From exotic Korean delicacies to the simplest of culinary pleasures, this section’s very own Emma Davis and Nicole Boyd share their fall break food adventures in the New York area. Whether they were whipping up original recipes, eating at a friend’s house, or dining out, the two writers experienced no shortage of gustatory diversity over the course of their few days off.
Fall Break: A Time of Food Appreciation
By Nicole Boyd
I have always had a great appreciation for food and flavor. No matter the circumstances, I’m always game to drop what I’m doing to experience the latest culinary trend. On any given day back home, I can often be found watching the Food Network, skimming through my mother’s extensive collection of recipe books and culinary magazines, or spontaneously whipping up a batch of brownies. College, however, seems to have encouraged the impossible: it has caused my love of food to grow even stronger. I came to this realization rather recently, while staying at my friend’s house during fall break.
I have certainly not starved at Wesleyan. After all, especially compared to other college food, Wes dining provides students with some pretty high-quality meal selections. However, my college eating experiences have not replaced (or diminished my craving for) the comfort of home cooking by any means. Thus, spending a few days living and eating with my friend’s family gave me a powerful sense of relief. Of all the meals I enjoyed there, one in particular stands out in my mind.
Upon my arrival on Sunday night, I was greeted by a wonderful smell. Using my nose as a guide, I eventually discovered that the source was a fireside Korean barbeque featuring flavors foreign to my college-dining-accustomed palate. The meal started off with a blackfish that had been caught fresh that morning and broiled to perfection shortly before my arrival. Next, I filled my plate with tender sirloin steak tips, barbecued beef, an assortment of grilled fruits and vegetables, and lastly, a spicy kimchi casserole. The feast was then topped off with an array of quintessential fall desserts. Alongside rich French vanilla ice, we munched on fluffy apple cider donuts, apple pie, and warm apple rolls that my friend’s neighbor made with hand-picked fruit.
From this banquet, I emerged elated and slightly sedated, as evidenced by the subsequent food coma. It was in this state that I realized my time at Wesleyan had transformed me as a foodie. Though my time at school has not deprived me of any culinary necessities, it has distanced me from the comfort of home cooking. Through this isolation, I have come to regard food not just with an appreciation, but rather with a passionate sense of adventure.
Fall Break: A Food Frenzy
By Emma Davis
Since my parents were flying in from California to visit campus for a day, I decided to make them my college specialty: butter mochi.
Although mochi is somewhat of an unusual dessert, I figured it’d be a breeze to make in the well-stocked Full House kitchen on a Friday night. After all, the first time I made mochi, I was in a friend’s apartment in New York and didn’t even have the option of going grocery shopping. Aside from the rice flour, coconut milk, and evaporated milk I’d packed myself, I was at the mercy of her kitchen cabinets. Fortunately for my host, my maple-syrup-for-sugar substitution was a success, but it easily could have been a gloopy disaster.
As for the second time, I was making dessert for the first Full House communal dinner and wanted to make my contribution as memorable as possible. Instead of using a nine-by-nine pan to create a flat, golden cake, I poured the batter over raspberries and Nutella nested in the cups of mini-muffin pans. The resulting mochi were adorably bite-sized, and they disappeared in a pinch as soon as I set them down on the table outside.
This time around, I repeated the filling idea but used frozen raspberries instead of fresh ones since they were out of season. Everything was going smoothly until I realized that, because I had doubled the recipe, my mixing bowl was barely big enough to hold all of the batter. I was so busy being cautious not to make a mess as I stirred that I completely forgot to add the eggs and vanilla. It was only as I poured the batter over the clumps of raspberry that I discovered the unopened carton of eggs still in its plastic bag next to the counter and the vanilla still sitting on the shelf.
Thankfully (for the sake of my reputation as a chef), you could hardly tell that something so crucial was missing from the final product. The mochi was as sweet and chewy as ever, and aside from its astonishing density—one small bag of cakes weighed at least a pound or two—its appeal was intact.
In the future, I’ll be sure to do a better job of laying out my ingredients. Oh, and I’ll find a larger mixing bowl!
Dinner in K-Town
After my parents arrived on campus and stopped by my shift at Red & Black Café, we drove into New York City for the weekend.
Since we were staying near Korea Town, or K-Town for short, a family friend we were meeting for dinner recommended we try one of the restaurants there. We ended up at a place called Han Bat on West 35th St. where we ordered mandu (small, potsticker-shaped vegetable dumplings), pajun (fried onion cake with chunks of seafood), jap chae (vermicelli-like sweet potato noodles with bell pepper and pork), short ribs, and bul go ki (loosely ground beef with grilled onions). We were also treated to an array of appetizers, including kimchi and seasoned green beans with dipping sauce on the side.
My favorite dish was the bul go ki, which was sweet and tender enough to melt in your mouth. The mandu were a close second, but having been broiled instead of fried at my mother’s insistence, they lacked a satisfying crunch to offset the softness of the filling. Another highlight was the pajun, which, despite containing some alarmingly large pieces of tentacle, was tasty and well-textured overall.
In general, however, the dishes were on the bland side; the dominant note of the jap chae, for example, was the sweet potato noodles. Also, the short ribs were disappointingly fatty and often more bone than meat.
While I’d love to give Korean food a second try, I think I’d pass on another dinner at Han Bat. The meal was served promptly and was definitely fresh, but the menu was more limited and the dishes less flavorful than I had expected.
Unfortunately, dessert, which we bought from a bakery called Tous Les Jours on West 32nd St., was similarly underwhelming. Although the décor and name suggested a strong French influence, the pastry selection was clearly geared toward a Korean clientele. We picked up a slice of chocolate pound cake, a mini-white bean bun, a mini-mochi, and two tiny pastries topped with white frosting and a single grape. The pound cake was so dry that I was glad to be sharing it with several people. The white bean bun and mochi were excellent, albeit comfort food.
Nonetheless, as with Han Bat, I think the bakery’s offerings were probably a lesser version rather than a representative sample of Korean food. Hopefully, I’ll be able to convince my Korean friends to cook for me and show me how delicious Korean cuisine should really be.
The Grand Central Sprint
On Tuesday afternoon, I caught the subway to Grand Central Station and joined the group of Wes students waiting for the bus back to campus.
Having skipped lunch aside from a bubble tea a few hours earlier, I decided to dash back into the train station to grab a bite to eat. The nearest shop turned out to be the Grand Central Market, a maze of overpriced “stalls” that seemed to sell everything, aside from baked goods, in bulk.
In fact, not a single shop even offered prepackaged sandwiches, so I took a classically Parisian approach and bought a baguette, a box of raspberries, and a package of raw string beans. To satisfy my ever-present craving for sweets, I added a chocolate-chip cookie.
I had hoped that one of the delis would have pats of butter on hand to supplement the baguette, but each cashier merely regarded me with confusion and pointed me toward the next stall. Eventually, I gave up on the free butter idea and found some goat cheese to buy, but by that point I was too short on time to stand in line for another item.
As the bus pulled out of Manhattan, I snacked on handfuls of green beans and baguette and adorned my fingers with raspberries. Although it wasn’t the sophisticated New York meal I’d anticipated as a farewell, it was fresh and simple, and it reminded me that sometimes the basics are really the best.