Today, when I was talking to my Mom on the telephone, I told her about these Top 50 Lists I have been putting together about the things in life that mean the most to me and also those which have come to define me.
“That’s so cool,” my Mom said.
“Yeah, I think so, too.”
“You should do one about food,” my Mom suggested.
I had thought about it, but being overseas, I was a little leery about such a list. I was afraid if I thought about some foods it would make me too homesick. Listing my Top 50 movies or songs is one thing—I can always download or buy online; writing about my favorite foods is another thing: what am I going to do if I suddenly get a craving for a bowl of chili in the night?
“You really should,” cajoled my Mom, “I think it would be interesting to see what you come up with.”
Okay Mom. This List is for you. These are some of the foods I have enjoyed a lot over the years, some of the ones I have missed a lot being overseas, and some of the ones I can’t wait to have the next time I am in Thailand, Laos, or back home.
Just remember one thing Mom; I am going to hold you to making some of the foods on this list so you’d better get well soon and get those recipe cards out.
Aloo Gobi, which is Indian for potato and cauliflower, is a simple Indian-style stir-fry dish with a zesty, curry-like sauce. It can be found on the menu of practically every Indian restaurant and it goes quite well with Chicken Tikka Masala (see below) or Tandoori Chicken. Usually you can order it as spicy as you want.
Angel Food Cake
Without getting into the particulars of how this cake is made compared to a Devil’s Food Cake, I just always love a freshly baked Angel Food Cake. And when I did, I loved to have it served with strawberries and whipped cream.
Bagels with Creamed Cheese
The first time I ever tried a bagel was in 1980, but it wasn’t until I was going to SIU (Southern Illinois University) in 1983 that I started to eat them regularly. Back then, when I went out to the bars with my friends, there was this sidewalk vendor toasting bagels on a Hitachi-like grill and then smothering the two toasted halves with creamed cheese and adding either sliced cucumbers or apples. I loved the ones with sliced cucumbers.
Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. Forty-one years after they first came out, I still love ‘em!
Although my Mom is a third-generation German-American, we never ate much German food other than sauerkraut, German Potato salad, and German chocolate cake. She sometimes cooked up some spare ribs with sauerkraut, but it would be years before I had the chance to finally enjoy some authentic German food at Berghoff’s a famous German restaurant in Chicago where among other dishes I had grilled bratwurst (my favorite is veal) with sauerkraut and potatoes.
This spicy Korean stew that consists of Spam, hot dogs, sausage, onions, kimchi (pickled cabbage) Dokk (rice cakes) and ramyon (also known as ramen). In Korean “budae” means military camp and “chigae” means stew. This dish gained popularity during the Korean War when US service members offered their Korean counterparts extra Spam and hot dogs for their ramyon and kimchi and Budae-chigae was born. You can get this spicy stew everywhere in Korea, but Uijongbu, a town north of Seoul is most famous for their Budae-chigae.
I have had all kinds of burritos from authentic Mexican restaurants to fast food joints like Taco Bell and this place called Naugles—a Mexican fast-food chain from 1970-1988—in California (it eventually merged with Taco Bell) where if my memory serves me right, you could get a mucho-combo burrito. But you know what I remember most about having a burrito? It was when I was on the road with The Jerks and we would stop at a 7-11 after a gig. Invariably, I would buy one or two burritos and nuke them in the microwave for the ride home. Hey, I was 23 years old. Who worries about nutrition at that age?
Any kind. Anytime. Some of my favorites include raspberry and cappuccino. Some of the best cheesecake I have ever tasted was at this place called the Cheesecake Factory in Atlanta, Georgia. That was back in 1981 when I was on the road with The Jerks (they played a week at a bar in Atlanta after gigs in Peoria and Carbondale, Illinois.
Chicago-style Pizza is a deep-dish pizza, which if you haven’t guessed already, was developed in Chicago. The most famous pizzeria for this authentic Chicago dish was Geno’s East. I was there just once. Of course, the style of pizza is now famous around the world. Just don’t forget where it originated. Chicago, my kind of town.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Chicken tikka masala is tender, tasty chunks of chicken (tikka) marinated in spices and yogurt then baked in a tandoor oven, in a masala—a mixture of spices—sauce. If it’s cooked right, these tender morsels of chicken will just melt in your mouth (that’s probably what it is going to feel like if the masala is a little on the spicy side). Just rip off a piece of Nan (grilled Indian bread) and dip it into the sauce—scooping up one of those chunks of chicken—for some epicurean nirvana.
Doesn’t make any difference what kind (though I do prefer my Mom’s) just as long as it is hot and a little spicy. There’s nothing better than a piping hot bowl of chili on a cold day—unless, it is two bowls of chili—and a tall glass of milk.
Anytime. Anywhere. Loaded with chili and onions.
Best darn breakfast meal bar none would be an Denver or Western Omellete along with crispy bacon, hash browns, wheat toast, orange juice and coffee—well, maybe a side of flapjacks, too. I’ve also had the Spanish Omelette (when I was serving in the Air Force) and it was some darn good eating too.
Along with Burritos, Enchiladas are one of my favorite Mexican foods.
Although you can get fried chicken almost anywhere you go in Korea, and for that matter pretty much everywhere in Asia, it just doesn’t taste the same as back home. Back in LaSalle, Illinois some of the best chicken being served up is at the LaSalle VFW, John’s North Star (in LaSalle) the Ninth Street Pub, and Verucchi’s in Spring Valley. Fried chicken, some mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, Cole slaw, potato salad. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
Baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, home fries, cottage fries, au gratin potatoes, boiled potatoes, hash browns, and fried potatoes—doesn’t make any difference to me, I love my potatoes. However, I would have to say my favorite would be fried potatoes and my Grandma Miller made the best ones I have ever tasted. She had making fried potatoes down to an art. I think it was the onions and other seasonings she added. And of course when you grandmother or mother is making something for you, a little TLC (Tender Loving Care) doesn’t hurt. I could never get the knack of cooking them—either they were too soggy or I burnt them.
Genoa Salami is perhaps one of the best-known Italian salamis. I love to eat it with some slices of Swiss cheese. That’s it. It doesn’t even have to be in a sandwich. Just like it plain. When I’ve gone home for Christmas the past couple of years my Mom always stocked up on a pound or two for me when she knew I was coming home.
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches/Tomato Soup
Nothing beats toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup on cold rainy or snowy day.
Next to a hamburger or a hot dog, nothing beats—fast food-wise—what is probably the Greek equivalent, the Gyros. I generally like my meat for a Gyros to be cut thin for the pita sandwich with lots and lots of onions and tomatoes. The first time I had one was back in 1980 at Athen’s Gyros in the Peru Mall. It was the time when my best friend Chris Vasquez and I started hanging out together again.
Hamburger with the Works
Anytime. Anywhere. I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to “the works” on a burger though. I prefer lots of catsup, mustard, a couple dill pickle slices, and a thick slab of onion. Oh, and it would be nice if the top part of the bun was slightly toasted.
Kalbi is strips of beef or pork ribs that you grill at your table. Imagine sitting around a small smoky Joe grill, cooking up some meat and you get the idea of what it is like here in Korea. Now most Koreans prefer taking a piece of meat wrapping it up in some lettuce with some red pepper paste and pickled veggies and shoving the whole thing in their mouths, but I prefer just to eat the meat as is followed by some rice and those pickled veggies.
This spicy, piping hot Korean stew is a variation of Budae-chigae but with more Kimchi. It can contain sausage, pork, Spam and sometimes tuna as well as tofu and noodles. It tastes great on a cold winter day. I have often thought of it as the Korean equivalent of Chicken Noodle Soup because if you are feeling a cold coming on, all the garlic and ground up hot pepper in this stew just might do the trick in warding off that cold.
Would you believe I hated lasagna growing up as a kid? My Mom used to make it with cottage cheese and for some reason I had got it in my mind that cottage cheese was gross and disgusting. Then one day, I started liking cottage cheese and suddenly that lasagna tasted pretty darn good. I have had it a few times over here, but it’s just not the same.
Macaroni and Cheese
What can I say; I practically lived on Kraft Mac and Cheese when I was in grad school (I usually mixed in a can or Del Monte’s corn). I still love it to this day.