In Defense of Street Food

You find yourself roaming the streets of some south eastern Asian country when something so mouth wateringly enticing hits your nose. You follow the smell to a street stand manned by a sweaty 60 year old woman, with two missing teeth and a huge mole under the bottom of her left eye. Her face is wrinkled and her hands are worn. Then she chops the head off of a chicken, right there in full view of the masses who continue to walk by, with a cleaver bigger than your head. Next to her are three huge pans kept over a low heat where her son is shoveling ladles of meat and vegetables over rice and handing it to a hungry customer, who then pays the old lady who hasn’t even washed her hands from the previous massacre. She continues chopping away and the son wipes away sweat from his brow, ladling food to another plate. This street stand is obviously not health code enforced. You go off looking for something a little more civilized to your liking.

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Now add some children squatting in broken flip flops next to her and you have the Philippines. 

Street vendors is where you go to truly capture the soul of a country. The food made by these people have no tricks or flairs, just the same recipe with the same ingredients they have been using for years because it works. They do not care about michelin stars, they care about making enough money for the next day. The recipes they use are the same recipes their mother or father taught them when they were young. The ingredients come from their friends who work the fields. Shoot, their stand may have been passed on from generation to another. You want to fully enjoy the culture of the country you’re visiting? Eat at a street food vendor. Don’t try to ask them their life stories, you’re not on the Travel Channel, and pay them. They have other customers to attend to than some post grad college student trying to find sage advice from a wrinkled old Asian man.

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“Yes the secret to happiness is right in front of you. Buy 1 plate get 1 half off.”

Yes there is the huge risk of getting food poisoning from eating street food and one must always be wary of it but here’s my secret. You don’t just choose a random street vendor. You don’t go to the brightest or gaudiest cart in the market. You go to the one where there is a line that is constantly there during the dinner rush. A street vendor selling shitty food, like any place here in the US, will not long last. Avoid going during the slow periods of the day and for all things that are holy in this world, do not modify their plates. Eat it the way it comes and enjoy it the way the vendor meant for it to be eaten. Oh and do not take a photo of your food right there in the line. Enjoy the moment, enjoy the experience of eating the food of the people around you and become one with the crowd. It is just you and the plate in front of you and if you want seconds, go for it. Oh and avoid any kind of oyster specials unless you like playing russian roulette with your food.

“I’ve long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime ‘associates,’ food, for me, has always been an adventure” – Anthony Bourdain

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Sommelier In Training

750 ml. Aged for 18 months in small oak barrels with aromas of red plum, black cherry, and soft spice. I just described the Franciscan Estate Napa Valley Merlot 2012. I need to know how this wine tastes and smells compared to the other thousands of wines that this world has to offer. I need to know how bold the tannins are, the texture of the wine against the tongue, what foods I should pair it with, the grape used, the history of the region it is from, and many other factoids in order to sell this bottle, among many others, to thirsty guests whose bank account can probably pay for my college loans. I thought I was done with studying and schools when I graduated college, but here I am again learning about the different varieties of wine. It’s a daunting task, one where the tests are one of the hardest exams around. There are a total of 230 Master Sommeliers in the world sine the first exam was administered. Fortunately, I am not testing to become a Master Sommelier, rather a Level I then eventually a Level II Sommelier. However the Level II exam has a pass rate of 60% which isn’t too bad compared to some of the exams I had to take when I was in college (looking at you Adv. Topics in Neuroscience).

If someone had told me that I would be studying to not only become a hotelier but also a sommelier, I would have slapped them in the face. I was a budding anthropologist, ready to explore the jungles of Papua New Guinea interviewing a cannibalistic tribe, wooing my beautiful female guide under the tropical moon. Then I found my passion in food and beverage, providing memorable experiences to my guests. Lo and behold, I am a hotel leader in training learning about the various wines that this world has to offer. I mean I can still woo some beautiful lady, just instead of wooing her under a blanket of stars in a tropical heat, it’s going to be a lightly dimmed bar with drinks being poured by gentlemen in black tail jackets with a jazz pianist playing in the background. So not too bad of a trade off. However, in order to get to that point of wooing I need to learn about wine. I can do the memorization easy, but the blind taste testing? Yeah I’m going to need to work on that. My palate as of now consists of dark beer, strong gin, and cheap tacos so how am I supposed to taste the “oaky flavor with a slight lavender aftertaste” in any of the wines I drink? I guess I just need to keep drinking wine. Sommeliers in training have 20 minutes to describe 4 or 5 red and white wines and I’m not talking about, “Oh that’s a red wine!” and go on to the next one. No this involves describing its palate, what region its from, the aromas, the subtle tastes, and if I get one thing wrong in my description then that’s it. Try again next year. I’m psyched.

So here I am now, trying to figure out the black cherry taste from this merlot and what region it comes from, its history, and what other wines pair nicely with it. Honestly, the only thing that I’m concerned about is what if the world ends? I’m pretty damn sure my wine knowledge is not a necessary skill that’ll help my fellow survivors. I guess I could be a butler to some despotic tyrant who decides to be the Lord King of Euless. So not too bad of a life.

Food and Cultural Appropriation

Everyone needs to take it easy when it comes to food and cultural appropriation. I was reading an article the other day about how the latest trend about poke (pronounced po-kay) is a form of cultural appropriation and how, once again, another piece of some other’s culture has been stolen and vilified. As soon as I read that article, I got up, walked to the other room in my house, and let out the most passive aggressive sigh my little lungs could let out. In this time of social justice warriors and political correctness, I need to take a stand against the supposed cultural appropriation of different foods. I’ve worked in the food and beverage industry for the past four years of my life and I can assure you myself that when some restaurant down the street decides to sell a poke special on a bed of lettuce, more power to them. Shoot, I’ll go down there myself and buy two big bowls of it! While it may not be the same poke that I had from my family from Hawaii, it’s still poke (more or less).

Here is the reason why it’s so important though for these american restaurants to be selling these different cultural foods to the masses yearning for something new: it is a foot in the door. That’s right, it gives people who would have never had another chance to try something “exotic” a chance to try it. For example, take sushi and its immense popularity with the American populous. In the 1960’s sushi in the US began its wild climb to become one of the most popular food items sold in gas stations to this day. At first, how many people would willingly eat a piece of raw fish over a slab of sticky rice? Now, we have numerous sushi restaurants opening up all over the states and even professional sushi chefs are catering to guests at your local grocery store. Yes, there are moments when someone takes reinventing the sushi roll too far (like the this-is-so-wrong-but-I-don’t-care Philadelphia roll filled to the brim with cream cheese) but you know what? That is okay. Same goes with Poke. I had a poke taco the other day at a Dallas taco shop and it was literally poke, which tasted fine, wrapped in a piece of lettuce. It was fresh, succulent, and tasted like how poke should. Some would argue that it’s not the same thing as the real thing, which I do agree with, but not everyone can take a flight to Hawaii and order a bowl of fresh poke. It’s not a case of cultural appropriation but rather cultural appreciation. Food is not meant to be study on race and the stealing of culture, it is meant to be shared and enjoyed with friends, family, and strangers.

It’s also not about the food itself that makes it good, it’s the memory that is associated with it. The goal of making and serving food is for people to enjoy it and associate their good times with whatever item they are eating. Anyone can cook a good steak but it’s the memory of eating that steak with people you care about that makes it so good. Anyone can make a good bowl of soup, but it’s the memory of your mom making the bowl of soup from scratch because you were sick as a dog that made it so good. When someone orders a bowl of poke from a restaurant chain, I let them order it without a word of judgement. Once they start eating, I look at them and say, “it gets better” and make plans to get poke from a restaurant that focuses on it. It’s not the poke itself that makes it a good time but the act of making plans to get better poke with a new friend that makes it so good. Just enjoy your food, keep trying something new, and life will be good. Oh and stop taking five minutes to take a photo of your food. Just enjoy the damn thing.

Daily Prompt: Shiver

via Daily Prompt: Shiver

In a church parking lot, with a howling wind from Boston’s bitter winter beating against our 1989 Toyota windows, I would have the best meals of my life. I was about eight years old at the time, discovering the world with a sense of curiosity that would rival any other child of the world, waiting for my sister to get out of church school. My mother and I had to wait in our car which had a heater that just could not handle the Bostonian cold. It would roar with a fury of a lion but then putter into a breathless kitten in zero to three seconds flat. I remember my mom dressing me in layers upon layers upon layers of hand me down sweaters and jackets and by the time she mummified me in wool and synthetic fibers, I could barely move but at least I was warm. We were blessed with few riches during that time of my life, but my mother made the most of it. As my sister learned about the Lord, my mother and I were shivering away in our worn down jackets. Our hands were white like the snow that surrounded us and our cheeks blushed with a heavy hue of red.  We were in this for the long haul. It sucked.

But amidst this wintry hell which were my regular Sunday evenings, my mother always knew how to warm my heart. In a lunch box that my mom carried was a gift, a treasure, ambrosia that would heal any wound, any numbness. In two layers of aluminum was a homemade chicken pot pie, my salvation in this bitter winter. She would bring it out and hand me one. Warmth would instantly return to my hands as I peeled away the silver layer to reveal a golden fluffy crust. If you were to squeeze the pot pie with the most minimal effort, a golden elixir of peas and carrots would ooze out. Every bite would be a religious experience, so kind of like my sister but with less of the soul draining and more of the fun. You know that shiver you get when you step into a hot jacuzzi or a hot shower after you’ve been in the cold too long? On those Sundays, I would shiver not because of the coldness that surrounded me but because of the warmth that filled my stomach and the love that exuded from my mother. Those winters would stumble the hardest of men, but not my family and I. In those winters, we thrived.

Daily Prompt: Obvious

via Daily Prompt: Obvious

A few days ago, I was chatting with a friend about dating and how it was going for him. He looked at me with a sullen look and said, “Isn’t it obvious, Andrew?” I looked at him with a confused look, as a forlorn smile spread across his face and he replied,

“It sucks ass.”

That’s the usual sentiment that I’ve heard and said so many times during my tumultuous time of dating. It sucks ass and that is painfully obvious. We are in such a strange time of dating with where social dating platforms, such as Tinder, are responsible for so many awkward dinners and bizarre hook up stories. A time where texting allows two hopeful lovers to communicate almost instantaneously. A time where really the most dreaded thing that can happen when someone is talking to someone is to be left on “Read at 5:34 PM” with no response. Couldn’t dating be more obvious? There are just so many complicated factors, so many loops, so many hidden agendas that it just feels like I am in some sappy indie flick where I hopefully get that cute barista’s number by being adorably quirky. But that is never the case. I stumble my words, I sweat profusely, and the only thing I’ll be dropping is the phrase, “Keep the change” as I slink away cowardly. Or sometimes I could be talking to someone who seems interested and when I tell her that she is looking pretty, she hits me with the emotionless, “thanks bud”. Nothing kills confidence more than a punctuation-less “thanks bud”.

However, there is hope. Sometimes you get that lucky serendipitous meeting where it just seems right. Where either of you find an excuse to get closer to each other, or when your eyes meet and lingers for a split second, or even when your hands brush with hers and sparks fly. Your chest tightens and you make the move, reaching for your phone and handing it to her, hoping she does not notice how sweaty your palms are right now. She sees your phone, grabs it, and puts her number in it with no question. As she enters those sought for ten digits, you begin to think to yourself with speeds that rival even the smartest computers, “She’s playing me” or “She’s just going to ghost me” or even “What’s the point? Love is a lie.” As you begin to doubt yourself even more, which leads to even more sweatier hands, she hands your phone back and looks you straight in the eye, and she says, “I hope this won’t be the last time we see each other.” She smiles. You smile. Then you realize maybe dating doesn’t suck that much ass after all and, if it’s right, everything just becomes obvious.

 

 

I Done Did It Again

I regretted it as soon as I hit that stupid confirm button on my computer screen. A few months ago, I ran a full marathon and my time for that was 6:09:00 hours. It took me 6 hours to run 26.2 miles, 30 minutes before the cut off time. I was proud that I was able to run that many miles but when I crossed that finish line, a burning desire overwhelmed my heart. I wanted to run another marathon, but this time it will not take me 6 hours. The average finishing time for men is 4:19:27 hours (a 9:54/mile pace). I will complete the Cowtown Marathon on February 26 in 4:19:27 hours. I need to strip almost 2 hours off of my time in order to be an average marathon runner. Simple enough, right?

So why do another marathon? Wasn’t running one enough? Am I a sadist or a masochist? Do I really want to endure the same feeling of molten lava pouring through my legs as I pushed for another inch, foot, mile? Do I want to not feel my legs for a few days, with every step a reminder that I was not as prepared as I wanted to be? Yup. I do. I want to feel that feeling of elation when I pass another mile marker. I want to be around people who are pushing for the same thing as I am, though we do not talk, a certain bond is forged through the trials of a marathon. I want my adrenaline pumping as I near that finish line, with the chants of people egging me on towards victory. I have 7 months to prepare, which seems like a lifetime, but I know those 7 months will go in a flash. I promise you all that I will do this for real. This run is for you.

Oh That’s How You Do a Beer Dinner

“There aren’t enough tables.”

Five minutes were left before the Revolver Dinner Presented By Texas Star began and it was already a mess. There were not enough tables, the chef didn’t have enough plates for the entrees, and the first of the 75 people who reserved was starting to seat themselves. In the very pit of my heart, a panic was settling in and was threatening to anchor me down. I had my boss breathing down my neck and at least 7 staff members waiting fo13094223_10209597663565165_3300069182901554668_nr me to give them an order, a word of reassurance, even a mumble would have sufficed and I was already feeling the beads of sweat drip down my face. This was the moment that determined if I was meant for leadership or to be follower, the moment that determined if my prowess for planning and implementation was truth or a farce, this moment was shared by many people from the very beginning. Some failed and some passed this trial of fire and I am proud to say that I passed, not with flying colors but with colors nonetheless. At 6:30 PM on April 30th, I joined the ranks of restaurateurs and chefs as I led a staff, including kitchen workers, of 15 people to provide a fun and enjoyable evening to over 75 guests. This is my journey.

One day, in a sudden burst of inspiration, I approached one of the chefs at the restaurant I work at with an idea. Both of us were young, full of ideas, and we were ready to prove ourselves. I wanted to plan a dinner paired with beer, since I read that beer dinners were trending in major cities across the states. The restaurant I worked at was not exactly the forefront of trend setting events. We were old school with our chicken friend steaks and homemade mash potatoes, with most of our clientele being old enough to have seen action in Korea. Therefore, this made it the best place to host an event that thousands have enjoyed across the US. Now the only problem was to convince the higher ups of Texas Star to actually go for my idea. I approached the General Manager with my idea, with my plans aside, putting on my most confident smile I could. The conversation went a little like this:

Me: Do you have a second to chat?

GM: Sure. Come on in. How can I help you?

Me: Well one of the chefs and I wanted to plan a beer dinner for Texas Star and we wanted your approval.

GM: OK. You have it.

Me: Wait. That’s it ?

GM: Yep. Have an idea of what brewery and a simple draft by my desk next time you work.

Me: Okay.

With the hard part over, now the chef and I had to find a brewery that’ll help us, a full course menu with different beers paired with it, an action plan for the event itself, food and alcohol costs, meet a goal of forty guests to break even, and organize a venue that will hold all the guest, entertainment, and the food. Easy, right?

Over the course of the next few months, my partner and I sat down everyday at work to work out the details. What beers we would use, what kind of food we want to prepare, our theme, all of this was debated and compromised over. We knew our roles in this project of ours. He would make the recipes and take care of the food costs and I would organize the event itself. It was a match made in heaven. Where I was optimistic and he realistic, we balanced our dreams and our realities. Two days before the event, we sat down at the bar, notes sprawled out on the granite counter top, and we all of a sudden both stopped. We looked at each other and we both realized that this was really happening. We were planning our own culinary event. This was so different than planning a function for a club or school. These were paying customers we had to please, a boss that we needed to impress, and to prove to ourselves that we are professionals. We just sat there in awe of what we have and will accomplish and we fist bumped. We both knew what each other was saying, “Let’s kick some ass because we got this.”

The day of the event started rather lackluster. I was 5 minutes late to work and I was a bit hungover, just enough to cringe at the very loud bangs and clangs coming from a busy kitchen. But I needed to persevere, this was my job after all. I had 4 hours and 30 minutes before the event started, which I took full advantage of to make sure things went smoothly. The time slowly ticked to 6:30 PM, there I was in my nicest dress shirt with my black knit tie, and my partner was slaving away in the kitchen. The pieces were set, the servers were informed of their job, and I was ready to work. If I had known how much I would be running that evening, I would have applied some serious body glide to all of my body. I was like the Forrest Gump of the culinary world, just less chasing Jenny and more saving Bubba in Vietnam (I really did want to go home). While bringing out the hors d’oeurves took a little longer than I have wanted it, everything went off without a hitch. Everyone was happy, the band played all night long, and most importantly everyone drank themselves full with our beer. That is the whole reason why I even went into the business in the first place. To satisfy people with good food and good drinks, that there is the goal. 

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Photo credit goes to Dillon.

When everything was cleaned up, the servers were long gone, the reports have been logged, and we clocked out, my partner and I went out to the kitchen dock. I saved us two beers from the event. We popped those bad boys open, and we just stood there staring into the night sky. We clinked our glass bottles together, which we took a big gulp out of. We savored each sip as if it was our first. Once our bottles were done, we simply shaked hands and left to get some sleep. We did it.

After everything was said and done, I was honored to work with such a great person such as my partner (whose name I have clearly avoided since he insisted on keeping his identity a secret, he said, “It’s about the food”). Well I am still going to honor you since without your hard work, this would not have been possible. This event got the ball rolling however, now people know that we are not here just passing through, coursing through life, waiting for something to happen. He and I are here to work and create and entertain the masses with our food. Just you wait world, we are going to show all of you just how awesome we are.