Because Food is Important

Food is important to me. It’s in my operating system. It’s on my home screen. If you grow up near the ocean, you surf. You hear the shudder and hiss of waves thumping into the sand your whole life and at some point you wade out there with a chunk of fiberglass because you have to put that fury and power in your world for real. If you grow up near the mountains, you climb. You grow up in the woods, you run naked through them… Or whatever….

Anyway, I grew up around food. My mother made breakfast every. God. Damn. Morning. And if you’re thinking that she was dousing some Frosted Flakes, or creaming some wheat, just stop right there, because she wasn’t. The woman made crepes. She made cinnamon rolls. She made bacon and eggs and hash browned potatoes and then she picked up her briefcase and slipped into her heels and she went to her job. No one would have blamed her for phoning in breakfast. In the age of pop tarts and Captain Crunch, plenty of parents did. But not her.

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And neither did my dad. There wasn’t a single day in my childhood in which he didn’t ask me what sounded good for dinner, usually right when I walked in the door from school. After that, you’d find him out in the backyard on his hands and knees, blowing into a coal starter, the smell of smoke and marinated something or other wafting in through the screen door, California sunlight hanging in the trees in the backyard.

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When I sat at the counter of that kitchen watching mom dart around with her spatula before rushing off to her ball-busting job, or watching dad flick collard greens around in the pan, freshly home from his, a fact began to slowly chisel itself into my brain:

Food is important.

And throughout the course of my life, that fact has stood unflinchinglcarsleepingy in the face of all my experiences. Screaming across the Midwest on a cross country road trip, an uncle took us in and fed us homemade dinner at a real kitchen table after a week and a half of McDonalds over a steering wheel, and we were loved. Alone in a new city full of strangers, my new coworkers took me to a bar and started a taco Tuesday tradition and we were accepted. Working a long night shift with a 50 year old Somalian woman with whom I had nothing in common, I brought up Somalian cooking and her eyes lit up and we were friends.

 

So, fuck all that food shaming. Fuck calorie restriction, and all those holier than thou memes about whether you’d rather have French fries or toned calves.

I’ll take French fries every time

Because, food isn’t a gallon of unleaded for your body and it’s not something to feel guilty about enjoying.

Food is culture. It’s a chunk of our life story. It’s important.

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Hot, Crispy, Solace 

These are scary times. Heavy times. Every morning finds me pajama clad at the kitchen table, nursing a fresh cup of French press, listening to NPR on our made-in-China radio wondering, “was it always this bad and I just wasn’t old enough to know it or is this a fresh kind of terrible?” Listening to my egg sizzle in the skillet over the sounds of FM horror, all tinny and crispy through cheap speakers. The ticking of the toaster oven steady and insistent, flat grey coils buzzing faintly, rising to a glow, shining fiery red. I used to hear stories from my grandparents about the Cold War. Shake my head in wonder at the thought of living always on the edge of my seat, watching hands in restaurants, shrinking away from shadows passing overhead. Life under siege. It was sad the way history is always sad, which is to say, distantly. Inaccessibly.

Then people started shooting up schools and movie theaters. North Korea went all Caligula crazy. Riots in the streets and a presidential race that’s just a game of Russian Roulette with a semi automatic and before you know it the coils are hot and everything is burnt toast.

I don’t know how my grandparents got through their uncertain times, although, if I’m to believe what I see on Madmen and in the washed out photos scattered around my parents house, the answer probably came in a tumbler and smelled a lot like whiskey.

(Photo credit: http://i.huffpost.com)

It’s 2016 now, though. Taking my pants off at a baby shower because I “got the tequila sweats” doesn’t make me “quirky” these days. Crashing a Pontiac into a mailbox and tumbling out stinking of rum and fear isn’t just another Tuesday evening anymore. You’ll catch a charge for that shit now. End up in a program. So where, in this age of global instability and social responsibility are we to find any solace? I’ve been picking mine up at place called Cho Dang Tofu Restaurant.

First, if you’re fingerjamming this place into your Yelp machine, you’ll see that there are a couple of different Cho Dang Tofu Restaurants in the area. Im told they’re both owned and operated by the same people and , if their Yelp reviews are to be believed, they’re equally awesome, but my experience is limited to the one in Federal Way, so that’s the one I’ll be talking about.


Krishan, my proverbial food guide and area expert, introduced me to the place at the midway point of a frustrating day. We’d just pulled one of those stops that was sideways before it even left the runway. Kid had a handful of unnecessary bullshit Tetris’d into a plastic hand basket and we had sandwiched him between us at the door.

“Put the shit down, man” I’d said, and I watched his eyes go wide and his pupils sphincter shut. He took a step forward and Krishan got two handfuls of his jacket, gave him a little tug back. Kid looked over his shoulder to see if the guy behind him looked as punchable as the guy in front of him and I saw that head turning, artery in the side of his neck working overtime, chugging adrenaline, spitting it into the rest of him. The compressed zip file version of it, is that we hip tossed the kid. He did a wicked sweet barrel roll and dropped all the shit he had in his basket, then he got up and waded through a bush that he was otherwise unaware of thanks to his tunnel vision, then he reached into his pocket and said, “I got the strap.” Which is a douchey way of telling someone that you have a gun.

He didn’t have the strap. He had a raspberry on his elbow. He had two guys in front of him who’d just tossed him like a pony keg, and a pound and a half of uh-oh in his shorts. But he definitely didn’t have the strap. His hand wiggled about ineffectually in his empty pocket, a silent prayer that we were buying this bullshit swimming in desperation in his eyes. It was over, though. He turned and broke like a wild pony and we collected the stolen things from the lot, carried them back into the store.

Moments like those are funny for the first few minutes, while the adrenaline is still arc flashing off you.

“I got the strap! I got the strap! Hahaha.”

“Haha did you tell that kid to ‘come catch this fade’?”

But when it’s fizzled out and the paperwork is done, the novelty has started to wear off and you’re just left with the bones of it, which is that you’re just two guys doing a kind of shitty job in a kind of shitty world where shitty things happen all the time.

“What an asshole.”

“Yeah.”

What if he’d had a gun?”

“Yeah.”

“Wanna get some lunch?”

“Yeah.”
So, with our hackles up and a brand new Instagram filter called pessimism over our lives, we shuffled through the doors of Cho Dangs’s… And totally redeemed ourselves

 

Dark wood on the walls between the framed photos of kimchi pots in various stages of the fermentation process. Food sizzling in stone bowls putting off that crickets in the deep woods feel as the staff waded through miasma of good food and happy people. So much for no safe places.

Krishan and I took up a table in the corner and flipped some menus open. I snapped up some magical words like somebody’d highlighted them for me and shut the menu immediately, because I knew what I wanted.
Krishan and I opted for one of the combo meals, which included a bunch of traditional Korean sides, (one of which was a mean looking fried fish, which is crispy and delicious as long as you don’t bite the head

off it like there aren’t any bones in there.)

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The rest of the sides were interesting and tangy and pretty foreign to my domesticated tastebuds, which made them all the more tantalizing. We fired them down with a fervor while we waited for the main course to come out, our troubles already sloughing off in the thralls of such exciting new goodness. The Kalbi beef hit the table, hissing like a lit fuse in the hotpot and we ate that caramelly meat off the bone grinning like idiots while that fuse sizzled down to the real boom-boom. A fat bowl of bibimbap.

Bibimbap literally means “mixed rice” and it’s been a mainstay of Korean cooking since the late 1300s to early 1600s. It’s one of those meals with deep roots that just makes sense, like stew or barbecue. You’ve got a lot of people to feed. You’ve got some rice and some vegetables and meat. Throw all that business in a pot, hit it with some gochujang and boom: Dinner.
It’s been tweaked slightly since the time of its conception, and one of the more welcome additions has come in the form of a hot stone bowl, which crisps the rice along the bottom and throws a whole different texture into the mix. It’s heaven. Sweet salty heaven in a hot stone bowl.


The waitress brought ours out and offered us the obligatory warning about not touching the sizzling hot pan, which I quietly mocked the obviousness of, and then immediately did on accident. Barely felt it though… because I was in the zone. I was cramming mouthful after mouthful of perfectly seasoned food into my previously worried face and watching the sharp edges shave off of the world around me. Fuck the election, and the crazy dictators. Fuck a kid with a gun and a nuclear winter. I’ve got beef and mushrooms. I’ve got rice and a stone bowl. I’ve got hot, crispy, solace.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibimbap

https://www.yelp.com/biz/cho-dang-tofu-lakewood-2

 

 

Written by:

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Kellen Burden

Mendoza’s Mexican Mercado (again)

Well, old Larry was a bit of a goof the last time he was in this place. He ate grasshoppers and erroneously called them crickets, he made a bit of a scene in the seating area, and then he tan out the door screaming! We were all so embarrassed of his behavior that we sent him back in there to explain himself. The owners were so cool about the whole thing, we wanted to do another post to thank them and to say that, if you’re out there looking for a way to celebrate Mexico’s Independence  Day (today), this might be the place to do it. Truly amazing dishes, crafted with care and expertise at really reasonable prices. Plus, the owners have a great sense of humor, which is always a bonus

We had a great time, and they were so nice and they posed for this picture with Larry!

img_2982-3Then they gave him some tripe to try out and… hey, wheres Larry?

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That Time I Was Fancy

My Dearest Sister Sydney,
     This one’s gonna sting a little. Like a pull on a ponytail, an Indian burn beneath the Fisher Price slide, this one’s going to hurt. I mean, how many tea parties did you classily invite me to attend? You would stare pleadingly up at me with those watery saucer eyes and a tiara balanced on your bob hair cut, courtesy of the bored looking beauty school drop out at a strip mall Family Fun Cuts, hoping against hope that this time would be the time that I’d pull up a sun-bleached chair, tug on a tutu and partake in hose water, freshly poured from your best Made in China. And what did I always do? I embarrassed you in front of Strawberry Shortcake and Kahn, your weirdly named handmade doll with his even weirder shaped head. My behavior was deplorable. But you have to understand, my heroes at the time didn’t partake in such delicacies. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were more into the Italian fare. Batman didn’t eat at all as far as I knew. Still, there is no excuse for such rudeness and for that I’d like to apologize. Not for everything. The water balloon that knocked you on your ass was justified and I stand by that, but that’s a story for another time. This one’s about tea.

     The ferry ride across the channel was a gut punch. Pitching back and forth like pastas at a rolling boil to the crash and shudder of waves on the hull. People shuffled past our table drunkenly lurching into walls and grasping at anything bolted down as the ship rocked back and forth and the winds swept down over us fierce and angry. The view through the windows across the deck was of choppy dark water, then steel gray skies, water, then skies, water then skies, and when we pulled into the harbor in Victoria everyone on board disembarked like they didn’t trust that it was over. Hand over hand down the railings on the stairs, careful now, easy does it. 
When you start a birthday trip like that, it’s easy to think, “well, we tried, let’s just pack it in before one of us gets mugged or sold into sex slavery or talked into a timeshare meeting.” But stepping out of the customs line into the fresh air of the Victoria BC waterfront stripped us of any pessimism. Washed the slate clean. Oh, Canada…

My wife and I have very different ways of traveling. I once drove across the United States in a Ford Escape. I was packed in there with a 6’6″ buddy of mine and if you had asked us what route we were taking, how much money we had in our bank accounts or where we were going to sleep that night we’d have shrugged our sunburnt shoulders, scratched our unwashed heads. Melissa does research. Melissa has goals. This was Melissas birthday, so it was her trip, so it came with a list, which consisted of:

The Butchart Gardens:

The Victoria Butterfly Garden:


Exploring downtown Victoria

Seeing some funky little houseboats at Fisherman’s Wharf

And finally, high tea:

     Tea in British Columbia is a big deal. The British touched down on the shores of Canada and started doing what the British invariably do, which is to say act like they’re still in Britain, and tea has been a staple of Victorian living ever since. There are a lot of statistics about tea in the area available on the Internet. The gist of it is: they like it. There are tea houses all over downtown Victoria and even a yearly festival that is entirely devoted to tea.

     Now, If you’re doing tea in Victoria, every travel site you’ll visit is going to tell you to go to the Empress, which may very well be the case. Maybe it’s life changing. Maybe it’s worth every cent of the $68 per person to attend it. We were playing it thrifty, so we didn’t find out. We went instead to the Venus Sophia Tea Room, just down the way, tucked down one of the many quaint side streets. The express tea that they serve there is spoken of with a good amount of reverence on the Yelp boards and it is considerably cheaper, so we decided to give it a shot.
     I’m not the manliest dude in the world. Sure, I’ll change a tire. And yeah, the last time I got a shot, I barely cried at all, and then, when they only had grape lollipops I was like, “not my favorite, but whatever.” But by no stretch of the imagination am I Jason Statham riding a motorcycle into a bears den. Still, I was very reluctant about tea. Doilies? Fine China? Pinkies out? It wasn’t my trip though, so I laid my trepidations aside and I did the dutiful husband thing. Sat down and prepared to bite the frilly laced bullet. Holy shit was I wrong. 


The tea came first. I had a kettle full of cream earl grey, saucer of milk on the side and just the smell of it dancing up out of the spout was intoxicating. Soothing and floral and comforting. I poured it like a goddamned gentleman, drizzle of the milk to the pittering of the rain outside on the cobblestone street. Then the food came out. Sandwiches with the crusts cut off them, smashed full of flavor. Hummus and vegetables on rye. Cucumber on white. All meshing differently with the tea, creating different flavors. When we’d polished off the sandwiches, pinched delicately between our fingers like little debutants, we moved on to the desserts lined up across the bottom of the tray. Little cheesecakes and shortbread cookies, carrot cake bites and brownies all butted up to a scone and two dishes filled with dollops of clotted cream and strawberry jam. Every bite smashed full of flavor and washed down with perfectly steeped tea against a backdrop of cloudy skies. It was surreal. It was decadent and delicious and for fleeting moment, like a flash of classy lightning on a dark night of flatulance and tripping over my own sweatpants bottoms, I was fancy. And I liked it. 


Sources: 

Home Page

http://www.10best.com/destinations/canada/victoria/restaurants/afternoon-tea/

Fil Cuisine: Feel Good Filipino Food on the East Hill

With strong Asian and Spanish influences, it should be hard to ruin Filipino cuisine, but I have been continuously let down by some of the fast food type set ups a lot of the local Filipino restaurants have around Seattle. 
In 2010, I stumbled upon Fil Cuisine, hidden in the East Hill neighborhood of Kent parked in-between a 7-11 and a laundromat. I was pleasantly surprised to see that all of their food was cooked to order. A quick look back into the kitchen area affirmed another positive for me; I saw an older Filipino lady taking charge of the kitchen…always a good sign when you see grandma doing her thing, ensuring that every dish coming out of the kitchen is prepared to her specifics.
 
When Fil Cuisine first opened in the same location, they boasted a modest set up in half of the size of their current restaurant. After gaining quick traction through word of mouth within the local Filipino community, the owners of Fil Cuisine were forced to expand to accommodate the rising demand by customers.
Although, I have not been let down by any of the new dishes I’ve tried, I’m a creature of habit and can’t help but order the same delicious dishes every-time I visit.
Fil Cuisine- Kare Kare
Being a huge fan of peanut sauce, the oxtail kare kare never fails with the beefy goodness falling off the bone, exactly how oxtail should be served, along with green string beans, bok choy and eggplant(insider tip: request a side of “bagoong”. An in-house made fermented shrimp paste that pairs exceptionally well with the kare kare by cutting down the richness of the oxtail and peanut sauce).
Fil Cuisine- Lechon Kawali
The lechon kawali is a pork lovers dream. Pork belly, deep fried to perfection with succulent bits of meat falling right off the crispy belly skin as you dunk it into the accompanying sugarcane vinegar. If you are a feeling adventurous, try the crispy pata which is the deep fried pork hock. Either way, you can’t go wrong with fried pork.
Fil Cuisine Drinks
Live a little and order the garlic fried rice to accompany your dishes. Wash it down with a refreshing glass of house-made watermelon or cantaloupe juice.
I find satisfaction in knowing that all of my Filipino friends that I have introduced to Fil Cuisine are also enamored with all of their dishes. #treatyoself and drop by Fil Cusine for an authentic and exceptional Filipino meal.
Written by: Krishan Kumar
Krishan Blog pic

From Scratch

“These things,” Shan’s saying, patting the dough in his hand, turning it over and over while the flour showers down between his fingers, “all of these things, take care.” His eyes motion for his busy hands at the cook station, organized meticulously, fingerprints in the spice containers, knives at the ready.IMG_2714

“You have to care about food like this.” and he lays the dough over the paddle, pulls the topper off the tandoor, heat burbling out of it like the foam on an overpoured beer, swirling in the already suffocating heat of the kitchen, pooling around our ankles and rising into the roar of the hood fan. He slaps the dough to the inside of the oven, and it sticks there, swelling in places, coloring warmly.

Krishan and I look at each other and the word ‘awesome’ ripples noiselessly through the air between us. We’re nerding out real hard on this one. Between the oven, the serious looking dudes behind us working like a battle hardened mortar crew, and taste of the product of all that seriousness and care still heavy on our tongues and in our guts, we are trippin balls. Sensory overload. Cocaine at a KISS concert, only, you know, good.  

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You can find Naan-N-Curry at the corner of 3rd and Burnett in downtown Renton in a building that’s over 100 years old, tucked between a bank and an auction place. Maybe you’ve heard about it, considering that it’s got 700 and something Yelp reviews and a fat chunk of Urbanspoon and Google plus ratings. Maybe you read about it in the Seattle Met or on one of the many Halal eating guides that have featured it over the past few years. I certainly had never heard of it, which surprised me, considering that, in the course of our work, Krishan and I have spent a good chunk of our time following shitheads through that former coal mining town, pulling surveillance from the backs of panel vans, tailing old beater cars down alleys to the snap and flicker of a Nikon shutter opening and closing. I thought I was starting to get to know that city pretty well. It’s hard not to get to know a place that you’re trying to learn the street names of so that if you catch a bullet in the gut you know where to send the paramedics. So when Krishan asked me to meet him at the Pakistani/ Indian food place on 3rd. My response was,

“The fuck are you talking about?”

I’d been up and down 3rd. I knew which direction it ran, what zip code it was in and how long it took to get to Valley Medical from there. (12 minutes. 7 if our buddy Danil is driving.)

“Naan N Curry” he said, and my brain tried to turn over twice on empty. Nothing.

So he sent me the address and I punched into my google machine, fired up the jalopy and set out to learn something, which is exactly what happened.

 

Krishan knew what he was about when we sat down in the place and he ordered for me like a confident guy on a date. With my permission of course. It was beautiful. He was like,

“Is it cool if I order for you?”

And I was all,

“Oh, a man who knows what he wants. Tee hee. Yeah.”

And he was like,

“We’re gonna have an order of the Chicken Tikka Masala, some garlic naan, the Boti kebab with lamb and two glasses of the mango lassi.”

And I fanned myself with my acrylic nails and took in the interior of the of the place. Dark colors, splashed in light by the fixtures on the walls. Bollywood on the TV, in all its crazy glory, and the smell eastern spices floating through the room, just plain not fucking around. Then the  lassi hit the table and my focus drained down into the glass.

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“Everything in this place is made from scratch.” Shan is saying but his eyes are on the tandoor and the spatulas in his hands. Behind him on the assembly line, there are bulk spices, separated into their basest elements. No store bought mixes back here. No tubs of name brand dairy waiting to be plopped lazily into dishes and upsold. Just hard working people with pieces of excellence mid-assembly. “We could buy yogurt at the store and use it to make the lassi, but it doesn’t taste the same. It’s not as good. That’s important to us.”


I want to preface this next part with the fact that I FUCKIN LOVE YOGURT. I can’t trace the geneology of that obsession back to any particular moment in my past. It wasn’t some family tradition or childhood experience that I latched onto. It was just back in there like a genetic anomaly. Yogurt=Good. I eat it almost daily as an after dinner snack and my wife won’t watch me spoon it down because the fervor and attention with which I do it is straight up upsetting. SO, that being said, it’s not particularly surprising that I would be all about the lassi, a beverage that originated from the Punjab region and is made with water, spices, fruit (in this case mango) and most importantly, some tasty ass homemade yogurt. Despite my predisposition, I feel like I can look at this objectively and say that it was incredible. Life changing. Epiphanic. Well, kind of objectively.

 

The food came next, all at once, probably 10 minutes after we ordered it, steaming lustily. The pace and  aggression of our eating increased with the intensity of an avalanche. Couple chunks of ice slipping down a hill as we took the first few bites, felt the flavor crackle over our tongues like pop rocks. Whole sheet of ice let go as we tore chunks off the garlic naan and started dipping it in stuff, then I got a hold of some tangy, perfectly cooked lamb and it was total chaos roaring down the mountain. We couldn’t eat fast enough. Plates were licked. I think I dipped some naan in a candle, because I was on autopilot and there wasn’t any tikka masala left to smoosh it into.

 

When the dust had settled, I was sufficiently sold on the place. I flagged down a waitress and asked her a few questions, which led to her flagging down Shan, the son of the owner, which led to Krishan and I being led, Willy Wonka style, through the kitchen while Shan explained the intricacies of Pakistani/Indian food, and the love with which they make it. That brings us finally to standing in front of a tandoor, watching Shan peel naan off the side of it with spatulas, saying,

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“I’ve been around this food for my whole life. I remember when I was 7, sitting in the back of a van, heading back from a catering gig that I’d been on with my dad.” They catered, and still cater, a lot. The back kitchen area is full of industrial looking machines that they use to crank out huge portions of quality food for some pretty prestigious clients. Shan continues, “ There was a huge dish full of rice pudding beside me, and my dad took a corner too hard and BLAM!” Shan slips the golden naan out of the oven, flips it onto the cook station and one of the cooks descends on it with butter and garlic.

“I was covered in rice pudding, head to toe.” Shan says, laughing.

 

He’s picked up a master’s degree in finance and worked in some other fields, since then. But he couldn’t stay away from the family business. And how could he? It was about history and care and passion, and you don’t just walk away from something like that. Especially not when you’ve been immersed so completely in it.
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Links:

http://www.naanncurry.com/