Monday, August 27, 2012

Open your mind, open your mouth, and stick it in...

If there is nothing else to be learned about New York City, learn this: living here is like living in every country on the surface of this beautiful blue-green ball all at once. Half of the time, especially in the outer boroughs, I can’t read most of the signs. And in a matter of blocks, I still can’t read the signs, but the language has completely changed. Quite often I find myself wondering if it’s a language at all. Then people walk by having some kind of debate in what I can only assume is the vocalization of the current set of hieroglyphs before my eyes. I’m not sure if you can call this city a true melting pot, though, as the cultural sections of town are pretty definite in their invisible and unspoken territorial dividing lines. But with so many different groups clumped together in such a tiny space, there is only one certainty.

The food here is the bomb.

I currently reside in a tiny part of Queens called Flushing. If you haven’t ever been to Flushing, I just think of it as Little Korea. As much as I would hate to be politically incorrect, it’s what I assume due to the kick ass Korean BBQ place around the corner. Whatever the actual Asian majority is here in Flushing, everywhere there are new fun things to be found. Shops with whole cooked ducks hanging in the window abound, beaks included. Bubble tea, that deliciousness with tapioca balls on the bottom and a giant ass straw. And many, many, many restaurants with only dishes I cannot pronounce. I love it!

For the last forty years, my grandmother has lived right here in this little bubble of New York City. According to her, it has changed a great deal. It was not always Little Korea apparently. I wouldn’t know, but I trust her. In all this time, she has not even considered braving the multitude of questionable establishments. When I learned of this, I was noticeably shocked. This is the woman who crossed an ocean (on a boat!) to come to America. This is the woman who, when I was young, encouraged me to go to the village and take a picture with some nice transvestites. Adventurous and open minded…that’s what I always thought of my grandmother. So when she revealed her hesitance to go out and try any of the food around here, I knew I found a new goal in life.

Thus began the incessant hounding to broaden her horizons. Each time I mentioned it, she scrunched up her face and said “No! I will not. These places, who knows what you’re eating? The meat has bones in it still, the eyes look at you. I don’t want to eat dog.” She’s really very nice despite sometimes being a bit un-PC. Slowly but surely, I kept mentioning one restaurant, that same kick ass Korean BBQ joint, until yesterday I was smacked in the face with a surprise.

“So grandma, what do you want to do for dinner tonight?” I asked, thinking we would have some leftovers.

“Well, Bro, let us go to this place you talk about so much. You said something about BBQ…do they have ribs?”

To be clear, I don’t think this place has ribs. And to be fair, I can’t read everything on the menu, so I could be completely wrong. Regardless, grandma had finally agreed to step outside of her comfort zone and try something totally new. Hell yes! My grandma is awesome.

When it came down to it, which is to say after 20 minutes of staring at the menu, I chose my regular #19 while grandma chose #13: “Our special noodle soup.” Way to be vague, tiny English description. But that’s my grandma. If she is going to be adventurous, she is going to do it right. Order that which is the least described thing on the menu and be prepared for the worst.

Along with our soupy dishes, we got eight tiny plates of sides. Some I recognized, or at least thought I did, but most remained a tasty, tasty mystery. Keeping a brave face on, grandma tried a little bit of almost every one. She only avoided the ones I knew from experience were spicy. Some, though, we both learned were prepared in essence of lava. 

 After some spicy side dishes.

Side note: I feel as though my culinary experiences growing up have left me unprepared for the spicier foods of the world. In my mind, once all of my taste buds have melted off and I’m choking through fire for enough air to audibly cry…I’m not enjoying that meal. But I digress.

At long last, our dishes arrived in their full splendor. The tiny black pot of my steaming vegetable/beef/other soup made my mouth water. Grandma’s “special noodles” came in a metal bowl. Atop the noodles were a big shrimp, eyes, legs, and whiskers still all accounted for, and half of a hardboiled egg. She skeptically fished around for a minute or two before pulling out her spoon. The look on her face at the moment of noodle tongue contact can only be described as flabbergasted. She hadn’t expected it to actually taste good!

A change of heart.

To our great surprise, the mystery soup was filled with bits of crab, one clam, something that seemed like sea snails, mushrooms, itty bitty squids and various other unnamable sea foods and vegetables. She did not eat everything, but she tried a great deal. And overall, she enjoyed the experience very much. Admiring her bravery, I finally got up the guts to ask what the spongy, wiggly, white blobs in my soup were. I had been eating them since I first made this restaurant discovery a few years ago on a visit, and I never wanted to ask. Turns out I’ve been eating stomach. Of what? There are some language barriers in this establishment that cannot as of yet be overcome, so I still don’t really know all that.

Neither of us ate the big little shrimp. I couldn’t mix all the sea food with my beefy/veggy/stomach concoction, and grandma thought he (we assume) was too cute. So, logically, we wrapped him in a napkin and brought him home with us. His name is Whisker Eyes, and he lives in a zip-lock bag in the refrigerator. Well…he doesn’t quite live there. You get it.

We’re weird. Living here, I finally learned where some of my eccentricities came from.

I love my grandmother very much, and I am proud of her decision to pop her comfort bubble and tackle an unknown culinary adventure. It was a great moment in history.

So tell me, dear readers, about sometime when you stepped into a totally new food world. How did it go? Did you find a new favorite, or did you discover a new upchuck inducing never again food? I want to know!

Happy Monday Fun Day everyone! May it be filled with culinary adventures and new horizons for you all.


  1. my husband and i love to eat in NYC. my favorite is to go into a restaurant where everyone else looks different than me and where there is no english text on the menu. any nationality will do... we play a sort of "dinner roulette" and randomly point to items on the menu, or ask the server to bring whatever is their favorite. or just point to someone else's plate and have what they are having. needless to say, beef tendons are delicious, and i like cartilage-y things marinated in sauce. so glad you are enjoying the best parts of the city :)

    1. Oh yes! That sounds like an amazing game. I will have to find a new place and play.