From September 18th to September 25th, I have been in New York. The reason was to give a presentation on Buddhist Temple Cuisine on the 20th. I’m posting my personal diary accounts of all the food and peeps. I hope you enjoy.
Quickly got over that jetlag.
I was invited to Wendy Chan’s place for breakfast. It took me a while to get there. I had to figure out the New York subway, which makes me realize how user friendly, clean, modern and high tech the Seoul subway is. The subway has been my only negative experience in this awesome week. I got a 7-day pass from a very rude subway attendant. When I entered, it looked, sounded and smelled like those clanky dark haunted house rides at county fairs. I felt like I was going back in time. I know it’s a hundred years old. I recently listened to the entire Bowery Boys series on the history of New York public transportation. And I really appreciate the history and the difficulty of building an underground system when there’s all marsh, loose silt and diamond hard rock. That’s why it’s a relatively shallow subway–it’s not really built underground. It’s dug out like a ditch with the road on top. But there are barely any maps, and it’s very difficult to figure out where you are compared to Seoul–where they have multiple print and electronic signs and clear recorded voices in multiple languages at each stop. It feels like an idea that no one finished. A carny ride more than a serious form of transportation. But the system itself is frustrating. In Seoul, you can easily go to the other side of the tracks if you go to the wrong one. Where I got on in Queens, I just went down like I would in Seoul and planned to pick the right track once inside.
Didn’t work that way.
It took me straight to the track. The wrong track. And I had to get out, cross the street and re-enter. The only trouble is that it wouldn’t accept my card because I had used it recently on the other side. I had to wait fifteen minutes for it to let me in as I watched three trains pass through the station.
Okay. That’s the end of the bad part.
I got to Chez Chan late in the morning, and we all had pastries and cappuccino on her rooftop in Queens with a commanding view of the skyline. We then broke out our computers and got to work on finalizing details on the event Monday. I called EJ on Skype. It was fun talking to her on the video phone with the Empire State Building behind me.
“Wow, you’re really in New York!”
I already feel like the Chans are my family in New York. We all went out to this Thai restaurant, Ploy Thai, that participated in the Asian Feastival, which Wendy and Veronica organized recently. It’s a very unknown gem. While we were waiting for a table, Veronica showed me a Thai grocery store, and I found a bought a bag of durian chips.
The food at this restaurant made other Thai food stand in the corner with shame. The dish that really stood out–oh, I forget the name, I’ll have to ask them–was a mixture of ginger, peanuts, dried shrimp, I think some pork or chicken, and tiny pieces of lime with the rinds still on. This came with leaves for wrapping. The flavor on these was so intense that my eyes were watering. I had trouble finishing the last one because it was such a glorious sensory overload.
We finished with four different ice creams, including a coconut ice cream inside a coconut.
The owner was a humble and generous Thai lady. I took my picture with her. It was such an honor to eat her food.
We returned to the Chan house and did some more work. I arranged to meet Jenny Lee-Adrian of Hummingbird Appetite at Fatty Crab for dinner. It was on the way to meet her that I had my subway troubles. Fortunately she didn’t have to wait long because she was delayed too.
Fatty Crab was so loud that I just pretended to understand our server when she told us the specials. Following Jenny’s lead, we ordered Crispy Pork with Pickled Watermelon, Steamed Buns with Pork, and a Chicken curry rice–as in a quarter roasted chicken on a Thai style rice with a slow poached egg.
I knew I would like the pork buns, and I was right. I am so going to make these when I return to Korea. The vibe and the flavor of the food reminded me a lot of Star Chef. It was just a little louder, a little darker and a little saltier. The food in New York is a tad on the salty side for my palate. But that’s a debate I’ve had with my brother for years. I say that chefs’ tongues are like rock stars’ ears. The senses are deadened over time, and they need a stronger dose than the normal person. I also find it puzzling because Korean food is notoriously salty, but we balance it with other foods. If anything, I bet my tolerance for sour foods has increased as my tolerance for salty foods has diminished.
The past two New York restaurants where I’ve eaten at night have also been ridiculously dark. At Fatty Crab, Jenny and I were taking turns holding our menus up to the sad little candle. I understand creating a certain ambiance, but I think it’s a bit too far. Maybe it’s to deter annoying food bloggers from taking pictures of the food. Then again, that only encourages nasty ass flash photos. I think I’ve done pretty well in getting some pictures. They don’t really give an idea of how truly dark our tables were. I can’t describe the curry rice dish at Fatty Crab because I couldn’t see it.
Jenny was kind enough to walk me home, using her iPhone for guidance. We had a great talk, and it was great to absorb the sights and smells of the neighborhood. Pizza! I miss the smell of real pizza.