Happy Holidays, and welcome to my tutorial on Asian dining.
Although greasy Americ-asian food holds a warm place in my heart, in this post I’ll be describing only my greatest eating memories from my past six months galavanting around real Asia.
Working as a seaman on a cruise ship, I traveled between Asian ports in several different countries on a daily basis. My goal in most of my land endeavors was to find indigenous food, armed for some adventurous eating, and prepared for some capricious bowl movements.
There were a few things I didn’t like as much,
but so much more that I really enjoyed.
The following is a list of the some of the best things I ate; a small sample of all the great foods across the continent. Let’s do it country by country.
Due to immigration difficulties, Japan was sadly one of the least visited of all the countries in our itinerary. We were meant to see a dozen ports or so, and instead saw only two. Regardless, on each of the two stops in Japan, I had a remarkable meal of some kind. I’ll begin with Okinawa:
After walking around with no Yen for a couple hours, I finally found one restaurant that would take my credit card. It had a giant shrimp on the side of it:
In Japan, this could be anything from a bank to a nursing home
It was, however, a restaurant. Their menu had a selection of prix fix options, so I pointed to one and hoped for the best. One by one, this was laid in front of me:
The meal was incredible. The orange sauce on the giant bisected shrimp thing, as I was later told, is some kind of sea urchin sauce. It was one of the best tasting things I’ve ever eaten. The fish in the rice bowl had a sweet berry sauce on it, which was bizarrely dessert like. After doing the conversion, I found out that I paid $40 for the whole meal, and I regret nothing.
The other Japanese port we saw was Fukuoka, and this time my amazing meal was not an accident.
Several friends from the ship recommended this ramen restaurant, so I blindly followed them. They took me into a strange dark alley with a vending machine, and for a moment I thought I had been pranked into buying a packet of dry ramen.
There weren’t many choices, so I clicked on noodles, meat, and broth, and a ticket was printed for me. At this point I realized that we weren’t making microwave ramen on the sidewalk.
Once we paid for the noodles we waited in line, and were given a survey asking how spicy, oily, flavorful, etc. we wanted our ramen. Once a spot opened inside, we were escorted into our own private cubicles with a small opening in front of each of us.
We each had our own little water taps on the left
In a matter of minutes and a flurry of cordial Japanese, our noodles were thrown in front of us. Mine were, of course, extra spicy.
My friends did not let me down
These noodles were cooked perfectly, and the sauce they use in the broth is unbelievable. I’d say this was in the top five best things I ate in Asia.
For the first five months I spent afloat in Asia, 95% of the ports we visited were in Korea. I ate, and learned to love, a great deal of kimchi – a fermented cabbage-like leaf that Koreans eat with every meal.
I also ate a lot of gimbop. Similar to sushi, gimbop is a big wholesome seaweed/rice wrap with any assortment of vegetables, eggs, meat/fish of some kind, and usually something pickled.
The best part is that the whole thing cost about $1
A local woman that I met compared it to PB&J in America, because parents in Korea like to make them for their kids’ lunch-boxes, or eat it at picnics. In fact, while exploring the waterfalls of Yeosu, a picnicking Korean boy shared his mom’s homemade gimbop with me:
I should be a hand model
The best Korean food, however, is their iconic BBQ. The general rule of thumb is that you’re given a platter of flavored meat, often heavily marinated, which you cook at your table, combine with a variety of salads, sauces, and pickled things, and consume as a delicious mess. Some is cooked on hot pots, and some is cooked over coals. Every place has their own style. The meat is mostly pork, although beef and chicken is served at some places as well. I ate a lot of different Korean BBQ:
To prevent a wordier explanation, here’s a quick video tutorial from my favorite restaurant in Busan.
While our ship was based out of China for about five months, I had very little time to explore the area. While in Shanghai, though, I did get to try a traditional Chinese hot pot. It’s basically the Chinese version of fondue. We got these old fashion pots with boiling oil of some kind, which our waitress added some spices to:
After confusedly convincing our Mandarin-speaking servers what we wanted to order, using faulty translator apps which, for instance, translate “no meat please” into “give me meat”, we eventually had a table full of raw items to cook in the pots. In my typical messy fashion, I mixed every sauce together (including what my app translated to “secret peanut sauce”) and started to dig in.
It was very tasty
In an effort to maintain a safe post length, I’ll save my delicious reviews of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand for another post. Until then, Happy New Year, and may you enjoy many meals in 2014!