my first attempt to “send something back” in India and a good example of what happens when you try. “Um, these are browned? These are not poached eggs?” The waiter looked at me blankly. “Yah, poach eggs.” “No, ummm, see, my friend had poached eggs 20 minutes ago even though we ordered them at the same time, and they were nothing like this. These are browned. No thank you.” Blank stare. He repeated. “Poach eggs.” I was undaunted - I wish that 'current me' could go back and give 'Varanasi me' some advice. “I won't have these. I'll just have scrambled instead, thanks.” Twenty minutes later he set a steaming hot, microwaved plate of my same browned, poached eggs now cut into tiny cubes. “Scramble eggs.”

*Breakfast in general – the eggs are cooked Asian style, sizzled and browned in an inch of hot oil, so the edges bubble up and are filled with grease. Omelets or fried eggs – both are dark brown and smell like that yucky burnt egg smell. Imagine the shreddy bits of egg in fried rice – now imagine a bowl of just that egg and it is called scrambled eggs and it is served to you with some microwaved white bread. I have nearly cried a few times.

*Cheese – 99% of the time it is processed. Yeah. Deal with that.

In conclusion, it is always better to eat the local food. It is always fresher, tastier and a better experience, not to mention a lot cheaper. But on those days you need a pizza, well. Godspeed and good luck.

Food Porn – Or, The Things the Glutton Will Eat When She Gets Home.

Some people miss their normal clothes. Some miss their comfy beds and their pets. Some miss their neighbourhoods and friends and families. And while of course, I miss that stuff – this is more important to me. It always will be. Sorry guys.

1)Nachos from Foundation: Oh, the sheer amount of cheese. The slightly sweet salsa. The humongous bowls of sour cream and guacamole. Little bits of yummy corn, extra jalapeños, black beans. The surly, navel gazing wait staff. And all that cheese. Cheeeeeese.

2)Eggs Benedict: This is really important. I need this. Commando Benny from Cafe Barney. Asparagus, Brie cheese and tomatoes on an English muffin with extra hollandaise sauce and Barney's amazing hot sauce....sigh. And so, so many hashbrowns. I also need to go to the Reef – theirs is different good, but with lots of Jamaican hot sauce it is mouth searingly divine.

3)Vera's Veggie Burger: I want that fucker smothered in fried mushrooms, onions and cheese, with a healthy amount of Vera's sauce doused on there. It has the proper consistency, and it really tastes like a beef burger without that soyish aftertaste of most veggie burgers. I miss mayo.

4)POUTINE: The jumbo sized one from Fritz on Davie that Xstina and I used to share after the bar, the thermos sized one. (With veggie gravy, of course...) I will dip that shit in Mango Chutney Mayo and probably have a bliss (ie: heart) attack and die right there in front of the bald headed “Onnnnnnnne Mediuuuuuum Poutiiiiiiiiine” guy. I also really like the poutine from the courageous naked fry lady at Wreck, but I think I'll be arriving home in the Fall or Winter, so it'll be a while before I can make Willie buy me one of those.

5)Sushi: 3 times. Once from Miko on Robson for spicy agedashi tofu, extra shitake. Once from Sushiyama for the Crunch Roll (tempura yam and shrimp with Philley cream cheese!) And once, maybe twice, from The Eatery (I will put up with the strange hybrid Kits/Hipster waitresses) for ....FAT ELVIS (tempura battered avocado, deep fried and covered in spicy unagi mayo.) Sushi is like a dear friend to me. I so sad without her.

6)Burgoo: This restaurant is heavily featured in Sean and my conversations about Vancouver food. I NEED 2 things. The gooey grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, and the homemade macaroni and cheese served in a French onion soup bowl and bubbling over with so much Gruyère and cheddar. I like to pick the browned cheese off of the side when I am all done. Why do you think I was puffy, fat and the pasty colour of Brie cheese when we left home? Burgoo. And....

7)Beer: Anything that is not a light Pilsner. No more Beer Lao, Kingfisher, Chang or Tiger. Give me a honey lager. A Hefeweisen. A Rickard's Red, hell, even a Rickard White. A Trad. A Granville Island anything. A Sleemans. Please?

8)Vegetarian Cannelloni or Lasagna: No, the experience above did not sour me permanently. I want to go to Marcello's on the Drive and cover my piping hot melty dish in hot pepper flakes, salt, pepper and extra Parmesan and forgo my fork, just dip focaccia bread in there and use it to scoop up all of the pasta-y spinach-y goodness.

9)Falafel: I'll go to Nuba, that tiny hole in the wall at Seymour and Davie, and eat the deep fried cauliflower, hummus and falafel pita wrap while I walk around downtown in a tube top and not get stared at, even though I have breasts, white skin and HUGE tattoos. But I mostly wanna eat that wrap. With extra turnip pickle.

10)Granville Island: With my debit card ready to go, I'm gonna buy all this stuff and arrange it on a plate and then make little combo bites and eat the hell out of all of it. Bocconcini, fresh basil, sundried tomatoes in oil, fava beans in tomato sauce, sharp cheese, hummus, roasted red peppers, olive oil, fancy sea salt, focaccia bread, dolmades, garlic shrimp salad, roasted asparagus and garlic (OK, I will roast that myself...I'm not that lazy,) washed down with a bottle of Pinot Noir and finished with every kind of fresh berry that they have.

I figure this will take me a good week. Who wants to join me? Even if you haven't been away, it should be really fun.....I have 6-8 more months, so I'm sure I'll think of more...anything YOU wanna add?

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