Friday, May 20, 2011

Strange brew

My friend John and I went to Casserole House for dinner last night because he was looking for some Korean food but his favorite Korean place in Berkeley closed last month. Okay, clearly it wasn't that beloved by him if he didn't notice its closure for a month.

John and I worked together in the same lab for one week in August 2004. Hearing John's stories about the professor who would go on to become his thesis advisor, it seems like I got out of that lab while the getting was good. Anyway, after this initial meeting, John and I then ran into each other in the Infinite Corridor awkwardly for the next three years, and finally reconnected walking around Berkeley a year or two ago. Turns out that he is in town doing his chemistry postdoc, and is still bitter about me leaving him alone in lab for five years. Sorry, John, I was tired of spilling benzene on myself every morning.

So I had the weirdest soup for dinner last night. It was billed on the menu as Casserole #8, "special Korean sausage and kimchi", but its picture made us think that it was going to be like the Korean analogue of shabu-shabu, where you cook some raw slices of sausage at your table by dragging them through hot broth. I love hot pot, and John seemed intent on ordering anything on the menu that included kimchi in its description, so it seemed like a pretty good choice for both of us.

Well, it turned out that this was not really a special Korean sausage hot pot at all. Let me tell you what Casserole #8 was. Are you ready? Okay. Casserole #8 was a stew of sliced-up hot dogs, spam, ramen noodles, and bean sprouts in a kimchi broth. It was brought warm to the table and, thanks to a portable gas burner, was kept ominously bubbling through our meal. Just before serving, a single slice of American cheese was ceremoniously placed on top, pushed down into the soup, stirred around. I have no idea what happens when you boil American cheese and found no trace of it in the soup.

Now, let me say that individually, I enjoy all of the things in this dish. Hot dogs? Sam's Mom and I just talked about hot dogs for 20 minutes on Wednesday. Spam? Well, that's my nickname. Ramen noodles? Oh totally. American cheese? I don't really believe that you can make a grilled cheese sandwich with any other kind of cheese. Kimchi? I lived with two Korean seniors my first semester at MIT, so I got used to that pretty quickly.

It's just, well, having all of these tasty ingredients in combination seemed a little strange to me, particularly the kimchi-boiled American cheese. Maybe I just don't have Korean food enough; maybe if I were more familiar with the cuisine this would seem as natural as adding salt to water before you make pasta. I have to confess that I left some of the hot dog slices in the bowl and just poured the spicy broth over my rice at the end, which turned out to be pretty tasty. Still, I can't complain too much--the $30 price tag (for two) did include some complimentary tea, a potato pancake, the typical spread of a million pickles as an appetizer, and rice pudding for dessert. So, you know, a multiple-course meal for $15 a person. That's a pretty good deal.

Especially if you really like soup that sounds like it was made by a Korean person cleaning out my mom's fridge!

1 comment:

  1. American cheese in kimchi broth, huh? That reminds me of the brie/kimchi grilled cheese I made the other day. Surprisingly delicious.