Sunday, December 11, 2005

Munch a bunch

At the Asia Super Market in Niles, IL, I have the whole place to myself on a Sunday at 9 a.m. when the store's Korean clientele is in bed or, more likely, church. (I am unable to sleep later than about 5:30 lately. By 10:30 I feel like it should be time for a siesta, so 9 is perfect for taking care of business.) A few moments after I entered they started blasting lush, powerpop Christmas carols as if to tell me that I had no business shopping on the Lord's time. This sound was punctuated by the hammering of the fish guy, breaking up the ice in his display as he set it up. No one has ever offered to help me at Asia Super Market. No one has ever made eye contact. They leave me alone even as I pause for three minutes to stare at the dozen different kinds of dried fish and the aisle of nothing but sea vegetables. As you see towers of diet Pepsi in the mainstream markets at the end of an aisle, at Asia they stock three crab fish sauce and Kadoya sesame oil in several different size bottles, all tapering at the midsection, in eye-catching displays. I want them. I want one of each. I want one of each product in the store except for the sweets and the frozen fish.

I shop at Asia when we're visiting E's mom to pick up Japanese pantry staples such as nori and soba but lately I've started exploring Korean cooking and I was looking for some new-to-me products, prinicipally for making chap chae noodles and kimchee. For the former I picked up two pounds of Korean vermicelli, enough says the package for 16 servings. And for the latter I now have a pound of Korean crushed pepper. I've eaten about two cabbage heads worth of kimchee is the past week or two but it was seasoned inauthentically, with a mixture of red pepper flakes and togarashi, the Japanese spice mixture for sprinkling on soup. I can't wait to knock my socks off with the real deal. I also bought the jar of barbecue sauce you see above, "Ottogi beef bulgogi marinade with mushroom & vegetable." (Actually the one I bought has a yellow label, but close enough.) It comes with copious instructions for its proper use, in Korean.

Later the same day E and I ate at Lulu's Dim Sum and Then Some in Evanston. Lulu's is the Hot Topic of Dim Sum restaurants, making an exotic experience safe for mainstream consumers but at the same time flattering mainstream consumers for their taste in the exotic. You order a la carte at Lulu's and for lunch they offer a glutton's special. For $14.95 they'll bring you practically anything you want off their menu in any quantity. This takes the unpredictability out of dim sum, which can be had in a more authentic and satisfying fashion in Chicago's Chinatown at Phoenix, which I recommend if you're within a half day's drive of the Second City. When eating traditional dim sum I am overcome with anxiety: should I accept these dumplings now or might better ones come along in a few minutes? What was I thinking trying these beef tendons? If I hold out is the kitchen likely to produce some spare ribs? Will the rude server bother to stop at our table and tell us what's in her steamer? The dim sum diner, especially the inexperienced cultural tourist, is at the restaurant's mercy. On Lulu's Munch a Bunch program, by contrast, one is embarrassed by the possibility of eating large quantities of EVERYTHING. This is a different kind of anxiety but nonetheless a source of distress. The Munch a Bunch diner is held in check by the stigma of being seen as greedy, gluttonous, wasteful, excessive. It's very different from a buffet. At a buffet I wouldn't have to announce my intention of eating a whole big bowl of mussels, two pork buns, two chicken wings, a salmon cake, some chap chae noodles (see, I'm obsessed), various dumplings, half a serving of salmon sashimi, a sesame ball, and coconut shrimp. But I did eat all of those things before 1 pm this afternoon and to be frank I might have kept eating if the thought of asking for more wasn't simply out of the question. Could I? How could I? I always want more.

(If you go to Lulu's, get the wings and the shimp and skip the shiu mai.)

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Perhaps you were wondering what became of the blog of the week semi-finals? Another blog won. Thanks for voting for me, though.

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FD has gone black. In mourning for Richard Pryor? A goth phase? What gives? UPDATE: They've gone purple this a.m. Is this a new thing, a random blog color generator? I'm always behind the times.

3 Comments:

Anonymous mumu said...

how I envy. it's easy to get Japanese food products in Singapore but not so for Korean stuff. There're a couple of small Korean stores around but I still can't find them. I really want to get gochujang for bibimbap.

2:40 AM  
Blogger femme feral said...

I'm just playin with the color. I was tired of the old one. But I can't decide.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Kalyn said...

Ah, that wake up at 5:30 A.M. thing. I know about that.

11:47 AM  

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