While many people visit New York City for the shopping, the sites, the entertainment, I like New York for its villages. It seems like every few streets, New York changes nationality, from Chinatown, Little Italy, Jamaica, and all the other little villages that make up the great world of New York City. Every neighborhood is distinct and many New Yorkers never leave their neighborhoods.
Usually, when I take a taxi, I chat with the taxi drivers. Taxi drivers are often immigrants and many have interesting stories to tell. On this trip, my first taxi driver shared with me where to get the best Pakistani food in New York and in Washington, DC. But then suddenly, he asked about my marital status. I was a little taken aback because I had forgotten, after a few months in politically correct DC, that this is considered a polite question in some cultures.
A few days later, my second taxi driver, an Ecuadorian, patiently let me practice my Spanish with him (gracias, and I appreciated your philosophical stance on bilingual education). My third cabbie was a Miami Cuban taxi driver. I considered trying to practice Spanish on him but his delightfully colloquial rapid fire English and his story about his epiphany about happiness, on 9/11, made me keep quiet.
“Hey, do you have a recommendation for a Korean restaurant?” Do I ever! In the service of social media=democracy=sharing information… here’s my list of Korean restaurants I like to go to when in Northern Virginia. I also mentioned Korean food in my list of iconic American eats in the Washington, DC area. All these restaurants are located in Annandale in Fairfax county about ten miles from the Lincoln Memorial. There are buses out to this area but that experience would probably ruin your experience.
Lighthouse Tofu (Vit Goel Tofu) – 4121 Chatelain Rd #100, Annandale, VA 22003: More than tofu, this place specializes in volcanically hot earthenware bowls of stew/soup. This place actually has seafood stew which I love. Plus, they have created a mini seafood pancake which is more like an American appetizer. Most places serve a huge seafood pancake (haemul pajeon) which can be harder to deal with.
Honey Pig – 7220 Columbia Pike, Annandale, VA 22003: Very loud music, steel decor and smoky, this place will make you feel like you are in Korea.
To Sok Jip – 7211 Columbia Pike, Annandale, VA 22003: Across the street from Honey Pig, easy to overlook, this place with the purple awning, is worth finding. It’s got three “rice” options – white, barley, or purple which is a mix of brown rice and beans. This is one of the few hole-in-the-wall places left in this area. The bok choy kimchi is fantastic. They also have a mega-pot “wartime soup” which is a hodgepodge of hot dogs, tofu, pork, kimchi, noodles, etc. thrown into a cauldron. Must not eat alone. Plus, the ladies’ has a fancy Japanese toilet.
Gom Ba Woo – 7133 Columbia Pike, Annandale, VA 22003: This place is next to Giant. I mention it because I’ve had some really delicious home made mandu (dumplings, potstickers) here, and I’ve had wonderful language barrier issues here too, one of which resulted in us receiving a cold bowl of noodles in a lard soup. The lady looked at us approvingly because clearly this was the dish to order in hot weather, but we were not so thrilled.
Nak Won – 7317 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA 22003: This place is where I’d take newbies to Korean food. It’s got a nice authentic feel and it’s quiet. The decor reminds me of the decor of the 80’s with wood tables and memorabilia on the walls.
Oegadgib – 7331 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA 22003: This place should be called “Mr. Lee’s” but instead I think it is “Gram’s place” or something like that. There is a full menu but the two things that stand out are the all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu (where you cook meat and vegetables in a broth – like hotpot) and the barbecue which includes three kinds of meat. The prices are under $20 per person so a great place to go with big eaters. This place is hard to find and hard to pronounce so look for the Jerry’s Sub sign, make absolutely sure that you do not park in Jerry’s lot, and then go behind the building on Little River Turnpike and you will often find Mr. Lee waving his light saber around to help you find parking in his lot.
Yechon – 4121 Hummer Rd, Annandale, VA 22003: This is a 24-hour standby. It’s big and they do everything well. It’s located a bit away from the other restaurants and many don’t like how generic it feels, but that’s one thing that’s good about it — you can always go there and find acceptable Korean food.
There are two other places to mention – one bakery and one chicken place:
Shilla Bakery – 7039 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA 22003: Forget all the weird ideas about not liking Asian desserts… you will like these! They have everything from French bread, puffy pastries, colorful cakes, bingsoo (frozen ice dessert with flavorings, fruit, etc.), Illy coffee, and yes, some of those weird Asian desserts made with beans. This place is always pumping with Korean American youth hanging out and families. The bakery is very generous with its samples so you can try four or five different breads, cookies, pastries, before buying one or none.
Bon Chon Chicken – multiple locations: Really, very few things make me NOT want to share. I have a friend who is a true foodie friend because when we shared a plate of Bon Chon’s wings, he ate the winglets (part that looks like a drumstick) so that I could enjoy the flats (the part with two bones). Sigh, now that’s true understanding. These wings are sweet, crunchy, and lightly coated.
Maybe once I get to Colombia, I’ll compile a list of the seven best Korean restaurants in Bogota.
Washington, DC’s Ethiopian restaurants are well-known. Yet, I tried Ethiopian food for the first time in Ethiopia. The food was new to me. It was perhaps not so different from the bhorta of Bangladesh, but it was a world away from the sancocho of Colombia, and the burgers of America. When I was in Ethiopia, my friend took me to a restaurant serving traditional Ethiopian food. First, we sat at low tables about the size of chair. The food was served on a large platter (about a yard/meter wide) on which the waitress placed our different dishes along with the national bread, injera, a spongy flat bread. The waitress brought a silver pot and poured water over my hands so that I could wash them, although I only ever dream of using my right hand! We had a boiled egg, stewed greens, a curry, etc. I found the food to be on the sour side and immediately thought of certain friends who love sour foods — like lemons.
As we were at a tourist friendly, the other guests appeared to be a mix of expat Ethiopians, families, and the national football (soccer) coach. For dessert, we had coffee. After all, coffee comes from “Kaffa” in Ethiopia. It was strong in the “Turkish” style. I enjoyed it.
During the meal, traditional dances of Ethiopia were sung and performed for us. I’m sure that the stories being told in the dances were those of battle, courtship, and harvest, and they involved a style of dance which required high impact step aerobics and what is fondly called the “chicken” dance. As the evening progressed, the men changed into costumes that seemed to allow them more air during their feverish dances while the women continued to put on more and more clothing like sweaters and headscarves. I don’t know if any of the restaurants in DC have dance performances like the one I saw in Addis but I found the dance and the music uplifting and I’d watch it again.
Recently, some of my Bangladeshi friends visited the U.S… which made me think about iconic American foods to make them try while visiting D.C. The following are some of my recommendations.
1. Krispy Kreme: Who does not love a freshly fried yeast doughnut, hot and fresh from a sugar glaze waterfall?
2. Five Guys and Shake Shack: The last decade has seen the rise of the new hamburger restaurant which makes me happy. Freshly made with fresh French fries – it sounds simple but we, the consumers, put up with so much less for too long. Five Guys is a nationwide chain that started a few miles from D.C. and if you have peanut allergies, you must stay away…
3. All-American classic restaurants and bars: These are classic modern restaurants and bars in the “old boys’ club” style of dark wood, etc. — The Hamilton, The Lincoln, and also Old Ebbitt Grill, the Willard, and Ray’s the Steaks.
4. Ben’s Chili Bowl: Visitors like this historic place which has recently become a chain and it will soon be opening a branch at National Airport.
5. Honey Pig (noisy Korean BBQ restaurant), To Sok Jib (hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant), and Bon Chon Chicken: Annandale, Virginia is a well known Korea-town but Bon Chon has just opened a branch in Clarendon. There is also Lighthouse Tofu which serves more than tofu and Oegadgib which serves all-you-can-eat Korean including shabu-shabu (shabu-shabu are the words you should say to time how long you swish your meat in the broth to cook it.).
6. Pho soup: Eden Center is a little Vietnam in Falls Church, Virginia, where the restaurants serve pho and other Vietnamese food.
7. Ravi Kabob: It’s a northern South Asian/Pakistani place that is “hole-in-the-wall” and serves delicious food. The most famous local chain is Moby Dick’s.
8. Edy’s Chicken or El Pollo Rico: It’s Peruvian style rotisserie chicken. Anthony Bourdain went to El Pollo Rico but I like that Edy’s serves yucca fries. There are also several other Peruvian style restaurants in the area where you can explore some of this world famous cuisine, although I’m still waiting for the celebrity chef level restaurants to open.
9. Ramen shops: This is a fairly new trend in American food, thanks in part to David Chang of Momofuku, and I like the trend. Yummy, homemade soup. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is.
10. El Salvadorean food: Try a fresh pupusa as the El Salvadorean population begins to emerge on the culinary scene (there are not that many Mexican places in this area but Jugalita is authentic).
Of course there are also many Ethiopian restaurants to try and loads of food carts serving all manner of new American foods (Korean kalbi taco, anyone?). Every new group of immigrants contributes a new flavor to American cuisine.
When tourists visit the U.S., many want to try Chipotle and other famous restaurants. I recommend using Yelp to find the locations. Speaking of American foods, there is, of course, pie, lobster, grits, collard greens, chicken and waffles, barbecue, etc. to be had here in D.C., but, maybe I’ll write about that another time. And not to forget, I’ve done some research and it looks like there is only one Colombian restaurant in the area… y claro, por supuesto, voy a visitarlo.
One of the things I enjoy about Washington, DC, is that almost all the museums are free. Most of the big museums are part of the Smithsonian but there are lots of smaller unknown museums like the one at the Organization of American States. Located near where Virginia Avenue meets Constitution Avenue, this small building has a great garden and some pretty tiles, plus a rotating exhibit. I went to see the photo exhibit about identity. Although the exhibit was Argentinian, a discussion of stereotypes is relevant to all nationalities, including Bangladesh and Colombia. My mental image of Bangladesh before I lived there was one of cyclones and floods. Colombia suffers from other stereotypes.
My photos are taken from the photo catalog because I did not have my camera with me. But, flash photography is allowed in the temporary exhibit. I was just amazed that they were giving away the color catalog for free. Not all the photos in the photo exhibit were of people but I thought they were the best. I’ll write more about art and photography in a later post. Certainly once I have been to the famous gold museum in Bogota. For now, these photographs allowed for a little armchair travel.
As I’ve mentioned before, Washington, DC, is filled with food adventures. Newly gentrified H Street in northeast DC is the newest “hot” area of international food eclecticism. It has quirky pubs, rice dives, and even the chain pizza restaurant has fancy pants “jamon iberico” on the menu. Plus, this being DC, you can even get pizza with sweet potato. And, of course, they bake the pizza in a wood burning oven.
At the Lebanese restaurant, they sell “ayran,” a salty yogurt drink, “mamoul,” a Fig Newton-like treat, plus the usual middle eastern treats like baklava. An extra experience we had was getting good tips on Iraqi music from the guy behind the counter (there’s an app for that!).
I have never considered how one weighs an egg. At the Lincoln restaurant in Washington, DC, they serve the deviled eggs on an egg scale. The deviled eggs were not delicious so it made the gimmick of the egg scale seem all show; and no substance. I was excited when I ordered the deviled eggs with “duck crackling” but was disappointed. The duck skin was served as miniscule frigid speck (yup, a pork fat pun) on top of the deviled egg. But, it was the yolk mix itself which did not taste great. I think there was too much mustard and not enough pickle flavor. It would have been better with a sweeter flavor. But, at least it looked good?