There are certains things that I try not to eat because they have some sort of stigma attached to them. I can’t say I’d never eat them, as I’m sure that I’d eat say, live octoupus tentacles, if I had been wandering the Sahara with nothing but water and a tin of Altoids for forty days, but if given a choice, I wouldn’t.
These "blacklisted" things are not traditionally accepted as bad or unhealthy, and the stigma are not necessarily widely known nor accepted facts. They are simply things that exist in my own little, narrow, petty mind – deeply personal, highly subjective, totally devoid of any real logic (but of course, logical to me), likely related to some silly suppressed childhood trauma or brainwashing, and oftentimes completely inconsistent with other choices I make. I don’t like peanut butter. I never eat roast beef. Buffets are bacteria parades. Vegas buffets are bacteria parades in sequins and feather boas. And while we’re at it, sushi that “floats” by you on a mechanized beltrac is just a high tech version of a bacteria parade. I can’t eat in any establishment that has a “B” rating or lower, and am highly suspicious of an establishment that does not display a rating at all. For no religious reason, just because, I won’t eat organ meats.
I’m beginning to see that a lot of it has to do with hygiene and food safety, but then again, I have absolutely no problem whatsoever eating Benito’s at 3 a.m., or plucking samples from an open air tray from which eight people before me have breathed their luscious germs all over the french bread pizzas cut into bite-size pieces. *eh* No rhyme, no reason, right?
One picky anti-choice on my blacklist is the lunch combination. In particular, I abhor Asian lunch combinations. Bento box. Combo Numbah A (wi fry ry) or Combo Numbah B (wi nood-oh). Lunch Special. Whatever it’s called, lunch combinations set of sirens and flashing red lights in my brain when I see them. One might think perhaps I worked in a restaurant and know the secret, totally unsanitary, goings-on of a kitchen that pumps out hundreds of lunch specials to busy one-hour-only business casuals. Maybe I ordered a lunch combination and I developed dysentery from it. Or it’s possible, just barely possible, ‘tis neither and that I have no plausible explanation. So there. I do not order lunch combinations. I just don’t.
Unless a wily woman has her way. And let me tell you, Moms will always have their way.
Mom and I went to The Dragon for lunch, a Chinese restaurant on Vermont in Koreatown. (Technically, I think it's just "Dragon," but "The Dragon" sounds so much better, but who really cares anyway?!?! We call it Yong Goong.) Mom chose to meet me there because she’s awesome. The resaurant is located halfway between my, uh, home “office” and her dentist appointment, she knows I love Korean-Chinese food, and it is an easy restaurant for both of us to find since we had been there many times before, including one dinner that will go down in history (and, apparently, on this blog).
The Dragon is not the most intuitive place to find. It is camouflaged against a backdrop of chaotic Koreatown strip malls and apartment buildings, with one small, relatively non-descript sign visible from Vermont. If you barrel up Vermont and miss the narrow tunnel-like entrance that leads to the valet parking lot in the back, you’ll have to double back, and it’s not that easy to maneuver around crazy Koreatown drivers (steretyping completely intentional).
Mom was already there in the front lobby area, but had beaten me by only a few minutes. We followed a host through a mini-maze of tables, trying not to bump into servers hoisting enormous satellite dish-sized trays of food, to a small table along the wall. We sat down and exchanged quick “how was the drive?”s while opening the menus.
When I actually turned my attention to the menu, I just about fell out of my chair. The Dragon is like the Chinese version of the McCheesecake! Chinese restaurants typically have long menus, listing every possible permutation of a dish instead of simply printing “chicken with choice of vegetable,” so I wasn’t surprised by how many pages there were in The Dragon’s menu book. I was taken aback by the advertisements on each of the facing pages. Advertisements! Just like the magazine-style ads for uber-chic sunglasses and swimsuit boutiques alongside Cheesecake Factory’s offerings of avocado eggrolls and cajun jambalaya pasta! It was too much.
We focused on The Dragon’s lunchtime offerings while nibbling on kimchee and chopped raw onions doused with shik-cho (white vinegar), then dipped in black bean sauce. I have no idea what the official name of the onions is, but it’s only ever served in Korean Chinese restaurants. Raw onions give me heartburn, but I always eat them, paying for it later.
Mom was tickled to see lunch combinations for quite a bargain. She was so tickled that I could feel her wanting to bounce in her chair and gleefully clap her hands like a monkey, but she didn’t. Mom is a lady. I didn’t bounce in my chair and clap my hands because it was a lunch combination. Inevitably, it would have a cold, greasy mass-produced starch filled eggroll or some other fried piece of pastry with a so-called filling the size of a pencil e
raser, fried rice made from Sunday’s leftover char siu, a “scoop” of cheap chicken and canned vegetables drowning in cornstarch-thickened, food colored, sweet and sour sauce, and just to make you feel better, iceberg lettuce dressed with dishwater.
*whoa* I didn’t know I hated lunch combinations that much.
"Mom, I don’t want to eat a lunch combo.”
“I don’t like lunch combos.”
“But it’s so much cheaper!”
“I don’t want to eat a lunch combo.”
“It has an eeeEEEeeeggroooOOOoooll...” She was using that sing song voice as if she were trying to convince a five-year-old to eat spinach because it’ll make him big and strong.
“No, I don’t want the lunch combo.” I was like a broken record. But a nice broken record. :)
In the end, she ordered the lunch combination anyway because, well, she’s the Mom. However, we also ordered the Kam-poong Chicken a la carte because I wouldn’t touch the seafood saute, with shrimp and sea cucumber, on the combination. Sea cucumber. Gross.
As predicted, the combination came with iceberg lettuce “salad,” which was refreshing, but far less interesting than kimchee and raw onions. I plucked up the eggroll from Mom’s plate (she doesnt eat them) before it had a chance to soak up any of the vile sauce that had come into contact with sea cucumber. The eggroll wasn’t bad, and certainly was made better with a generous dollop of red hot red chile sauce. Mom followed up with her customary comment about spicy foods and my colon, especially since I dont eat rice to “soak up” the spices. I replied with my usual reply about drinking water. This is our routine. The little wonton skins that supposedly had some sort of filling were crisp, but like I said, they supposedly had a filling. Otherwise, it was a great wonton chip!
Mom said the seafood saute was good, but even though I hold the highest regard for my mother’s opinion, the stuff had sea cucumber in it. Take her word for what it is, but remember, that a sea cucumber looks like an enormous slimy slug covered in pustules. I always tell her that and she laughs. More for her! The kam-poong chicken was done well. Rather, it didn’t suck like Panda Express, which I suppose is a sad statement to the state of Chinese food overall – that something is done well as long as it doesn’t suck. Nonetheless, the batter had been thin enough that the chicken inside wasn’t overwhelmed by a dough-y, gloopy mess of coating, and the deep frying had been just right, crisping the batter without overcooking the chicken. The sauce was a slightly sweet, cornstarch-thickened glaze that could have been much, much spicier for my taste, but was fine after I added my own spoonfuls of chile sauce. This time, I get a look, but no remark from Mom.
There was a bonus, though I can’t remember whether we had ordered it, or it was part of the combination. It was a seafood soup, very similar to jahm-bbong, but with absolutely no spice. Jahm-bbong is a spicy seafood noodle soup that I order simply to slurp the oily red broth. I don’t really care for the noodles nor the seafood. Without any spice at all, I simply tasted the seafood soup at lunch to say that I did, but left all the sea creatures to my Mom.
As we finished up with the complimentary deep-fried sweet potatoes glazed with sugar syrup (I swear, these things have got to be worse than French fries), my Mom exclaimed "My baby is having a baby!" We had been doing these mother-daughter lunches for a while now, sometimes with a purpose *draws attention to eyebrows*, sometimes just because I had nothing better to do with myself in my funemployment. This lunch was both – the last lunch with Mom before I’d lose her forever to grandmotherdom.
966 South Vermont Avenue (just north of Olympic)
Los Angeles, CA 90006