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A Tale of Two Cities…and Two Cuisines

By Wayne Chan

Opposites attract.  After 32 years of marriage, I can confidently make that claim.  Heck, we’re living proof of that.

My wife Maya loves taking walks.  I would rather drive there – even if it’s only two blocks away.

She likes to dance.  I’d prefer to sit.  She likes to read books.  I’d prefer to listen to a podcast.  She’s gregarious and very social. I’d prefer to listen to a podcast.

She’s petite and beautiful.  I’m…uh…I think I’m going on a tangent here.

Let me try to explain our differences another way.  We just came back from a trip to Asia – Taiwan and South Korea, specifically.  We’re both foodies, which is one thing we do have in common. But what we like to eat puts us on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Our first stop – Taiwan. Maya’s birthplace.  Beyond seeing friends and family, the one thing she was craving was eating some of her favorite Taiwanese dishes.  This is where our experiences tail off.

Strolling down one street, Maya saw a vendor selling food.  Her eyes opened wide.  She saw their sign where they were selling Taiwanese Mian Xian (pronounced “Me-en shen”) – kind of a noodle soup.

I’ve had Mian Xian before, and what can I say? I’d rather listen to a podcast.

For those who haven’t had it before, it’s a soup noodle where the noodles are very fine, kind of glistening in a dark brown soup, with vegetables and sometimes with bite-size morsels of oysters.  Every time Maya has it, it brings back memories from her childhood, and she revels in the familiar flavors of the noodles and broth.

For me? It’s something about the texture.  What’s the best adjective I can come up with? Gloopy? Gloppy? The consistency of the soup is more like a heavy gravy than actual soup. I don’t hate it, but let’s just say it’s not on my top ten list of well, anything.

Our next meal didn’t get much better, at least for me.

After walking through one of Taiwan’s famous street markets, we came to a shop that sold one of Taiwan’s signature dishes, O Ah Jian (pronounced “Oh Wah Jian), which is basically an oyster omelet.

It’s basically a flat omelet mixed with a starchy liquid along with small oysters and greens and topped off with a reddish-pink sauce.

How would I describe O Ah Jian? Mucus-like?  Squishy? Slightly sludgy?

To each, their own, right? Obviously, this is a very popular dish in Taiwan.  In fact, it’s one of Maya’s favorites.  It’s just not my cup of tea (or plate of squishy), as the case may be.

So, while my culinary travails in Taiwan may not have been my favorite, the tables were turned in South Korea.

Why? Two words – Korean Barbeque.

My niece, Melody was in charge of selecting all the restaurants in South Korea.  Korea has a wide variety of cuisine – from seafood, kimchi, dumplings, and hot pot.  But for some incredibly tasty reason, we had Korean BBQ four nights out of the seven we were there.  And it was glorious.

Plates of fresh beef, chicken, pork, seafood, and vegetables, covered in a variety of sauces on specially designed grills.  I was in heaven.

Maya, on the other hand, was not as pleased. 

“There’s just too much meat!  I can’t eat any more meat!”

I didn’t really hear any of her comments.  I was focused on the meat.  They actually had skewers of chicken skin on skewers, basting over hot coals until they were scrumptiously crispy with just the perfect amount of seasoning.  I was eating fried chicken skin as an entrée!  What’s not to love?

After our fourth night of carnivorous feasts, Maya had had enough.

“I just want a salad!” Maya insisted.

We made it home, both of us unscathed.  After a few days of being in a meat coma, I’m good as new. 

I was thinking of getting some Texas BBQ spare ribs tonight.  What do you think?

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1 COMMENT

  1. Well, that certainly blows the doors off of the popular myth that Asians eat anything and everything that moves. Being a 4th gen chef and a member of an Asian American family who’s been in America since 1847, I do pretty much eat or will at least try anything and everything that is part of a regular cuisine of a civilised and developed culture. Having said that, every country but America includes some kind of bugs or parts of animals that most Americans won’t touch as part of their normal cuisine i.e., maggot cheese in south America, snails in France, all kinds of organs, parts, and eyeballs in Ireland, Scotland, Spain. Turns out, we Americans tend to be the pickiest eaters in spite of the fact that so many Americans are only one or two generations away from countries that do eat bugs, parts, organs, etc. Go figure!

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