"So my parents own this restaurant in Flushing..."
Whoa, wait a second there, Lauren. I've known you for how long? And you tell me about your Korean-Chinese restaurant empire now?
Actually, my first thought was, "Can I be adopted by your family?" But I thought that question might fall until the heading of "creepy."
It wasn't the first time that I found out a friend's family was in the restaurant business. I can think of at least six other people with restaurant business in their blood. As far as I know, no one in my extended family owns a restaurant, nor does anyone in the extended family's extended family own a restaurant either. Maybe my family hates feeding people.
...Not that I'd open one or anything. It's too much work.
Kathy, Olivia and I met up with Lauren, Jones, and three of their friends to gorge ourselves at San Won Gahk two Fridays ago. Lauren already put in the order before we got there, meaning that the food magically flew (by the power of an army of waitresses) onto our Lazy Susan-powered table in no time. Hell yeah.
Small dishes of pickled radish, pickled onion, kimchi, and black bean sauce were provided to go with the meal, but I soon forgot they were there when our table became overloaded with large plates of food. Oops.
Szechuan noodles reminded me of your basic japchae with the addition of "mouth-burning and tear-inducing spiciness." Just the way I like it. Japchae is one of my favorite kinds of noodles for its lightly chewy and elastic texture. If someone asked me what noodle I felt had the perfect amount of elasticity, I'd say japchae. But it's quite unlikely that anyone would every ask me that. And if they did, I'd think, "Why the hell did they ask me that?" So don't ask me that. Especially since you already know the answer.
Mapo tofu is a favorite of mine. Little excitement lies in plain cubes of soft tofu, but add a dash of our favorite condiment, "mouth burning and tear-inducing spiciness,"(not the real name, but that's what it tastes like) and you've got yourself a dish that even a meat lover would love. You know, as long as that person also loves spicy food. Otherwise this dish will probably give them stomach spasms and cause them to hate you.
The tofu blocks were pillowy soft and delicate as a newborn baby's soft underdeveloped skull; the soybean blocks fell apart pretty much immediately upon coming in contact with my tongue. Foosh. Tofu begone Don't try that with baby skulls. Live babies, I mean. ...I probably didn't have to clarify that. I'm also not sure what you would be doing with a dead baby's skull. Nor would I want to know.
Fried prawns in tomato sauce just reinforced my golden rule that everything tastes better fried, especially shrimp, which isn't something I would ever order unless it has been battered and subjected to the deliciousifying powers of a giant vat full of bubbling oil. My memory might just really suck (I blame this on many of this blog's deficiencies), but I don't remember the tomato sauce flavor in this dish—I just remember "shrimp" and "fried." My brain only remembers what it wants to remember.
Helloo, fried dumplings. I love all kinds of dumplings, fried or not, and I wouldn't say that frying them necessarily improves them in a magical way like it does for shrimp. It just increases its level of crispiness along with the strength of the dough pouch. Certainly a good thing, unless that crispiness is due to converting much of the food's surface to carbon, which wasn't the case with these pork-filled dumplings.
Seafood fried rice is like your typical fried rice but with 50% more tentacles!
Squid follows the same rule as shrimp; it tastes much better as fried squid than non-fried squid. The batter on these squid chunks reminded me of the kind used for sweet and sour chicken; kind of thick and two-layered, that is, slightly crisp on the outside with a subcutaneous layer of fluffy non-crisp batter. I popped these in my mouth like popcorn. Gigantic clumps of cephalopod-flavored popcorn. However, you won't find this item on the menu—Lauren's mom made it as a special order for Jones. Awww.
The theme of "meats fried in different ways" ended with the fried chicken in garlic and pepper sauce. The batter was light, as well as the sauce. I mindlessly popped these suckers into my mouth like the squid. They were in front of me, okay? (Admittedly, since we had a Lazy Susan it was technically possible to put everything within arm's reach.) Cannot...resist...craggly nuggets of fried chicken...
We were pretty damn full by this point. Bellies were patted. Throats let out low moans while we eyed the dishes that still contained too much food for our eight bellies. But then came the distant, obese Asian cousin of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Jjajangmyun, thick, tender wheat noodles coated in black bean sauce and mixed with diced vegetables and meat—onion and pork in this meal's case, was the only Korean-Chinese dish I had ever heard of. It originated in China but today is mostly found in Korean-Chinese restaurants.
My brain is currently blinking like an un-configured VCR (yeah, I said VCR—because I'm still living in the early 90s) about the details of this dish, I'm assuming because my stomach was already 90% full when I managed to get a few chopsticks-fuls down into my belly. Or more than a few. I'm not sure how to describe black bean sauce; it wasn't too salty, maybe slightly sweet, unless that was the onion talking.
How full were we by this point? Well...actually, we plodded on despite feeling our bellies roll over out waistbands (unless that was just me), except for Olivia. Unfortunately, she has a sensitive stomach that doesn't respond well to spicy foods nor, I assume, overeating, an unavoidable consequence of eating with me. She also has food allergies that could result in asphyxiation. You betcha I'm afraid of killing her during one of our meals.
Let me show you Olivia's lack of movement:
There she is on on the left, so still, so unmoving (and not just because this is a photo) as the rest of the group continued ingesting calories...
...And there she is. Still. I'm quite sure she was still breathing, just not moving any muscles.
Don't worry; she was okay! Her stomach bounced back just in time for dessert.
Ba si, or candied potatoes (other common choices being sweet potatoes, bananas and yams), was probably the most interesting dish of the night despite being the simplest. Or deceptively simple considering the steps required on the diner's end and the temperature that the sugar coating had to be cooked to in order to reach the desired effect. I was initially confused as to why the plate of potato chunks covered in melted sugar came with a dish of ice water, but this dish was critical to the ba si eating experience.
The purpose of the ice water is to solidify the caramel coating, resulting in the satisfying combination of a thin crunchy sugar shell that breaks into a hot chunk of fluffy tuber-based carbs. As you pull the chunk away from the mother pile, long strands of sugar form in between the sticky surfaces and quickly cool into micro-thin sugar threads. This is where the name ba si, which translates to "pulling silk," comes from.
I know I said our bellies were full, but there's always room for dessert. ;)
Many thanks to Lauren and her family for the awesome face stuffage! After saying goodbye to Lauren and Jones, we happily waddled back to the 7 train. Although the distance on the subway map looks dismaying, Flushing really isn't that far, especially when the 7 train comes frequently. After this experience I realized that I really have to get my butt out to Flushing more often.