[New readers should probably skip this entry, or at least the first half; it isn't food-filled. If you want to, feel free to jump to the part where I eat a lot. A better title for most of this entry would actually be, "the day when we mostly forgot to eat." And my tone might be more somber than usual due to...lethargy and not being sure of what I want to remember or not. Not that I was traumatized or anything. Um. Yeah. Also, this entry is kind of long. Have fun with it.]
In our last Charlottesville adventure, Tristan, Olivia and I had successfully...not eaten dinner. Many things interfered with our nightly gorging: we weren't hungry; the potatoes took too long to delicious-ify; the arrival of other people distracted our stomachs; our minds were on other things.
I'm not much of a party person—a mildly intoxicating cocktail of social phobias has definitely been swirling in my brain since birth. I found it safe to assume that I wasn't a party person even before ever having gone to a party, the one this past New Year's Eve being my first "real" party (that is, the kind of party that one usually experiences in college, which I failed to check off my "to do" list). After the night was over and we were left picking up empty beer cans and debris from every crevice of the apartment, I think I'm still on the side of "not a party person," but there's at least one very important factor that could make an uncomfortable party situation less uncomfortable....
...Actually, there are two. But I'll just mention one: high level of intoxication.
At some point (actually, many drawn-out points) I was mildly determined to drunkify myself for the sake of feeling less awkward in a party situation. Of course, this was a stupid idea. Almost as stupid as when I used to eat too much, immediately regret it, and think that maybe it would be a good idea to induce vomiting. (Yes, I am aware of how bad that is for your body. It didn't stop me from thinking about it, but it stopped me from actually doing it. This was around the time when I wanted to change my major from food studies to anything else. Le sigh.)
But I couldn't do it. I didn't drink anything strong enough or a great enough amount of anything to feel any loosening effects of alcohol. Also, since I had never been drunk or anything nearing drunkenness in my life I didn't know what to expect. Did I really want my first drunken stupor to be at a party hundreds of miles from home (although at least in the same place I was going to stay that night)? Not really. I knew I'd be okay since Tristan and Olivia weren't going to get drunkz0rz, but...nah.
After scrunching my face in horror in response to a few sips of rum and Coke, I let go of any ideas related to drunkenness. Shots initially looked appealing—quick and kind of painless—but as someone who is somewhat health conscious (says the girl who eats deep fried anything and fat filled everythings), I knew such an action could only result in brain implosion.
So I mostly wandered around with my camera.
In my head it was already 2008 when the party started—I was taken off guard when someone attempted a countdown for the actual changing of the year. People crowded in the hall while I stayed by myself in Tristan's room. I didn't really have anywhere else to go, besides that I was shorter by 99% of the other people and couldn't see what was going on.
When the countdown reached zero—probably inaccurate, but close enough—I did feel a shift. It was the shift of a big ball of shit (uh, the emotional kind, not like that part in Spirited Away when all that crap spews out of the spirit's mouth) of conflicts and events of the past year consuming my brain and suffocating the functions of all my other organs. Oops. Staying inside the room seemed like a bad/awkward idea by this point.
So I went outside. This entailed squishing past the party goers—who probably didn't have brains blanketed in poop—squeezing out a crack of the front door, only to be met by another crowd on the staircase, until I successfully found the clear path, finally freeing myself from the throng of young people in varying stages of tipsiness. if I were more normal I would've been one of those people.
...But it wasn't really that bad. I think I'm making it sound worse than it really was. Although at the time, it probably did feel really bad. Kind of like when you have to throw up but you need to find a trash can or a bathroom to do it in, in a quiet area away from the crowd you were just in the middle of so you don't puke on anyone, but since you're kind of nauseous it's hard to think straight. It was like that, maybe, without the nausea or puking.
I walked across the street to UVA's campus where we had taken jumping photos earlier that day. Some benches overshadowed by trees provided a closed-off place for me to sit and think. Or not think; just steep. Simmer. I don't know, those are different things. To be alone and not have to think about other people for a few moments. Yes.
The lawn was almost completely dark; the nearby streets, sparkling with evenly spaced street lamps, were nearly empty. A few people of college age strolled by looking for a party to attend. I wrapped my head in my scarf, put on my gloves, and sat there for as long as I could before the first stages of hypothermia could kick in. Disappointingly, it wasn't as long as I had hoped—if I couldn't sit outside, that means I had to go back. And I didn't really want to. At least not until I could brush my teeth and slip back under the covers.
I walked around. I sat. Around. But I did have to go back. The bottom floor of Tristan's apartment building, belonging to a cafe that wasn't in business at the time, had some tables and chairs that I would later use as a semi-quiet place to sit without having to sit in the dark shadows of UVA's foliage. The canopy over the porch was another nice place to sit, although not the kind of place I could hog all for myself. At one point it became a spot to urinate from, because urination is more amusing when done from a high elevation. Ha ha. Okay.
I attempted dancing. And I didn't fail that much. Ryan's best friend, Dan, convinced me that we could look uncoordinated together, a proposition that was more attractive than sitting somewhere and lugging my camera around. I appreciated his efforts to make me feel like something greater than a slug and I tried dancing for a bit, but felt uncomfortable when the room became sparse. If I'm going to be in an empty room, I'd rather be by myself. Otherwise, I'd feel better surrounded by other people. Yup, so hard to please.
Actually, the discomfort set in more when one girl drank so much that she puked on Tristan's bed, fucked up her motor skills, and started having convulsions. Dan ended up carrying her to the nearby hospital. Not that it makes it any more acceptable, but it wasn't the first time this had happened to that girl. I'm pretty sure she now has a lifetime ban from all future parties in that house, especially after she came back to the apartment the next morning angry that someone had take her to the hospital. And there's another demerit for humanity.
After Tristan was done DJ-ing with his laptop, Ryan took over with his turntables in Tristan's room. He couldn't do it in the dance room since the movement would make the tables skip. This set-up seemed to work fine. The pink things under the turntables are sponges to act as shock absorbers.
I was relieved when the party was over at around 3 AM. I mean, we were all relieved in some way, not necessarily happy that the party was over, but looking forward to sleeping. The party went well—loads of people showed up (50 or more?) and Tristan and Ryan were great hosts.
Many of their friends stayed behind to help clean up. Beer bottles, cans in varying states of fullness, bottle caps, and plastic cups were strewn about the apartment and the stairwell. Cleaning up would've been easier if we had garbage bags. Over all the trips we had made to the supermarket in those past few days, at no point did anyone remember to get garbage bags—this is probably what shopping lists are for. Oh well. We made do with plastic shopping bags and empty boxes. I felt happier being useful instead of reclusive.
I wouldn't say my social phobias are that extreme—there are some problems there, but I'm generally okay. Everyone seems to have a "mental disorder" anyway.
After picking up my toiletries off the floor—the shelf in the bathroom that was supposed to hold my belongings had been overturned by gravity and reckless humans—and after making some attempt at cleanliness, I eagerly entered the beautiful pillow-filled land of sleep.
And then we had to wake up
Since we planned on getting to NYC around dinner time, we didn't wake up super early. Tristan, his friend Jacob and I would drive to NYC and drop off Olivia at her house near Washington D.C. on the way.
We didn't really eat breakfast. Or lunch. None of us were very hungry, or so it seemed—when Tristan and I arrived in NYC he revealed that he was about to faint from caloric depletion. :( My metabolism sucks; I'd do really well stranded in a forest or an island. Those fat stores can last a long time.
There was an inkling desire to eat at one of these random places on the side of the road serving all things great and American, in this case pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, ice cream, milk shakes, and subs. You just can't lose! But as I already mentioned, the hunger was mostly nonexistent, allowing us to drive straight for about six hours aside from a few stops to relieve our bladders or fill up the gas.
Tristan did most of the driving. I took the wheel for about an hour so he could catch up on some sleep, but I startled him back into consciousness when we passed Newark and had to choose a route into the city.
"EEH, BRIDGE OR TUNNEL, WHERE ARE WE GOING, WHEEERE?!?!"
Oh, if I didn't already mention it, I'm opposite of comfortable when it comes to driving into the city. (50-mile stretches of highway are fine, as are local roads) I've done it before, fearing for my life while speeding down FDR Drive to get to my NYU dorm in the Financial District. Every second that I ticked off was a second where I managed to not crash into the divider and splatter human remains on the pavement. And when I'm in the city I'm no longer worried about smashing into a building, but running over a pedestrian. I just can't win.
To my relief, we switched seats at the last huge-ass strip of tollbooths before heading towards the Lincoln Tunnel.
Tristan had no qualms about driving in the city. It seemed quieter than usual, probably because it was New Year's Day.
...Until we got to Chinatown and tried to find a convenient parking spot before meeting up with Kathy and her family. We drove circles around the Chrystie Street and Bowery area until settling on a spot on Delancey and Eldridge. Unless it's really late, the population of Chinatown comes in two levels: crowded and more crowded. Oops.
And then we finally ate food!
At around 6:30 Tristan and I (and our gurgling bellies) met up with Kathy, Mr. and Mrs. Chan, and her younger sister at Nha Trang. To pig out. Chan style. You're probably better off reading Kathy's description of our dinner than mine since she knows a hell of a lot more about Vietnamese food than I do (she's ethnically Chinese but her parents are from Vietnam). All I can really do is show you some food porn.
...Okay, you want the food porn. HERE IT COMES! WEEEEE!!
I don't usually drink much besides water and the occasional milk shake, but when presented with a bunch of drinks I hadn't tried before, none of which fell under the categories of caffeinated or alcohol-filled, I usually want to try something new. I went for the soda sua, seltzer with egg yolk and condensed milk. Milky, eggy, and fizzy—can't go wrong. I think it would've been more swoon-worthy if it had more condensed milk (I LIKE SUGAR, OK?), but it was definitely...tasty stuff. I'm not sure what else to say about it—with only three ingredients you could probably figure out the taste or just make it yourself at home.
Tristan's thick, creamy avocado shake earned Kathy's seal of approval. That means it's awesome. She's a passionate avocado shake lover—if she gives the thumbs up, you're in for the real thing. Trust the Chaaaan.
Kathy's che ba mau, or "rainbow ice," contained mung beans, azuki beans, and green jelly things of non-bean origins layered with shaved ice and coconut milk. She said it was weak. WEAKSAUCE! FAIL! Epic fail. But despite the epic fail, I thought it tasted quite nice...as I had nothing else to compare it to. I'm sure Mrs. Chan's version kick's ass.
Now, onto real food. We started off eating these things (all descriptions ripped from Kathy!):
Bo nuong mo chai: charboiled ground beef. Nuggets of beef, a bit crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside. Awesome.
Chao tom: shrimp paste wrapped around sugarcane. Unlike Kathy, I love fishcake, which has the same consistency of the shrimp paste. What consistency is that? Kind of solid, kind of like jello, kind of porous, a smidge gummy, potentially spongy. ...Yes, it could be all of those.
Cha gio: deep fried spring rolls. Deep fried, YEAH! Deep fried without being greasy, double yeah! Deep fried super crisp thin wrapping that is stuffed with stuff, triple yeah!
Plate of veg!: sliced cucumber and lettuce. Apparently this was a sucky spread of vegetables compared to what you'd get in Hawaii. :( But it was...still nice. Take a lettuce leaf and wrap it in any (or all) of the above foods then dunk/bathe it in the sweet and sour and salty and probably other flavors I can't identify nuoc cham. So good. I love the combination of raw and cooked foods found in Vietnamese cuisine that Chinese cuisine doesn't have.
Canh chua tom: Sweet and sour soup laden with salmon chunks, okra, pineapple, tomatoes, bean sprouts, and a crisp, celery-like, super porous Vietnamese vegetable. Kathy said it was too sour. I had nothing to base it off of, so I just thought, "Mm, sour, mm, salmon chunks!"
Bo luc lac: Also known as shaken beef, or shaky beef, or shaking beef, named after the way you shake the pan while cooking the beef. Cute names, but I think I'd rather just say, "I want some beef cubes," than, "I WANT SHAKY BEEF!!!" (Not that anyone says that; I'm just thinking of the most dumb-sounding situation.) The beef cubes marinated in garlic, fish sauce, sugar, and salt according to this recipe, then quickly cooked to char the outside and keep in the...beefy goodness.
Ech um curry: frog legs curry (curry of the not-so-saucy sort, just enough to glaze everything) with broccoli, tomatoes and onions. Frog legs taste kind of like chicken, but not. So imagine something like chicken curry...but not.
Ca kho to: Braised salmon casserole in a caramel sauce made with fish sauce. This was our most favorite dish of the night; make sure you order it. Kathy's description is better than anything I could come up with:
Spooned over a hot mound of steaming rice, the thick ginger spiked sauce of caramelized sugar and nuoc nam soaks in most luxuriously and makes for a breathtaking bite. Add the flaky sweet salmon, thin slices of ginger, just a cut of chili and you've found a near perfect dish
...YES, that's exactly what it was. Jebus. And all this time I was just thinking, "Mmm, it's tasty."
Mr. and Mrs. Chan were so sweet and fun to eat with! They explained the dishes to us—how to eat them, what they were made of—stuff that I've kind of forgotten in the past three weeks, but I figure if I had grown up in the Chan household my brain would be stuffed with knowledge about Vietnamese food. Alas...my brain is empty. Perhaps a little less empty after eating with them, but I still have a long way to go.
We did well, eh? The Chan stomachs are built tough.
Even though we had deadened our bellies with a wide array of meats and vegetables buffered with rice, Kathy, Tristan and I decided to stop into Fay Da for dessert. NOTHING CAN STOP US. Tristan and I each had a lil' egg custard tart (sweet custard in a flaky shell; few things match its awesomeness) while Kathy went for a chunk of some sort of chocolate cake. Chinese cakes and tarts aren't heavy things. I mean, they don't even count in your daily caloric intake. Pinky swear.
Tristan drove us back to my house in Ramsey, relying on the GPS (OF DOOM) for guidance. Of course, it took us on a route I had never known existed (because GPS knows what powers it has, which is the power to fuxorize your route), leading us through some shady, dimly lit, run-down parts of Jersey City until we ended up on a highway of some sort that led us to the safe little bubble that is the northern-most pocket of northeast NJ.
Man, did you read this far? You're insane. Just a little less insane than I am.