My favourite restaurant in all of New York City is a little Polish hole in the wall in Greenpoint. I walk in and seat myself. The owner/waiter/kitchen hand is a frightening man with a scar above his left eyebrow, who is probably a mafia lord. I give him a little wave and he throws me an I’ll take your order when I goddamn feel like it kind of look. He is grumpy when he gets to me – probably because I am an entitled little shmuck who didn’t lose my farm during the war. Yeah, well my great uncle was kidnapped you know? I want to say. I order off a menu that is as literal as a phonebook. Hmmm, I’ll muse while he taps his foot. I’ll have the borscht with dumplings, the chopped salad and the pierogis with meat. Actually no, make that the clear borscht. He’ll sigh and shuffle off. When he brings back my order the steaming red soup slops over the plastic tablecloth. They’re the kind my parents brought out for birthday parties to defend against saucy toddler paws. As I slurp the psychedelic stew and soak up the dregs with my huge plate of pierogis, I rack my brain for some of the simple phrases my grandma used to say. All that comes to mind is to jest bardzo gruba baba – which loosely translates to you are a very fat woman. This was the first ever line my mum taught my dad to say when he was meeting my Babcia (grandma) for the first time. And I imagined it going down in a similar fashion if I tried it on this old chap. When he brought the bill over, I’d collected my scattered thoughts enough to tell him, Thank you. The meal was goodnight. He paused a second, before chuckling appreciatively all the way back to the counter at my poor attempt.
You try this kind of behaviour in a French restaurant and they’ll spit in your meal while calling you a fat Western pig from behind the bar. It’s not enough to just attempt speaking language, you must speak it with the finesse of a local - or remain invisible. French restaurants make me nervous for various reasons. I happen to be slightly dairy averse. You’d think the possibility of soiling oneself would be enough of a deterrent to stay away, but judging from the amount of wasabi peas I ate at work today, my willpower is wobbly at best. One glimpse of Camembert, and it’s game over. I will wake up in a cold sweat hours later clutching a crusty breadstick in the middle of a random Asian family’s living room while they mop my forehead with a cold towel. There is something I just don’t trust about a French menu. Anything explained in that melodic sing-song accent is going to sound delicious. Ohhh, confit duck, I’ll coo, dreaming of rolling vineyards and romantic terrace houses. That sounds delightful. But no, I think I’ll stick with the Coq Au Vin. Merci, I will smile sweetly up at my Adonis waiter. Roughly translated, this means, I think I’d rather the chicken stew than the gooey duck floating in its own blubber. Thanks. I went to a $1 oyster happy hour and my local French bistro recently and ordered my favourite wine – a Tempranillo – pronounced, as always, exactly how it is spelled. So, one… tempra-nee-ho, was it? The snooty waiter replied. This guy was suspiciously cute, but pretentious passive aggression is unbecoming on anyone.
Says the girl who recently described this dish as Umami! I realised after I’d posted it on instragram, I didn’t even truly know what it meant. I’ve since found out it is a Japanese word meaning a pleasant savoury taste – or yummy. It is essentially the fifth taste - used when sweet, sour, salty or bitter don’t really hit the nail on the head. My biggest faux pas came when I used it to describe a vegetarian meal, as umami is a result of cooked meat or aged/fermented things. I mean, technically the kimchi counts, so I’m in the clear. But in this situation, I am going to ask you to please be like the Polish man and have a chuckle. I’ve already face-palmed enough.
- 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
- 1 boiled egg
- 1 cup steamed brussels sprouts & edamame beans
- 1/2 cup steamed beets
- 1/4 cup fresh kimchi (you'll find this at most big grocers
- Handful of enoki mushrooms sautéed with 1/2 white onion in sesame oil and seasoned with salt & pepper.
- 1/2 lemon + 1/4 lemon
- 4 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup cup siracha (chilli sauce)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- Assemble the vegetables, kimchi and quinoa in a bowl. (I ended up tossing this all together after the photo - because this dish is ALL about the dressing).
- In a food processor, combine all the remaining ingredients (except the egg) until smooth. Add as much or as little as you like to the vegetable mix. This amount of dressing lasted me for about three salads and is great over steamed greens.
- Top with the boiled egg and serve with a lemon wedge.