JeJu

Little Pepper

In food, restaurant on 03/08/2009 at 9:48 am

The Gastronauts led me into a food stupor yesterday. When they ventured to Flushing last, they supped at Little Pepper, a basement dive off the main hub of downtown, nearer to Shea cum Citifield, and across from the tenements by the LIRR. The other half was taking an exam at Queens College in the early A.M., so I tagged along as a break from my studies.

Flushing is in its awkward teenager phase. On one hand, it wants to be modern. Queens Crossing Mall is its first attempt at fusion ‘west meets east’ high brow shopping and dining. It’s a four-story gleaming frosted glass giant peering over the rest of downtown. But in reality it’s a pathetic copy of what Asians think ‘European chic’ is. This is what happens when a culture latches onto tradition and denigrates creativity. They can only ape others, and never be on the cutting edge.

Flushing Mall is the true reflection of Asia. I was able to waltz in before any shops were open at 9am, and wander around. It is really a community recreation center with a flea market mentality. It is ugly but doesn’t try to hide its warts. Early in the morning, one side of the mall is just lil’ storefronts that hold classes for kids: art, ESL, traditional instruments (guzheng), physical education, and computer. All the shops selling trinkets were closed, and the food court people were setting up.

Little Pepper is happy being an orphan of old dirty Asia, with all its mint green tiles and fluorescent lighting. I dislike the idea of elevating Chinese grub to haute levels. There are wedding banquet dishes and then there’s normal everyday food. Putting an European white linen covering on both makes it fake. Some restaurant critics say Chinese food should be taken from its smelly and loud origins and put on a quiet, clean pedestal. That’s like putting a fur coat on a whore. I’m usually wary of nice, clean Chinese restaurants. It usually means the food is watered down as well.

Our dishes, all spicy. The other half was crying by the end –
1. Ox organs – these were boiled and cold marinated in pepper seeds and oil. The name for it was ‘husband and wife.’ Hubby was the dark slices of beef brisket. The star was the wife, light colored slices of cow’s stomach from one of its four chambers (we were trying to figure out which, based on the longitudinal fibers):

“A. The Rumen – this is the largest part and holds up to 50 gallons of partially digested food. This is where the ‘cud’ comes from. Good bacteria in the Rumen helps soften and digest the cows food and provides protein for the cow.

B. The Recticulum – this part of the stomach is called the ‘hardware’ stomach. This is because if the cow eats something it should not have like a peice of fencing, it lodges here in the Recticulum and cause no damage to the cow. Also, the grass that has been eaten is also softened further and and formed into small wads of cud. Each cud returns to the cows mouth and is chewed 40 – 60 times and then swallowed properly.

C. The Omasum – this part of the stomach is a ‘filter’. It filters through all the food the cow eats. The cud is also pressed and broken down further.

D. The Abomasum – this part of the stomach is like a humans stomach and is connected to the intestines. Here, the food is finally digested by the cows stomach juices and essential nutrients that the cow needs are passed through the bloodstream. The rest is passed through to the intestines and produces a ‘cow pat’.”

offal!

2. Pig’s blood and intestine – this was served in a small wok-like vessel swimming in spicy Szechuan peppercorn oil. There were also limp bean sprouts in the stew. We thought it might be soup until my Filipino friend tried to drink it. Sucker! The intestine was too musky.

3. Squid – These came with edamame in a cornstarch-thickened sauce, curled into cylinders with the criss-cross flowering pattern. This method of slicing made the flesh crunchier and chewy.

4. Duck tongue – These were awesome, smokey grilled, braised, and drowning in chunks of red chiles. The tongue is about the size of your pinky, half nice QQ meat, and half fatty cartilage with a piece of flat bone. Our Taiwanese Texan friends found it to be an acquired taste, but the other half immediately loved it. It’s Uncle’s favorite mah-jong playing snack. Vendors sell it as street food in his town in Taiwan.

5. Winter melon soup with beef balls – the only non-spicy dish, sweet and mild.

Because we partook in soup dumplings before coming to Little Pepper, none of us could eat too much. The spice was a little heavy-handed, so that we couldn’t really enjoy the other flavors in the dishes since we were constantly pummeled by the heat. Most of us took to slurping down Fanta Orange and Coke to stem the waves of spice. Halfway through the meal, I felt like collapsing from both the heat and the food coma. It was a heavy-lidded drunken-ness I’d never experienced before, even at Thanksgiving.

I’m still trying to recover from this meal. *burp*

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