Korean-Mexican Burritos with Kimchi and Red Rice

Korean-Mexican Burritos with Kimchi and Red Rice

Korean-Mexican Burritos with Kimchi and Red Rice

I’ve always been curious about different cultures and peoples—their ways of life, their world views, and yes, their food. Even just looking at America, there are huge regional differences between parts of the country, and complex ethnic tapestries make up our cities. Now more than ever, it’s important to recognize and celebrate that diversity. It’s what makes this country great.

One day you can pick buckets of Georgia peaches in the blazing summer sun, pausing under the shade of a tree to taste the sweet, succulent fruit. Meanwhile, just across the border in Florida, you can walk into a Cuban restaurant and experience Caribbean flavors. Or try cooking Korean bbq for the first time—it’s fun and tasty even if you don’t know what you’re doing. When I went with my friends in Chicago, we had to figure out what order to cook everything in on the fly, with the server demonstrating as new platters of meat were brought out and placed in the thick stone pan in the center of the table. In New York, you can try a dim sum place in Chinatown, where you’ll be offered tray after tray of strange delicacies. When we went, we were seated in a large, crowded banquet hall; carts whizzed by, stacked with metal steamers containing all sorts of dumplings, steamed buns, custard tarts and puddings, and a variety of vegetable, meat, and seafood dishes. The carts momentarily paused by our table; the servers opened the lid to the steamers to reveal the mysteries inside. Half the time, we didn’t even know what we were taking!

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Eating Tonkatsu at Katsukura Shinjuku Restaurant

Tonkatsu Pork Filet and Prawn at Katsukura Shinjuku

Tonkatsu Pork Filet and Prawn at Katsukura Shinjuku

Katsukura Restaurant is located on the 14th floor of the Takashimaya Mall in Shinjuku, a short walk from Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens.  Katsukura specializes in tonkatsu—a Japanese dish consisting of pork that has been coated in flour, egg, and panko breadcrumbs, and then deep fried. This preparation produces delicately airy pork with a crispy exterior. If you visit Japan, you must try tonkatsu at least once!

Katsukura is a tourist-friendly restaurant. Upon arrival, they brought us cold barley tea (commonly served in the summertime in Japan) and offered us English menus. Fans of Japanese whiskey will be happy to see that you can order a high-ball of Yamazaki or Hakushu for around ¥650 (~$5-$6 USD). This is not bad at all given the price of Japanese whiskey in the States!

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Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden Walking Trail

When people hear Tokyo, they often imagine a vast, Blade Runner-like metropolis of skyscrapers and neon lights—which for parts of Tokyo is accurate. But Tokyo is huge and heterogeneous, with many oases where you can relax and appreciate the serenity of nature. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is one of those.

We went to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden the day after a typhoon (one of the six during our trip). With hurricanes in Florida, you usually get clear, cool weather afterwards; in Japan, you get clear weather, but it’s unusually hot. We found this out the hard way! Luckily this garden is full of shade.

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Pad Thai Spring Rolls with Tamarind Dipping Sauce

Pad Thai Spring Roll Ingredients Ready for Assembly

One of my favorite dishes is Pad Thai. I love the refreshing sweet and sour sauce, the bright herbs, and the juicy shrimp. I recently tried to create an appetizer that captured all the flavors of traditional Pad Thai, but presented in a totally new way. That’s how these Pad Thai spring rolls with tamarind dipping sauce came to exist.

Ingredients for Pad Thai Spring Rolls Tamarind Dipping Sauce

Ingredients for Tamarind Dipping Sauce

Tamarind Dipping Sauce

This sauce is at the heart of Pad Thai. It’s a perfect balance of sweet, sour, salt, spice, and acidity. To make it, you need rice vinegar, fish sauce, fresh tamarind concentrate (concentrated juice and pulp from the tamarind fruit), palm sugar (an unrefined sugar made from the sap of palm trees), Thai bird chiles, shallots, garlic, and kaffir lime leaves.

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How to Make Chashu (Marinated Braised Pork Belly)

Thinly Sliced Chashu (Marinated Braised Pork Belly)

Thinly Sliced Chashu (Marinated Braised Pork Belly)

Chashu—slow-braised marinated pork belly—is a much-loved ramen topping. The glistening pork is used in many styles of ramen and is often served thinly sliced, floating near the top of bowl. Today I’m going to show you how to make chashu.

Ramen is a slow art. Making a bowl of ramen can be a multi-day affair—the stock alone can take days. It takes time to develop the flavors from each of the ingredients. If you’re in Japan, you can let the experts do the work and grab a quick meal at a ramen shop; however, if you’re in America and aren’t lucky enough to have a quality ramen restaurant near you, then you might want to invest the time and energy to make it yourself. Plus, it’s fun learning how dishes are made and cooking them at home (at least, I think so)!

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