Exotic Category

Peanut Butter & Squid

Ah, the classic peanut butter and dried squid snack. Where’s the Smucker’s grape jelly, you ask? Wonder Bread? BORING. What that classic combination really needs is a salty, briny, tough and stringy piece of jerky a la squid.

I can almost guarantee that in a Korean living room, bar, or “cafe,” where there is drinking of soju or beer (Hite or OB usually); then somewhere on that same table, there will be an unkempt scattering of fibers from strips of ojingo (dried squid) and peanuts (shelled or un-shelled) being eaten together. This is one of the most popular anju or snacks to eat while drinking for Koreans.

This combination is classic. There are even packaged snacks that deliver the strange combination in one cute little bite-size package.

I admit that peanut butter isn’t necessarily traditional. Typically, you’ll see whole peanuts being eaten with ojingo; some people like my Dad tear the ojingo into a thin strip, wrap it around a whole peanut, and then pop it all in their mouth at once. Others roast up the ojingo over a flame which softens it and intensifies the fishy flavor (don’t try this at home unless you’re an expert Korean person like my Mom. Seriously, it stinks up the whole house and the ojingo pieces usually catch on fire). And still others, especially children, like to take a strip and gnaw and suck on it until it literally looks like a wet ragged piece of cheesecloth at the end of an alien-like creature.

What’s nice about peanut butter is that you most likely have a half full jar in your fridge somewhere. It’s easy to dip into with a hard strip of ojingo. And what you lose in texture with peanut butter, you gain in indulgent sweetness.

Of course, don’t expect to be able to spread that peanut butter on much else, unless you like squid flavor on your sandwiches. And if you’re overzealous with your dipping, expect those skinny jeans to feel a little tighter.

Either way – whole or spoonable, dried or roasted – this combo is oddly wonderful.

Our Adventure in Kauai: Day 4

Needless to say the soreness of my joints welcomed a jacuzzi, sauna, and steam in the morning; all the more because I was about to head out for my first open-door helicopter ride. The forecast showed heavy clouds, strong winds, and rain, but there was no turning back now. I was off to Inter-Island Helicopters for a private 60 minute tour of the island in their peacock blue Robinson R-44.

Inter-Island provided exceptional service despite the shoddy weather and it did make for an exciting ride. I actually enjoyed the pitching and weaving of the helicopter, as well as, the occasional sea and rain sprays across my face accompanying each turn. It made for the kind of ride I was hoping to experience! The Napali Coast looked mysterious and even more dangerous with the misty tumultuous weather. I don’t think I could ever tire of the views.

+++

After my flight of boisterous fancy, I had a roaring appetite. Jordan and I decided to let our bellies lead us through the day. We got in our midnight blue Camaro convertible, and headed toward Hanapepe and Lihue where we could stop at a local sporting goods store and hopefully, enjoy some local comfort food.

On the way to Hanapepe, we spotted Paco’s Tacos food truck parked in an empty parking lot. We figured, meh, probably nothing anyway. Let’s keep moving.

Pfft! Yeah, right!

These tacos were some of the most memorable morsels from our whole trip. Super fresh, grilled mahi-mahi tacos with shredded cabbage, lime, pico de gallo and cilantro sauce. And equally good carnitas and carne asada tacos. Hit da spot.

+++

After admiring some especially kitschy refrigerator magnets at a local store, we drove to Lihue to hit up Haimura Saimin. Saimin is a Hawaiian original that mixes Japanese ramen, Chinese mein, and Filipino flavors, into a big bowl of steaming savory broth. It’s Hawaiian comfort in a bowl, and the joint speaks for itself. It’s the epitome of a tropical island diner complete with a menu just as small and quaint as the place itself.

I highly recommend ordering a bunch of chicken skewers and putting the chicken pieces right into your bowl of saimin, along with generous amounts of hot mustard, hot sauce, chili vinegar, and a little soy sauce. Own your saimin!

We ordered the lilikoi chiffon pie for a little sweetness. Imagine if you scooped a chunk of bubbles from the top of a bubble bath, sprayed it through with tangy sweet passion fruit, and topped it with fluffy whipped cream. It was an ultra-airy end to a heavy, savory lunch.

+++

Last spot on our food tour was Fish Express which is a full-on local “deli” that offers a wide variety of fresh Hawaiian fare including local fish, poke, fish jerky, and raw seafood. And if you’re lucky enough to get there for lunch (which we weren’t unfortunately), they also offer Hawaiian-style sandwiches and gourmet lunch entrees like fish “blackened with guava basil” or “macadamia nut crusted [fish] with lilikoi.”

We decided on a bunch of funky pokes and ahi peppered jerky to go. And we also were pleasantly surprised to find boiled peanuts – one of Jordan’s all-time favorite snacks from the South! Who would have thought we’d be eating boiled peanuts and kimchee octopus poke in a parking lot of a Kauai-ian deli in the middle of the Pacific?

+++

Ok, I lied. We still had some room left for another sweet. After a little mobile research, we pulled into a strip mall parking lot and walked into Tropical Dreams which offers super-premium gourmet ice cream. Started by husband and wife team John and Nancy Edney who source more than 50% of their ingredients locally and are dedicated to using environmentally-friendly and sustainable means of production for their ice cream, this was the best ice cream I’d ever had. I mean, EVER.

The proprietor of the place – a “expat” from NYC named Daniel – was feeling extra chatty (queue teenage son’s eye roll), so we got foodie star treatment! While giving us taste after taste of the incredibly delicious ice cream, Daniel proceeded to illuminate us on his strong opinions on fiber optics, entrepreneurial ventures, Kauai, and why Tropical Dreams covers their ice cream bins with lids despite snotty tourists turning their noses up because they can’t see all the flavors on display.

After I literally tasted every flavor, I landed on chocolate coconut almond to which Daniel insisted he add a generous dollop of peanut butter. This was seriously flavorful ice cream. If you’re ever on the Hawaiian Islands, definitely try to find a Tropical Dreams shop!

Sigh, wish I could have gotten a better picture. This definitely doesn’t do the real thing justice.

+++

After a much needed nap back at the ranch, we couldn’t believe it but before we knew it, we were getting in the car again to go to dinner at Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill.

I know.

But it’s OK. We were on vacation. Isn’t gluttony a virtue when you’re on vacation?

It might have been the full belly talking, but I wasn’t too hyped on going to Josselin’s despite all the positive recommendations. Although I’d been eating very well, I wasn’t so sure that fine dining restaurants on Kauai were doing anything that interesting beyond dishes that could satisfy the greatest common denominator of flavor palates visiting the island day after day.

Thankfully, I was proven wrong by some dishes at Josselin’s! It started with the “muffin” assortment which included miniature biscuit-like rolls flavored with ginger, Thai curry, and cilantro. I know I’ve got a bread “thing” but these really perked up my taste buds.

The watermelon salad was disappointing, but the naan with spicy merguez, roasted eggplant, and mint was a huge win.

What was truly the pièce de résistance, though, was the 36-hour braised pork belly with apple kimchee and Lehua honey – an unbelievable, locally sourced honey from bees that feed exclusively on the Lehua flower which only grows on the ohi’a tree.

The honey glaze created a sweet candied shell keeping the wonderful juices inside every chunk of pork you pulled off with your fork. No knife necessary. The kimchee splashed spicy and tart refreshment at the back of the throat, whilst the salty sweetness of the meat meandered over the tongue. Chestnut, vanilla and basil also remarkably came through each bite.

The experience was kind of astounding. In fact, it was so exceptional that we finished off most of it, despite our stomachs being full to bursting.

Needless to say we did not order any dessert! And this time I’m not lying!

London Calling! – From Britain to Belgium in a day

Morrissey woke me up this morning.

“Here is London, giddy London, Is it home of the free or what?” So, what’s got me so giddy?

Medieval torture of course! Traitorous prisoners, the beheaded ghost of Anne Boleyn, the reviled White Tower, and the infamous Crown Jewels!

On the menu today: The Tower of London!

A nice addition to the tour was a trip through the Royal Armories. Jordan and I geeked out so hard on all the swords, axes, crossbows, and overall medieval pageantry of the exhibit.

It hit me only afterwards that today was our last full day in London. Yikes, we still had so much to do!

The British Museum was next, but before that, we headed straight for the Underground. We absolutely couldn’t leave London without sampling Britain’s “true national dish” Chicken Tikka Masala!

+++

Brick Lane and Whitechapel are known as ethnically diverse, primarily Bengali, neighborhoods in London. Devon Avenue in Chicago has a similar vibe.

Funny enough, Whitechapel is also where the Jack the Ripper murders occurred apparently, but today, it’s a vibrant community where English it seems is everyone’s second language.

We decided on Zayyabs. It’s actually a Pakistani place so we knew the dish would be slightly different than the creamier Indian version. But as chicken tikka masala is also one of those dishes that varies from chef to cook to region like any good paella, gumbo, or feijoda, we decided to go for it.

And we are so glad we did. Every dish was densely spiked with spices, richly layered, heavily perfumed, and authentic to the bone.

The only bad thing about our lunch at Zayyab’s was the inevitable food coma that followed.

Thank ye gods for the long Tube ride to the British Museum.

Power nap, go!

+++

The British Museum is an unbelievable treasure.

Packed inside this enormous structure is an arena of antiquities spanning from the Far East to the Far West and everywhere in between.

I had to force my mind to focus. The countless stories behind these objects of old pushed and pulled at my imagination as I walked the halls. It was marvelously overwhelming!

+++

As we descended the grand white steps in front of the Greek Revival façade of the Museum, Jordan and I felt we had zoomed through centuries of history in just a few short hours. Naturally our heads were buzzing and our stomachs rumbling.

So we made our way down a few streets to Le Bistro Savoir Faire.

The charming French brasserie invited us in with its rosy ambiance. Its cherry wood framed windows, French sconces, white napkins, and quotations and French cartoons painted across the walls fit our contemplative moods perfectly.

We supped on paté, bouillabaisse, warm baguette with butter and salt, bone-in ham, and a light Pinot Noir.

And for dessert, we exchanged thoughts on the past few days whilst taking turns cracking the caramelized sugar sheet on our crème brulee.

+++

I felt I was dream walking when we left Le Bistro only to “wake” up in another dream – this one full of sparkle, whimsy, and good cheer. It was Christmas on Oxford Street. Amongst cascades of twinkling white, blue, green, and silver lights, Jordan and I shared one final sweet before surrendering to sleep.

Liege gauffre or Liege waffles from The Waffle Place. What makes the Liege waffles so up and beyond is the batter which has chunks of sugar in it. When cooked the sugar chunks caramelize to form a crispy almost candied coating on the top of the waffle.

Happy Christmas indeed!

+++

An EDD-ter’s Tour of Italy: Venice

After desperately navigating a mega-riot of cars at the bus terminal in Venice, and saying a fond farewell to our trusty rental car, we met our guide Takayo who took us to our hotel.

Honestly, I have absolutely no idea how we would have ever done it without her. Venice was by far the hardest city to navigate without walking in circles, triangles and rectangles first. If it wasn’t for its supreme charm and romantic waterways, it could feel like trying to find your way out of an M.C. Escher drawing.

Make no mistake that Venice is a tourist town and the prices for everything from Carnival masks to fish charged by the kilogram make it one of the most expensive places to visit in Italy. But its fascinating history as a hub for trade and politics seep deep into its ancient walls, streets, and wood piles upon which this city stays afloat. And you feel it.

One of the highlights of my time in Venice was visiting the Rialto Fish Market – a place where it seems you’re walking underwater while swaths of sea colors dance around you.

Cuttlefish or squid ink pasta is one of the most famous dishes from Venice. Our very well-read guide Mr. Sabino tipped us off to a local joint called Rosticceria Gislon which supposedly had an excellent Spaghettini Nero and other tipico dishes without the ridiculous prices.

Downstairs was an open a la carte trattoria with hot and cold dishes (it was extremely difficult not to try each one!) and upstairs was their sit-down restaurant. We opted for the restaurant so we could rest a bit and get a little down time from the throngs of customers downstairs.

Feast your eyes!

Seafood was the star in every one of the dishes we tried. Even the mozzarella en carroza acciughe or fried cheese sandwich with anchovy delightfully punched you in the face with the incredible briny flavors swimming through the gooey crispiness of the cheese and bread.

Spaghettini Nero
The squid was as tender as braised abalone and the sauce had an intense seafood flavor that was also sweet, almost chocolatey. While eating this, I knew I’d never find its equal in the States.

Scampi
Simply boiled shrimp with lemon. Crisp meaty refreshing nibbles.

Spaghetti acciughe
Sweet soft onions, fruity olive oil, and anchovies offered well-rounded mouthful after mouthful of comfort with every bite.

Fritte di frutta di mare
Very lightly fried in extra virgin olive oil. This isn’t your Long John Silver’s fried fish platter. Those little fish and shrimp heads had so much incredible flavor!

Sure Venice is a tourist town with its tourist trappings.

But by nightfall, it was impossible not fall in love with its people, culture, history, and food. And hey, if you’ve got your honey to spend it with, it truly feels like you’re starring in your own romantic movie.

Awwww. 🙂