Getting international and savvy with food

Decisions – decisions! Where to go for dinner when you’re international with friends of different ethnic backgrounds: Japanese, Chinese and Filipino. I decided, since I played host and offered to treat. Thai it is. Everyone heartily agreed. I just wondered: if the choice was cuisine from any of our backgrounds, likely, a friendly argument would ensue. That would be utter waste of time, especially when we all were pitifully starving; some of us, having missed lunch in expectation of a huge dinner. Thus, we headed to Amarin, a pleasant Thai restaurant in Mountain View, CA.

Now, here’s the caveat, I warned my curious group.

Someone just has to help me position myself on the floor and yank me up afterwards. My fault, I asked for floor seating – cushions for sitting and a big hole underneath the table so legs could comfortably hang straight. Perfect, my companions said, and no problem with helping this Lola. It turned out, this Lola had no difficulty with crouching to settle on the floor, and pickled gracefully by slithering with the cushion to the edge of the first step by the railing, a sliding technique learned from another senior, another lover of floor seating. With all dignity I could muster, I picked up myself and straightened out using the top of the low banister as a crutch. A feat – but sort of an embarrassing small triumph. Funny, I’m sure – as noted from some small stifled giggles from my considerate friends. Wait till they’re Lolos and Lolas, I thought. Nonetheless, my young companions and I thoroughly enjoyed our Thai dinner.

I can still taste the appetizers of vegetable spring rolls and calamari fried to perfection. My standard for fried perfection is when food crumbles to fine particles in the mouth, breaking down crunchy flavors for astute savoring in the palate, and gusto prompts the reach for the next piece. That, to me, is perfection.

Then came the various main dishes, all to share: curried chicken, sautéed duck, spicy broiled eggplant and braised beef. My choice, as usual, was the coconut soup with jumbo shrimps and slices of vegetables and mushroom. The group consensus was that the dishes were superbly delicious, though a common ingredient it seemed was coconut. The sauces were “milky” and thick, with sharp or mild twangs of hot spice and a ghostly shade of sweetness. The sauce colors varied – the yellowish tint of the curry, reddish-pink of the red peppers, and rich brown of the beef and eggplant. All in all, the taste peaked to a rich fusion of poultry or meat with exotic aroma and relish of spice and vegetables. All of us said, we could go back to that restaurant anytime – but perhaps, best not to sit on the floor for me next time. A comical surprise: the kind owner-gentleman thanked us profusely for patronizing his restaurant, and capped his thanks with this question – “Do you want to buy my restaurant?” He explained seriously, he wants to retire. Hmmm … did we look like venture capitalists? I was the oldest in the group; the rest were in their 30’s. Maybe we did.

In two weeks, a bigger international bunch is holding a potluck in my home – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, American, Mexican, Filipino. The gathering is a welcome for a Japanese scientist visiting his friends in the Bay Area. My contribution is adobo, a marinated chicken soaked for a few hours in vinegar, and soy sauce with garlic cloves and simmered for almost an hour. My version of chicken adobo requires lightly browning the chicken pieces before dropping them in the marinate. My creative culinary twist for color, is mixing in cooked large pieces of white potato, and yam for the trace of zesty sweetness. The carbs should cook a few minutes with the chicken to absorb some of the gentle essence and zing of the marinate.

What others would bring to this mini United Nations would be very interesting as well. I probably will let you know in my blog after the potluck. The cliché suggests, “We are what we eat”. I would go further, “We are what we cook.” So, stay tuned. I will share with you (if you’re curious) some bits of what my friend’s friends are, by what they cook and bring to the potluck table in two weeks.

Well, remember that Japanese scientist, friend of my friend? He’s carrying with him, straight from Japan, my favorite Teika also called Tsuki (meaning moon) – my very favorite rice cakes, either flavored with shrimp or a special fine sugar called wasanbon. I first tasted these some months ago when my friend came back from a conference in Japan. Since she offered me some, I craved for these rice cakes that can only be found in Japan. So you see, there’s a worthy and urgent cause for the international potluck to be held in my home. I want those rice cakes!

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