Thursday, January 29, 2009

How Much Is Too Much?

I want to go to Masa in New York. I am broke and a meal there could cost anywhere from $500 to $800. Walking in the door costs a minimum of $400. I can't afford it but I would still pay. Food is my passion and what I spend most of my money on. And I want to spend it at Masa.

Why Masa? Not sure actually. I've read much about it and the skills of chef Masa Takayama. It's appears guaranteed to blow my mind. Anthony Bourdain highly recommends it. Everybody else has equally high praises. The only complaint is the price, which most people tend to conclude is worth the experience. But is it worth it? Would I, an average kid in Austin, get a meal worth eating rice and beans for months?

I don't know the answer. Part of me knows that I can still get fantastic food for under $100, which is still a lot of money. New York is packed with great restaurants, grand and small. I'm visiting friends there in February and have quickly turned it into a food pilgrimage. That is exactly how I am trying to rationalize spending a paycheck on a single meal when I am having trouble making ends meet.

I'm going insane with indecision. Not because I doubt it would be worth it; I don't know if I want to pay that much for anything right now. I'll let you know what happens, regardless of where I end up going.

*Photo courtesy of Peter Bond.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A New Love

I've been slowly falling for Thai food and fell head-over-heels in love recently after a backpacking trip. My end-of-hike tradition is a cheeseburger and a beer. You wouldn't believe how quickly you can hike ten miles when a cheeseburger awaits, but this time I chose a spicy dish from Titaya's that simply blew my mind.

I'm white. Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, and Curries are the only things I have ordered. Even when I ask for a new and spicy dish, the server takes one look at me and selects a similarly unadventurous dish. Like many times before, I asked for something new and said that I ate anything and wanted to try a new flavor, especially something spicy. When the plate arrived, it was Pad Kra Prao: stir-fried shrimp, onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, basil, and Thai chilies in a thin but plentiful brown sauce. These flavors were familiar. No kaffir lime or exotic meats. So I guess the server listened to me--sort of.

I was disappointed until I tasted it. Boy howdy, It was spicy. Like instant allergic reaction spicy. And with the heat came flavor, which is weird for me. My family tends use cayenne pepper sauce liberally and everything tastes like cayenne. This spice was different. It amplified other flavors around it, much like Szechwan peppercorns--only hotter. Much hotter.

Half way through the meal my burning lips had had enough, but my tongue demanded more. I had never eaten so much of something so hot. I was happily pushing my boundaries simply because I couldn't get enough of the taste. When I finished, my nose was running, my lips swollen, my head felt warm from a surge of blood to the capillaries, and I didn't know whether or not I was going to vomit.

It was incredible. I felt high. The peppers had heightened taste, smell, and the ability to know exactly at which angle my head was. The people asking for painful spice levels I once rolled my eyes at started to make sense. Once you reach a certain level, you transcend ordinary pain and ride a wave of endorphins. A heat-seeking classmate once described the experience as one of panic where you wonder if you should call your mother. I now want that but not just pure spice; that wouldn't provide the same experience. There has to be a flavor explosion as well as a heat explosion.

I immediately walked over to a bookstore and purchased a Thai cookbook and have been busy cooking since. This will be a lifelong love affair, and I'm sure you'll hear more soon.

*Photo by Garry Knight

Friday, January 16, 2009

Best Food Gift That Isn't Food

A picture of a hot dog. Thank you, S.K..

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I'm a Genius

Sriracha sauce on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Sounds weird but when you think about it, Thai food has elements of peanuts and sweetness in it. Try it. Be amazed.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cakes, Pies, and Freeze-Dried Food

Instead of spending my time on a holiday wrap-up describing the food I stuffed myself with, I'm heading for the mountains of Big Bend. Too much family time necessitates some time where my fellow man is scattered. While there, I'll be dining on Cliff bars and freeze-dried foods with titles such as Wild West Chili, Black Bean Tamale Pie, and Lasagna with Meat Sauce. All of it is sure to taste delicious after lugging a pack up and down mountains.

I once read that you should never taste test backpacking food at home. It will taste of cardboard. Directly after reading this, I went out, bought a meal, and prepared it at home. I've never tasted beef stroganoff (tastiest backpacking food ever) so vile. This only proves that the hunger factor can be extremely important. My Wild West Chili might even taste better than my aunt's deviled eggs--or at least I can hope.