When in Chinatown…

wontons

As you probably know, San Francisco is home to quite a large Chinese American population. SF Chinatown–the one downtown–is the oldest in the U.S., and a major tourist attraction, but there’s more than just one Chinese neighborhood in San Francisco. Apparently, in the Sunset, there are no fewer than three mini-Chinatowns. Wikipedia attests to this, so it must be true.

The other day, after running to the Pacific Ocean, A and I hopped on the bus back. What can I say? We were getting hungry. But the point to make here is that along the route, we passed by blocks and blocks of Asian shops, restaurants and groceries. I was inspired.

When in Chinatown, eat make dumplings wontons! I went to a Chinese market looking for dumpling skins, but they only had wonton wrappers, so pork-leek-cilantro wontons it was going to be. I had to Google how to fold the wrappers since it was my first time making wontons and the owner did an extremely poor job of explaining this. But just look how cute those little flying-nun hats turned out!

Filling ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1 small leek, chopped
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • A tad of ginger powder
  • A dash of soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

Sorry, I don’t generally use precise measurements when cooking. As my mom always says when I ask how to make a Korean dish, “enough of this” and “a bit of that” is as precise as it gets. But I like my wontons leeky and cilantro-y, so I put in generous helpings of both, finely chopped. I didn’t add any salt or pepper, but it might not have been a bad idea to do so. I ended up sprinkling a bit of salt on the cooked wontons and using plenty of dipping sauce.

Sauce:

  • Soy sauce
  • Rice vinegar
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Green onion
  • Drop of sesame oil

Cooking instructions:

  • Mix all the filling ingredients listed up top. 
  • Place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of the square wrapper.
  • To fold the wonton [this how-to has handy pictorials]:
    • Wet the edges of the wrapper, and fold in half to make a rectangular shape.
    • Pinch the bottom-middle of the filling bulge to make a fortune cookie-esque shape, and fold up the outer edge of the wrapper.
    • Wet the corners to seal the wonton.
  • Pan fry the dumplings in a bit of vegetable oil.
  • Add a cup of water and simmer until the water evaporates, about 4-5 minutes.
  • Turn the wonton over at some point so it simmers on both sides.

Eat and enjoy!

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Only in San Francisco

Well, that didn’t take very long did it? I’ve already imbibed SF-style living. I sit on an exercise ball at work, dutifully sort compost from recyclable from waste, live in a mixed-gender apartment (it’s all about ‘balance’) and carry around a self-folding reusable bag at all times.

San Francisco stereotypes, acknowledged. But this weekend was even more #OnlyinSF than usual.

To start, A and I went to a party hosted at Haus of Hipstamatic, a three-story startup-quirky workspace with exposed brick, a taxidermy wall and a roofdeck with a fire pit and bar… all of which is normally occupied by only six people!

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We had a sleepover Friday night, and on Saturday morning went for a morning run through Golden Gate Park out to Ocean Beach. That’s right. The Pacific Ocean is a mere 4-mile run away–and the scenery is gorgeous the whole way.


On our way home, we bought some fresh berries and made a brunch consisting of French toast, homefries with bacon and soft-ripened avocado.

Saturday evening, I went bhangra dancing, which is not necessarily a San Francisco-specific activity–but what happened as we left the club was! We had stopped by a water station on our way out, and the bouncer asked us not to leave with the clear cups in our hands. He said it might look like we were carrying drinks out of the club and into the neighborhood, so could we please finish our water before leaving.

“Just being good to the neighborhood,” he said, as he waited for us to empty and give him our cups. Which, I’m sure, he recycled.

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Even today’s church experience was characteristically only-in-SF. Not to mention the church’s name–Reality–and that fact that this month we’re having “slow church” services. But the icing on the cake? Service was followed, as a matter of course, by food trucks in the parking lot. I got pork and chicken buns from Chairman Bao–nomtastic, as J would say.

Gotta say, San Francisco living is good. If these are the SF stereotypes, I embrace them all!

Twas an Impromptu Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the flat
Mulled wine was a-stirring in a plentiful vat

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The foodstuffs were packaged and purchased with care

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And J whipped up dinner with time to spare

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The children surrounded the impromptu spread

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While visions of store-bought cake danced in their heads

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Then E busted out her operatic chops

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To amaze us all and make our hearts stop! 

Slapdash it was, but it all turned out right;
So Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night :)

Bay Area Wayfaring: Oakland

It’s been chilly lately–which of course is the perfect time to bring out the cozy sweaters and comfort foods. Neither of which I have a lot of, given that my winter clothes are (still!!) in storage, and I haven’t been stocking the fridge because I keep moving from place to place.

But my upcoming move this weekend will hopefully, for the time being, be my last. It’s been 19 weeks since I came out here, with 11 moves in that time frame.

I’m not gonna lie, it’s been stressful. Had I known coming into this just how challenging it would be (and how hard some others have it), I might have braced myself and been more anxious about the transition. But the optimism that brought me over here in the first place kept me pummeling forward despite all, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate. Hopping all over the Bay area meant that I got to pick up lots of new friends along the way, and of course, get a sampling of all the great food the different neighborhoods have to offer!

Which brings me to today’s topic, Oakland. Last month, I found myself shacking up temporarily with A, N and J in a cute little house in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood. I can’t remember the last time I lived in an actual house–with a driveway, basketball court, dining room, kitchen, study and den–what! Coming home to that much space every day was ridiculous.

Oakland has very much a community vibe, and a community of food-lovers in particular. I was so happy to find myself in a house full of people with hearty appetites! Our inaugural roommate dinner was a Korean food feast of galbi, bibimbap and eggplant. N is an amazing cook, and my mouth is watering just remembering how delicious everything was. (A keen eye will notice above the telltale signs of store-bought bibimbap ingredients, but everything else was homemade.)

We lived a mere two blocks from the Oakland location of Burma Superstar, which–don’t shoot the messenger–I thought was overrated. It was good, very flavorful, but for the price? Could be better.

We also lived but a matter of blocks from Homeroom510, which serves the most delightful varieties of mac and cheese baked full of cheesy flavor and topped with breadcrumbs. I got the Gilroy Garlic with bacon (in the background, above), and actually managed to eat it all in one sitting because it was THAT good. The Professor, a shandy-like mix of light beer and limeade, was a perfect accompaniment.

And yes, Oakland is hipster central. Disclaimer: I have to say, despite the fact that it’s apparent from this blog that I take a lot of pictures of food, I do it for the blog, and not because I am a hipster. I do not own anything in plaid or Warby Parker glasses, nor do I have any facial hair (thank goodness for that). Friends have started making fun of me because of all these Asians/hipsters taking pictures of food memes, but they can judge all they want! I actually have a readership on this blog (or so I tell myself).

In case you missed it, Hipster Thanksgiving:

Milestones: My Blog and I Turn a Year Older

It’s been a year since I started blogging, and in that time I’ve:

  • had 1,000 cups of tea (give or take a few);
  • posted at least once a week in all but 4 of the past 52 weeks;
  • written 142 posts about my year abroad;
  • taken 13 trips around Europe;
  • and, hopefully, been interesting enough to merit the 20K+ views I’ve earned.

The question now is… What next?

Answer: I’m not sure myself. I graduated from the LSE in July, traveled around Switzerland, roadtripped with the fam to Cape Cod, caught up with friends in New York, and finally made it to the Bay area. I am quite happily funemployed at present, applying to jobs, cooking and baking and making milkshakes, watering B’s garden, doing yoga, going biking and hiking and generally trying to enjoy this as much as I possibly can. Unemployment can be incredibly stressful, so I’m just focusing on the fact that once I have a job, I won’t have what is currently my one commodity: time.

That is, in addition to time, I am incredibly blessed to have the absolutely immense generosity of friends: R&B I can’t thank you enough; A&N you two are so thoughtful; L&K and A thanks for welcoming me to SF; E thankyousosomuch for trusting me with your car! (Besides that one time I almost left-turned into the left lane because England got me all mixed up, I’m happy to report there have been no mishaps.)

Next question.. What happens to the blog?

Again, not quite sure, but I’m determined to keep it up. In many ways, blogging has made me push myself harder than I would otherwise. Today, for instance, I was exhausted after hosting an epic 10-hour-long birthday party yesterday, so I was tempted to stay home while my friends went hiking. But I told myself that there might be some good photos along that hike, so I dragged myself off the couch. And I’m so glad I did.

Question three… Did you say, “epic 10-hour-long bday party”?

Why, yes! One of the things I miss most about London is afternoon tea. So for my birthday, I invited friends over for tea, scones with jam and clotted cream, and cucumber sandwiches. All of it was homemade except for the jam, and even homegrown thanks to B’s vegetable garden!

A made fresh-picked cucumber and basil sandwiches. I did my best to make scones using A(b)’s grandmother’s recipe, but converting grams and millilitres to cups is always tricky. Mostly played this by ear.

The scones turned out okay, whew! I also made clotted cream using this recipe, but I went easy on the sour cream as it’s a bit overpowering.

I invited the girls to come over at 2pm, as tea is kind of a dainty affair; the boys would join at 4pm for board games. Umm we ran out of scones and sandwiches so I put out some chips and beer for the guys:

Puhahaha. Guys, if you’re reading this… sorry. We totally underestimated how much food we would need!

From 4pm until 12.30am, we played:

  • 4-7pm. Pictionary-phone, which is just about my favorite party game ever. It’s a combination of pictionary and telephone. How it works: each person holds a stack of cards, which go around the circle simultaneously (so everyone is writing or drawing at the same time). The first person writes a word or phrase, and the next person draws it; s/he then passes the drawing to the next person, who has to write down what s/he thinks the drawing depicts; who passes it on to the next person, and so on. It’s outrageous. Here’s one round:

 

“Thank you” is depicted through ways a person might give thanks…

The next person guesses the different scenarios represent “yes, no or maybe,” which elicits a pretty reasonable drawing…

Which then becomes multiple choice questions…. which then becomes.. sperm?!?! I was the last person in this round, so I had to look at the above drawing and figure out what it meant. My guess:

  • 7-10pm. Mafia. Ready, vote!

  • 10-12.30am. Four on a couch. Trying to think of another game to play, I only remembered the title of this game, and the fact that I had played it once in college. The only thing I remembered about the game at all was having an absolute riot. But I’m so glad it occurred to me, because once we figured out how to play, we again had an absolute riot!

In sum? I’ll keep blogging, if you’ll keep reading. Thanks for traveling with me thus far!

Related posts:

Milestones: Rediscovering My Inner Introvert
Milestones

A Tourist in My Own Town

Feels like it’s been a while since my last update, but maybe it’s because I’ve been doing so many small things everyday that on their own didn’t seem worth a full entry. So here’s a recap in aggregate!

BY THE WAY, I finished grad school two weeks ago. I don’t think I gave that fact enough fanfare. I’M DONE WITH GRAD SCHOOL!!!! Ever since I turned in my final essay, I’ve been searching for jobs part of the time, and also keeping to a regimen of at least one fun thing a day. I have the time, the leisure and a finite timeline; I also have no excuses. For my remaining weeks in London, I am a tourist in my own town!

And what I’m realizing is that London is really the world at your fingertips. Especially now that the London Festival has begun, the numerous events in this city are just incredible; you really could just keep yourself occupied absolutely every day and still not experience everything!

RETAIL THERAPY

I haven’t done much shopping in London, and truth is I haven’t even set foot in any of London’s chi-chi department stores for fear of wanting it all. So I made a date with A(p) to check out Harrods in celebration of having turned in my dissertation, and oh my. It was so indulgent, designer-centric, posh and ridiculous that after enjoying it for about 20 minutes my American sensibilities revolted against the opulence.

But then again, there was a sale. So I bought some shoes, which I love and am stuck with because I found out after the fact that Harrods only exchanges sale items for store credit. Everything else in that store is so overpriced that I’d rather keep the shoes than get ripped off trying to buy the next-cheapest item available. (Sequined tank top for £80, anyone?)

For dinner, we walked to the nearby gastropub Pantechnicon Public House, where I came with G two months ago when she was visiting. And I have been thinking about this delicious burger ever since. The best burger I’ve had in London, for £13.50. Not cheap, but you know what? After eating really awful food for eight months, I think I deserve a splurge.

SONG AND DANCE

What? They do this every year?! Last Saturday, the casts of all the West End shows performed musical numbers free in Trafalgar Square. I went with A(r) to catch numbers from Singin’ in the Rain (still one of my favorite stage musicals ever), Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Billy Elliot, Wicked. Awesome, awesome stuff. Can’t believe this is FREE. Love this city.

LONDON, YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL

I loved the line drawings in Charing Cross station.

Browsing a bookstore in South Kensington the next day, I found a book by David Gentleman, who did these drawings, called London, You’re Beautiful: An Artist’s Year. Gorgeous, evocative watercolors tracing the seasons and cityscapes. It’s £17, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy it before leaving this city. A preview:

ENGLISH DRINKS, SOUTH AFRICAN FOOD

That evening, I had my first-ever taste of Pimms. And it was gooood. I’m won over.

 

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen a spread this beautiful, or even had a home-cooked meal. A(r), who is from South Africa, made bobotie, a curried meat dish. Thanks A(r) for having me over for such a cozy, homey evening!

HIGH CHURCH

Monday, the Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, sang the Evensong service at Westminster Abbey. I’d gone a few weeks ago when the Abbey choir sang, the traditional boys’ and men’s choir. But I have to say, the men’s and women’s choir was just truly ethereal and heavenly, perhaps because the women’s voices are fuller than the boys’, so the harmonies layer in the most beautiful balance. At one point, a sustained refrain of amens truly brought tears to my eyes.

I attended Evensong with yet another A-named friend, A(b). Haha.

*Tip: If you want to go, try to arrive before 4.30 at the latest, as the seats fill up quickly. Just tell the people at the front gate that you want to attend Evensong; otherwise, so I hear, they won’t let you in!

THE BEAUTY IN THE ORDINARY

Such a pleasant, simple landscape–it could be any hillside in England. But it’s actually a getaway in the middle of the major global city of London. I love Hyde Park, and I remind myself every time I walk through it how lucky I am to be living so near such a beautiful green space.

FASHIONISTAS, 1700-PRESENT

Erdem 2008
Photo: David Hughes

I also went to see the Ballgowns exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Alright, I’ll confess up-front that I’m a little spoiled; the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met in New York last year was more immersive and impressive. But this was good too :)

The dress pictured above was definitely one of my favorites in the collection. Afterwards I also explored the newly-reopened fashion wing of the museum. Worth it (esp since the permanent fashion exhibit is free!), though perhaps not the most amazing thing you’ll see in London if you’ve got a time constraint, I’d say.

SOUTH BANK FOOD AND CULTURE

Ever since I tried this in March with J, I have been craaaving the Kappacasein grilled cheese sandwich. And this time, I also found another glass of Pimms :)

Afterwards, we walked along Bankside to the Southbank Centre, where the Festival of the World is currently taking place. Part of that is the Poetry Parnassus, which has loads of free poetry events! You can literally just walk right into the Royal Festival Hall and attend poetry readings and workshops.

A(p) and I caught the end of a “Poetry Karaoke” event, where someone reads an English poem translated into a foreign language, and members of the audience try to guess the poet/poem. Say what?! I am not nearly knowledgeable enough to do that, but some of the audience members were seriously on top of it.

The next in the lineup was a translation contest, in which an American and a Brit each did a translation of a Spanish-language poem, and we did a line-by-line comparison of their two translations. This was a fascinating exercise in parsing out the differences owing not just to personal choice, but cultural and linguistic understandings. Like how mediana alcurnia translated by an American becomes “middling ancestry,” while to a Brit it becomes “average nobility.” Come on, classism!

(To be fair, the British translator explained her choice in a very eloquent way that certainly demonstrated a much deeper understanding of the poem’s meaning than I gleaned at first. But it’s still remarkable how that happens.)

HOMEMADE SUSHI (THE ONLY GOOD KIND YOU’LL FIND IN LONDON)

Last week, we discovered that A(r)’s flatmate P has pre-bought most of the ingredients necessary to make sushi. And I haven’t had a single piece of good sushi since I moved to London. So we decided to make our own!

Since I’m Korean, we opted for Korean-style sushi, or kimbap, which doesn’t involve individual pieces of sashimi/sushi. We just cut up some veggies (carrots, cucumber, avocado), got some fish (smoked salmon, imitation crab meat) and rolled away!

I love roll-your-own-sushi nights because they’re interactive, fun and the end product is delicious.

The result of all that hard work? A sushi feast! Definitely the best I’ve had in London ;)

And that’s two weeks of fabulous done-with-grad-school freedom!

Dutch Breakfast with a Twist

Broodje hagelslag is a slice of bread slathered in butter and covered with chocolate sprinkles. But these aren’t just the plasticky chocolate sprinkles you eat on a cupcake. This is pure, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate.

You only live once, right? So for breakfast this morning I figured, why use butter when I can use Nutella to stick those sprinkles to my bread?


Step 1. Get a slice of bread. Maybe wheat bread if you want a few healthy points ;)
Step 2. Slather on a thin-to-generous layer of Nutella, as desired.
Step 3. Gather the chocolate in your hand and sprinkle a layer over the Nutella.


Step 4. Chomp chomp chomp. Yummmm. :]

Last Day in Paris (For Now)


After spending the better part of the day at Versailles, I hopped back on the RER train back to central Paris to see Sainte-Chapelle. Somehow, I completely missed this on my last visit—I walked right past it! It’s nestled in the Palais de Justice and you can’t see it from street level, so that’s my excuse.

There isn’t really a way to describe how gorgeous this was. It was literally breathtaking. The lower chapel is underwhelming, so my expectations were set low. I walked up a narrow winding staircase to reach the upper chapel and when I reached the top, I caught my breath and whispered, “Wow.”


Sainte-Chapelle is small relative to other, grander gothic churches, yet it’s so incredibly beautiful that I stood in the chapel for forty minutes, soaking it in. I only wished I had a ladder, so I could see more of the scenes up close and try to figure out what they depicted!

I loved the pamphlet’s description of how the windows “create a feeling of entry into the Heavenly Jerusalem, bathed in light and colour.” I haven’t seen heaven yet, but I think this might not be far from the truth. (Except that in heaven, there won’t be scaffolding! The windows on the left side are undergoing restoration, so that was a bit of an eyesore amid the beauty.)


In the evening, I met A at Hotel de Ville for a free exhibit of Robert Doisneau’s photographic documentation of Les Halles, a marketplace that was demolished in the 1970s.

While I was waiting, a camcorder dad gave his toddler some bread, thinking, It’ll be so great to have footage of our adorable daughter feeding the pigeons!

First of all, blegh, pigeons are gross. Second of all, bleeeggghhh. To top it off, her older brother started chasing and kicking the pigeons around. And it’s all caught on tape. Good one.


I hadn’t heard of Robert Doisneau, and I didn’t know much about Les Halles before seeing this exhibit. Truth be told, I don’t understand any French so the text descriptions didn’t help me much, either. But the photos were beautiful, active, impressive, joyous, pensive. I can tell Doisneau had a great sense of humor. And he loved Les Halles—he took his first picture there in 1933, and went back year after year after year all the way through the 70s, often photographing the same street corners with different people at different times.

It was a very nostalgic exhibit, well-placed for the plans to restore the Les Halles area. But it was also really touching and moving, which is a testament to Doisneau’s persistence and photographic skill. He made friends with people in the market, and you can tell because they’re so comfortable under his lens. By the time you reach the end of the exhibit, you’ve spent time behind that lens too, witnessing the work and the laughter of years. And you feel embraced by this community, and experience the collective grief when it was demolished.

*This exhibit is free, and runs through the end of the month. A tells me the lines are usually incredibly long—you might not find it to be worth an hours-long wait. But I love black and white photography, and it was both a very manageable and very local experience, outside of the typical Louvre / Orsay / Rodin / etc. museums that you can get lost in all day.


We went back to A’s place for dinner. I can’t get over how nice A’s place is. It’s partly the space itself, a recently renovated studio in the heart of Paris! But also A’s homey touch and fully outfitted kitchen make for a very cozy experience and a real-world, adults-live-here environment, which is so refreshing after living in a dorm for seven months. The wonders of a home-cooked meal! Our pasta dinner could practically have been served at a restaurant.

 
But the best part was dessert. A makes the most amazing cookies, ever. She used to bake often in college, and she once filled the largest Tupperware you’ve ever seen to the brim with chocolate chip cookies for me. I shared some with my suitemates, but to be honest I ate most of them myself, and they were gone in a heartbeat.

I’m no francophile, but I have respect for French food. The ingredients are better, and the food is prepared better. So take A’s baking skills and mix in some French butter and chocolate to make them, and you end up with a very tasty cookie and a very happy me.

 
My last morning in Paris. These are the streets that Doisneau used to photograph so diligently in the wee hours. I could see why Doisneau liked to be at the market in the early morning to take photos—something about the peace, the slow waking, the sense of possibility that pervades the stillness.

Every time I leave a city, I take a final lingering look, wanting to savor it in case I don’t come back. Seeing the way my last few trips, including this one, have gone though, I guess you can never tell.

So Paris, until next time, adieu!

*Thanks A for being such a warm, lovely host and staying up past your bedtime for me! Can I have your cookie recipe? :)

A Korean American in London

1. S(e)oul Food

My friend A kindly let me use her kitchen to cohost a Korean food night last night. Bibimbap!! Oh Korean food, how I’ve missed you. As they say, to Koreans, a meal isn’t a meal unless it comes with rice.

It felt nice to be cooking again, too. There’s something wholesome about it, especially after eating cafeteria food and prepackaged sandwiches for two months.

bibimbap groceries

The bag of groceries on the left is a handful of staple items I had to buy from the Korean market (e.g. red pepper paste 고추장 and kimchi 김치). The bag on the right is overflowing with all the fresh ingredients (veggies, meat, eggs) from Sainsbury’s. And guess what? The bag on the left cost four times as much. In dollar terms, it was about $35 just to buy I don’t even remember what. Korean food is so expensive here!

Eating out doesn’t satisfy the Korean food craving, either. About a month ago, I went to one of the Korean restaurants near Tottenham Court Road. While it wasn’t too expensive, there wasn’t much of it (I’ve never even seen such a small jjigae bowl before! It was the size of what they usually serve steamed egg in when they give it to you as “service”). It didn’t taste very good, either. There’s another Korean restaurant that people say is pretty good near campus, but they charge you for the banchan! I am staunchly against this in principle. You order Korean BBQ, and you have to pay for the lettuce?! No no no. This is very wrong.

When I go to New York in January, I’m eating in K-town every day. In fact, every meal. Including breakfast!

2. “But where are you from from?”

Conversations often go like this:

Student: Where are you from?
Me: New York.
Student: No, I mean, where are you from from?
Me: America?
Student: Hm, I mean, where are your parents from?
Me: Korea.
Student: So where in Korea are you from?
Me: I was born in the States, so… New York?

It’s not like I’m trying to dissociate myself from my Korean heritage. I embrace my identity as a Korean American. When I was little, I struggled with it because my white classmates made fun of me for being Asian, while my Korean friends considered me “whitewashed.” I neatly solved this dilemma by telling people I was “100% Korean and 100% American, so I’m 200% of a person.” Hahaha.

But what I’m not comfortable with is being pigeonholed because of the way I look. The alternate route that conversations take is this:

Student: Where are you from?
Me: New York.
Student: No, I mean, where are you from from?
Me: America?
Student: Hm, I mean, where are your parents from?
Me: Korea.
Student: NoOOOoOooo. You look Chinese!
Me: Well, I’m not…

To clarify, most people I meet accept “I’m from the States” for an answer; these conversations happen most often with Chinese students. I can understand the impulse to establish some commonality if a Chinese student far from home takes me for one of his/her own, but honestly, I think I’m going to prepare a 30-second lecture on hyphenated identities and just cut to the chase.

Or maybe I’ll give them the line my cheeky eight-year-old self came up with on being 200% of a person. Hahahaha. I’d love to see the looks I get on that one.