I’m back!

10 Jan

Hey guys! It’s been awhile since I last updated…sorry about that! I was having fun relaxing during my Winter Break (which was TOO SHORT, by the way). But school’s back in session and that means I need an outlet for me to be productive while procrastinating on important stuff, AKA homework.

For the next couple of weeks, the update will be sporadic since I’ll be getting a feel for how this semester is going to fare in terms of schoolworks and extracurricular activities. But hopefully everything will be back up to speed by the end of February! I’m also thinking about making some changes to the format of the blog as well as the content. We’ll see how things pan out!

In the meantime, check out some of the nomshots I’ve added to the Hawaii section! I made sure to document my food adventures during my time back home for YOUR ENJOYMENT!

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The price we pay

8 Dec

Would you eat this?

I’ve found over the past four years that the following: blog surfing, facebooking, and game playing, increase exponentially during finals week. Counterintuitive, yes, but it’s the truth. In my defense, it prevents me from going crazy.

But sometimes my lack of focus and increased procrastination result in something useful. In this case, something for the blog!

This week California approved the use of methyl iodide as a pesticide in farming despite findings that the chemical is more toxic and harmful than its predecessor, methyl bromide, which was banned years ago:

“It is my personal opinion that this decision will result in serious harm to California citizens, and most especially to children,” wrote panel member Theodore Slotkin, a professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University.

I’m not comfortable with this at all. There’s already enough carcinogenic crap (excuse my language) in our lives, why add another to the mix?

Is it time to move again? Let’s hope not.

No need to be blue anymore

8 Dec

This semester I was in Leonard Maltin‘s Film Symposium class over at USC. Basically we meet every Thursday night for 4 hours for a pre-release screening of a movie and a Q&A session after with either the producer, director, or some other person involved in the making of the film.

A couple of weeks ago we viewed Blue Valentine, a new film starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. I’m generally not good as summarizing movies, so I’m just going to use the synopsis from the official movie site:

BLUE VALENTINE is the story of love found and love lost told in moments past and present. This honest and moving portrait follows Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams who star as Dean and Cindy, a married couple who spend a night away from their daughter in an attempt to save their failing marriage. Juxtaposed with playful scenes that trace their romantic courtship six years prior, Gosling and Williams journey through the brutal heartbreak that comes with fading love and broken promises.

What I loved about this movie was its believability. The emotions, interactions, and sequence of events do not feel forced or staged–something that’s very hard to come by nowadays in cinema. And what makes much of the film real and watch-worthy are the sex scenes. The raw, graphic, and well, realistic scenes (which include Williams receiving oral sex) add a lot to the development of the film, but it also pushed the MPAA to give the movie a NC-17 rating.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the movie biz, an NC-17 rating is the like the kiss of death. The majority of movie theaters will not play a NC-17 movie and that means lower revenue, restricted publicity, and less consideration for awards such as the glorified Oscar.

But there’s less reason to worry now. Today the filmmakers won their appeal and the MPAA changed the NC-17 rating to a R rating.

Wait for it. Wait for it. YESSS!

The movie will be released on December 31st. Go watch it.

 

Korean Braised Short Ribs (Galbijim)

8 Dec

I know I promised you all pieorgies but I just couldn’t find the time to make such a labor-intensive dish this past week with finals right around the corner. Sorry! I think that will be the first thing I make after I return home to Hawaii. (I’ll explain why I’m going to wait towards the end of this post.) But I did have time to make galbijim, which is basically a Korean version of beef bourguignon.

So much meat you can't find the bone...

First things first, the meat. I used a different cut of short ribs since I didn’t have time to go to the Korean supermarket. Notice how there’s so much meat you feel like you’re playing “Find the Rib!”?

Again, look at all that meat!

In the recipe I used they didn’t cut the meat, but I did to increase the surface area. More surface area means more opportunity for flavor infusion! Now for those of you who are getting giddy because I mentioned “surface area” you can geek out now. I did. Also, as a side note, cut the meat with an actual chef’s knife and not a steak knife. It’ll be easier than what I went through, I swear.

This is what it SHOULD look like after you pre-boil it!

Don’t skip this part! And don’t just stick the meat in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Leave it in there for 5-10 minutes! Otherwise you’ll have tons of cooked blood, fat, and other disgusting gunk floating at the top of your galbijim. No one wants to see that or eat that.

Shiitake, carrots, onions, garlic, and FLAVOR SAUCE!

Okay, it’s not flavor sauce, but it’s fun to say.

Time to start salivating…

Dump everything into the pot and set that timer!

After 2.5 hours of cooking!

Once the meat starts falling off the bone, kill the heat, and ladle some (or a lot) onto a hot bowl of rice. Now that looks like a fitting meal for these cold winter months, right?

Although the thicker cut of short ribs produced a better meat to bones ratio, it did have its shortcomings. First, it took way longer to cook; and second, it wasn’t as strongly infused with flavor as I would’ve hoped. If you choose to use this cut of ribs, I’d recommend marinating it in the sauce along with the veggies.

Galbijim

Adapted from Maangchi

Serves 2-3
Preparation Time: 20 min
Cooking Time: 2 hrs 30 min

Ingredients

2lbs beef short ribs
2 cups water
1 tbs cooking sake
4 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs brown sugar
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbs corn syrup (I didn’t have corn syrup on hand, so I used honey instead)
1 tbs sesame oil
½ tsp black pepper
½  medium onion, sliced
1 medium radish, 2 in cubes (I used potatoes instead)
3 carrots, 2 in cubes
1 ½ cups shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and cubed
Green onion
Ground black pepper

Soak the shiitake mushrooms in warm water for about 4-6 hours. Soak short ribs in cold water for at least 30 minutes and change the water a few times (this is to get rid of bone chips and other debris). Boil water in a large pot. Add the short ribs. Boil for 5-10 minutes. Remove the short ribs and wash them with cold water to remove fat or floating bubbles. Clean the pot and set back onto stove. Place the clean beef short ribs in the pot.

Prepare a bowl of seasoned water by mixing the water, soy sauce, garlic, onion, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, rice wine, and brown sugar. Add it to the pot. Boil over medium heat for 20 minutes.

Simmer on low for 1 hour or as long as needed for the meat to fully cook. Use your chopstick to check the tenderness of the meat. If it goes in smoothly, then the meat is tender enough. Add the potatoes.

Once the potatoes are cooked, add the honey, sesame oil, and black pepper. Turn heat to high and mix well until liquid evaporates. Once the liquid has evaporated it’s ready to serve!

EDIT: I forgot to mention why I’m not going to post any other cooking posts until later (yes, I’m going to continue the blog)! It’s because my house is a pig stein. That’s why the pictures were carefully framed…I had literally no space to cook. Thanks housemates.

Japan’s Itameshi & America’s Food Truck Craze: Representing our Generation through Food

7 Dec

 

flickr/boo_licious

A few months ago TheAtlantic.com featured an article by Corky White on Japan’s latest culinary obsession with all things Italian. Itameshi (“Ita” is short for “Italian” and “meshi” is the Japanese colloquial equivalent for “food”), originally referred to traditional Italian cuisine and now also refers to the practice of infusing Japanese flavors into Italian staples such as pasta and antipasti. The idea of mixing Japanese and Italian food sounds strange at first—especially if sushi and marinara sauce are the first things that come to mind—but it’s really not. For example,this recipe is basically tuna pasta with the substitution of certain ingredients: soy sauce is used in place of salt and furikake (a mixture of dried seaweed, sesame seeds) is used in place of the herbs such as basil or parsley.

What intrigued me most about the article was White’s proposed reason for Itameshi’s current popularity. For the older Japanese individuals he interviewed, Itameshi appealed to them because the rustic character of Italian cuisine reminded them of a “long-gone Japan.” As a nation that lost its cultural and national identity to the rapid modernization and Westernization of the Meiji Restoration, the nostalgic quality of Itameshi cannot be ignored.

But I am convinced that Itameshi is popular for other reasons; after all, it has only recently become very popular despite its 50 years in Japan. Itameshi first experienced moderate popularity during the post-WWII period when major cities were saturated with American troops. In the 1970s its modern incarnation welcomed a small boost in popularity when chefs began introducing more Japanese flavors and ingredients such as ponzu (citrus soy sauce) and shiitake (Japanese mushrooms). And until recently, Franco-nippon cuisine, a blend of French and Japanese flavors, has been more popular. So why is Itameshi extremely popular now after 50 years on the food circuit? Instead of looking to the older generation for answers, we should look to the younger demographic.

I would argue that Itameshi is now more popular than ever because its current Japanese-infused form represents the essence of Japan’s younger generation. According to some of my friends from Okinawa, young adults in Japan want to adopt completely foreign lifestyles such as the American lifestyle because they think the greater social and economic freedom is invigorating. But in the end many settle for a hybrid lifestyle in fear of being ostracized for deviating too far from the social norm. So for them Itameshi isn’t just a food trend—it’s a manifestation of their identity and that is why it is so popular. And more importantly: it’s affordable, unlike Franco-Nippon cuisine; and it’s easily accessible, with many local eateries, such as the popular Italian Tomato, within close proximity.

But does this only apply to Japan? After reading this article on fusion cuisine I began to think about culinary trends here in America. Fusion cuisine, organic food, and food trucks are all greatly popular, yet very different. Do we become schizophrenic when we think about food? Or is there a single driving force powering the co-existence of these various crazes? Having schizophrenic tendencies while thinking about food sounds like a blast, but I can make a stronger argument for the latter. Like Itameshi in Japan, food trends in America have come to represent our generation. Fusion cuisine reflects how we are intermixing what was once partitioned ethnic communities; organic food reflects our commitment to living green in light of environmental and health concerns; and food trucks reflect the impact of media on our perception of how food should be eaten.

Of all three, I would consider the food truck trend to be the most interesting representation of our generation—especially for those living in Los Angeles.

The popularity of shows such as Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives have glorified the itinerant eating lifestyle and made us infatuated with the idea that we can experience the world through food. Realistically, we can’t all travel the world like bad-ass Anthony Bourdain or tour the country driving a red Chevrolet Camaro convertible like spunky Guy Fieri, but we can recreate that experience by patronizing the various food trucks L.A. has to offer.

These mobile kitchens serve food that is—and don’t hate me for saying it—the same fare we could get at a restaurant. You could easily walk into the neighborhood pizza parlor for a slice of pepperoni pizza comparable to that of the very popular Slice Truck. But the overall experience, starting with finding a truck serving what you’re craving at the moment, to finding a nearby spot to eat before heading home, provides more than a means to satisfy our appetite; it provides us with the opportunity to explore and discover tastes like the food celebrities on television.

Let’s say for example, that you’re craving a banh mi sandwich. You could either be like Anthony Bourdain and book a flight to Hanoi or you could just check the Nom Nom Truck’s twitter to see where they’ll be serving their famous banh mi. If you convince a friend who’s good with a camera to tag along with you, you could probably make your search for the perfect banh mi sandwich look and feel like what you would see on No Reservations. With both scenarios, you’d finish the night with a belly full of barbeque pork, picked carrots and radish, and cilantro, but you’d be a couple thousand dollars richer if you skipped the plane ride all together.

Everyone thinks that they’re singlehandedly bringing something innovative and exciting to the world of food, but in the end we’re all just using manipulating food to define how our children and grandchildren will remember our generation. And to add insult to our already injured egos, this is something we’ve seen repeated through history.

Think about it. Trends from the eras when our parents and grandparents grew up were also fundamental in defining their generations. During the 1920s and 30s, flappers adopted fashions popularized in France by Coco Chanel to signal the advent of the modern woman who saw no need to answer to a man. In the 1960s, men and women of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds used music to express to express their feelings on war, race, and civil rights. Using food to define our generation is just the modern version of what fashion and music accomplished in the past.

What will be next? Fashion, music, and food were around long before they began to reflect the character of their respective generations. I’d say anything is fair game.

So ladies and gentlemen, place your bets and cross your fingers. I think we’re all in for quite a treat.

Discussions on Southern Food Reveals Unexpected Parallelisms

7 Dec

Nago City's version of Okinawan Soba--July 2006

On November 10th Eatocracy hosted its inaugural Secret Supper, an initiative aimed towards creating dialogue between food writers, experts, and aficionados. Hosted at Chef Linton Hopkin’s Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, this Secret Supper “centered around the topic of how chef’s increasingly close collaboration with farmers figures into the preservation and evolution of Southern cooking.”

More specifically, they wanted to emphasize how Southern cuisine isn’t just about biscuits, gravy, and fried chicken; but about how ingredients travel from farm to table. In an interview, Chef Hopkins expressed how careful preparation focused on preserving the raw tastes of fresh local produce can evoke memories of the plantation community and old traditions of the South.

As someone unfamiliar with Southern food, having never visited the South or tasted its food (this is the one thing that can’t be found in the mixed plate culinary culture of Hawaii), I was taken aback. This is not how you portrayed Southern food, Paula Deen! Intrigued by this new perspective on Southern food I read Reclaiming the soul of Southern food, a sister article that delves deeper into what Southern food was meant to be. Things started to make sense, but in the back of my all I could think about was how eerily similar Southern food was to the food of my ancestors.

Yes, surprisingly, Southern food has a striking resemblance to Okinawan food: the food eaten by many of the world’s centenarians.

As someone who believed that Okinawan food was unique to any in the world—what I now realize to be a poor misconception construed on superficial knowledge—I thought it would be interesting to explore how the key points of this article function as descriptors of Okinawan food. And that by doing so I could perhaps gain a deeper appreciation for my heritage.

————————————

1. “Southern food hits on every level, and for us, this is about community and building trust”

I was seventeen when I traveled to Okinawa for the first time. It was my first time flying solo, first time leaving the country, and I’ll admit, I cried after saying goodbye to my Mom at the airport. Needless to say this turned me off to the idea of visiting this exciting, foreign place.

But things change quickly, especially with food on the agenda. Once I arrived in Naha, my relatives greeted me with a welcome sign (written in English and Japanese) and none other than a box containing a turkey cucumber sandwich. Although not by any means a traditional Okinawan dish, it is a very popular sandwich sold at every convenience store and regularly prepared at home. (As we will later discuss, the prevalence and popularity of such food items can be considered as a part of the regional cuisine.) The sandwich was delicious and expressed a heartfelt welcome, or mensore as we would say in the Okinawan dialect, that quickly established a sense of comfort and trust with my relatives.

During my first week in Okinawa I learned that Okinawans follow a peculiar schedule; they love sleeping in and love staying up into the wee hours of the morning. This schedule taught me two very important lessons about Okinawan food culture: that food can, and will, be consumed at all times of the day, and it is the glue that keeps everyone together. Even at 2am in the morning, visitors ranging from a distant relative to the neighborhood Battle of Okinawa veteran would visit to discuss the day and the plans for the rest of the week. Every time, my aunty would play host, offering snacks and taking requests for whatever they craved. One day an assortment of nakami (pig intestine and stomach soup), andagi (Okinawan fried donuts), and goya (bittermelon) juice covered every inch of the sitting room coffee table. I later learned that the food, which everyone swore was the best in the neighborhood, was what brought everyone together.

2. Southern food is born off of farms; it’s about cooking what’s around you

John Kessler, a food writer and dining critic who attended Eatocracy’s Secret Supper defined Southern food as “food that is very close to the agrarian tradition. It’s close to the earth.”

Okinawan food is no different.

Most Okinawans cook with homegrown vegetables and herbs and some still raise their own livestock, namely pigs. The earthy quality of the cuisine is so strongly connected to the landscape and its people that many Okinawan Americans who visit insist that they reconnected with their heritage and cultural identity through the food.

I experienced this first-hand when we went to visit my aunt and uncle’s house up in the mountains near Nago city. This house, accessible only by dirt road, and surrounded by nothing but untouched vegetation, was where they grew most of their vegetables—including the very popular goya.

 

The view from my Uncle and Aunty's mountain home -- July 2006

For our visit she prepared somen champuru (stir-fried noodles) containing herbs and vegetables picked from the garden; freshly squeezed shikwasa (hirami lemon) juice; and goya soda, made from goya zest and Sprite.

The freshness of the ingredients resulted in a unique resonation of flavors on my palate, and I immediately understood what my fellow Okinawan Americans were talking about.

3. Notion of the “global South”—contributions of labor, ingredients, and techniques from immigrant groups to the South

The “global South” emerged through the culinary influence of immigrants who relocated to the South. Okinawan food, on the other hand, has been diversified by the American military presence as well as by returning Okinawans whose families emigrated to North and South America to work on the sugar cane plantations.

The strong American influence in Okinawa has greatly altered the food scene by popularizing American favorites, such as hamburgers and fried chicken, and by introducing new creations such as taco rice. Basically rice covered in taco-seasoned ground beef, lettuce, cheese, and salsa, it is now considered to be part of the regional cuisine; despite bearing little to no resemblance to traditional Okinawan food.

At first it was hard for me to accept this as an Okinawan dish but I soon realized that I was looking at this too narrow-mindedly. Think of it this way, Americans consider hamburgers and hot dogs as All-American food–despite being foreign imports–because of their historical significance in defining American culture. The same can be said for taco rice (and that previously mentioned turkey cucumber sandwich) in Okinawa.

100 years ago many Okinawans immigrated to North and South America to work on sugar cane plantations. Now, with the Okinawan government sponsoring exchange programs with these countries as well as their Worldwide Uchinanchu (Okinawan) festival held every five years, many overseas Okinawans are returning to Okinawa.

This unique pattern of immigration has greatly influenced Okinawan cuisine, introducing new dishes as well as innovative interpretations of traditional dishes. On Okinawa Hai!, a blog where most of the contributors are military personnel currently residing in Okinawa, the extent of this can be seen in their restaurant guide section. Restaurants serving Peruvian, Hawaiian, Brazilian-Okinawan fusion cuisine, and more, are plentiful and representative of the diverse experiences of Okinawans worldwide.

————————————

Virginia Willis, and attendee of the Secret Supper said that food “will allow us to connect what we’re putting in our mouth with what is happening around the world.” She’s right. The discussion started at the Secret Supper inspired established voices in the food industry to discuss Southern food and it inspired this food blogger to take a closer look at a regional cuisine close to her heart. The process has yielded revelations but also mysteries that require further exploration. That was the point, right?

But what happens next? The next Secret Supper is probably in the works already but I’m not going to wait for its unveiling to continue this conversation. What about you?

Stay tuned!

4 Dec

No. No pierogies just yet. Sorry guys. But! I will be making something equally as fantastic. The ingredients have been prepped and all that’s left to do is start the cooking! Pictures to be posted tomorrow!

Also, for those of you following the World Cup news (yayy Russia and Qatar!) check out this photo I found today on a fellow wordpress site:

Doha Port Stadium, Qatar

Gorgeous, huh? I thought so!