Alright, judge if you must, but when it’s hump day my mind goes toward one thing – Asian food. I know it’s a catch-all term, but I am a huge fan of anything of the Asian persuasion. As in, my tastebuds are begging to, like, bone some Asian food to get over the midweek slump. Does that make sense? Whatever, you’re the perv 😉
Anyways, this has been the case for at least the past 10 years. Like many American kids, Chinese was the sole Asian representation from my childhood. They broke into mainstream thanks to free Kung Pao chicken samples in shopping mall food courts, and we all fell in love. They also won favor by being the go-to reprieve for lonely Jews in the Bible belt on both Sundays and Christmas Eve, but that was where our Asian education promptly ended.
I sensed the virtues of Asian food extended well beyond the egg roll, so I expanded my horizons to include Japanese in college. I quickly fell in love with sushi, and then added it to my rotation or regular take-outs by the time I moved to New York.
I then broadened my Japanese repertoire to include ramen, hibachi, gyoza and udon soup, which I largely credit to my former home base in the East Village. St. Mark’s place is like a mini, sketchier Tokyo, y’all, and I lived one block away for three years.
Pretty soon, Japanese food became my ultimate favorite cuisine. It eclipsed my Mediterranean obsession and forced my former lover, Italian, to the back seat of my oral..minivan? Ugh whatever, your metaphors aren’t working today.
“But why?” you ask. “Why force a delicious margherita pizza to take the backseat to raw fish? Have you no loyalty to the tomato? Why are you so anti-cheese, garlic, pasta, all things virtuous and carb-laden? What did carbonara ever do to you, you bastard!?!?”
And, listen, I hear your overblown rage, but I’m willing to bet your gyoza consumption has been slim to nonexistent up until this point. You likely think ramen is something you eat with a melted slice of rubbery American cheese. It’s really really not. Ever heard of okonomiyaki? It gives pizza a run for its damn money, and I once famously put on a solid 15 lbs thanks to a summer abroad in Rome. I’d put on an easy 20 for okonomiyaki.
If case you’re curious, this Japanese “savory pancake” is made of grilled noodles and topped with eggs, veggies, meat, and a combo of sauces including mayo, BBQ sauce and pickled ginger. It’s fried on a diner-style stove top in assorted places around Japan, and is SO damn satisfying.
Japanese may be my favorite, but it’s not even my sole Asian anymore. I discovered the virtues of Indian food once I moved to London in 2012, since it’s the locals’ go-to take-out option à la Americans with Chinese food. I then expanded to Vietnamese, Korean and even got into Indonesian on my honeymoon. It’s safe to say I’m obsessed, and it’s unlikely Italian will ever get upgraded to my oral passenger seat, y’all.
But back to Indian. When I’m looking to binge, nothing beats Indian food. What Brits simply refer to as a “curry” is excellent for takeout, where you can get any variety of creamy, spicy, hearty and unique dishes that you mop up with fluffy naan bread. You also get poppadoms, which are these giant discs of crispiness that taste like Baked Lay’s but are also served with mango chutney and other dipping sauces. Indian food is generally cheap, but I’ve also noticed a trend of all these high end Indian places cropping up as of late. We recently went to this place in Dublin where I had a lobster curry, and it was unbelievable – SO decadent, but still a definite “treat yo’self” type of meal, calorically speaking.
Vietnamese is definitely the most guilt-free Asian food aside from Japanese. When I’m looking to eat a bit lighter, nothing beats a Vietnamese pho. The aromatic pho soup (pronounced ‘fu,’ in case you’re still calling it ‘foe’), is the ultimate healthy and exotic food. It’s filled with rice noodles and usually chicken or beef, and is served with garnishes you can add yourself like green onions, chilis, Thai basil, cilantro, lime, and Sriracha. It’s the BEST.
When I’m looking to go for heartier Vietnamese, I default to Bahn mi. These exploded in popularity when I was living in New York, but these sub sandwiches are definitely not a fad. If you’ve never heard of them, they’re sandwiches served on a crispy toasted baguette and filled with your choice of protein. They’re garnished with cilantro, carrots, cucumbers and radishes, so they taste fresh no matter how hearty the protein on your Bahn mi. They totally cancel out the deep fried duck, y’all. That’s what I’m telling you – they’re magic.
I’m definitely least experienced with Korean food, but I’m getting into it more and more. I almost always default to bibimbap as my main dish, mostly because the name is delightful.
Bibimbap (teehee – so fun) is a bowl of rice served in a clay pot and topped with meat, veggies, and an egg yolk. It comes out sizzling so you can cook the egg while you eat. I always eat it with hot chili sauce, like Sriracha, because I’m addicted, but also it doesn’t come with a ton of seasoning.
I’ve recently discovered Korean BBQ, and that’s a treat. There’s a couple of places around Dublin where they let you cook your own food at the table, hibachi-style, while exhaust fans work to keep the stench that’ll cling to your hair and clothes at a minimum. You’ll still reek when you leave, but it’s a small price to pay for a happy belly. Also, Korean fried chicken is a well known treat, and a nice alternative to the Indian binge. I imagine there will be lots more Korean in my future.
Anyways, that encapsulates my Asian food obsession. I’ll leave you with this plate of gyoza. Happy hump day!