Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Eatin' Good: My Culinary Obsessions Past & Present


My friend Jonah once referred to his younger brother as an "enthusiast," someone who gets briefly but intensely obsessed with something - a particular person or article of clothing or TV show or cuisine. I identified immediately with the label & have since co-opted it for myself.

I can mainline a Netflix show with the best of 'em, but most often, I find my enthusiast tendencies directed toward food. I'll go all-in on some dish for days, weeks, even months, with no concept of "too much of a good thing." I'll order the same thing every day until I finally tire of it, & then I'll move on to the next one.

Past targets of my enthusiasm have included:
  • Chicken kaprow: I didn't like Thai food until I moved to D.C., but once I discovered it, there was no turning back. My first year here, I lived across from Paragon Thai, which quickly became my go-to restaurant for take-out (&, when I was really sick or lazy, delivery). I'd order by phone as I left work, & by the time I got off the Metro, my food was ready. Once, the woman who answered the phone gushed, "Ah, the girl in the red coat!" referring to my notably bright winter jacket, & I was so embarrassed that I didn't go back for six months, thus ending this particular obsession.
  • Fancy grilled cheese: I can't cook. I try, sometimes, but for the most part? Nottt a chef. I can, however, "make stuff," like my so-called big-kid grilled cheese. I blogged about it in 2010: "It's muenster, goat cheese, baby spinach, crumbled walnuts, & a smear of fig jam on ciabatta & pressed in my George Foreman, panini-style...I AM A CULINARY GENIUS WITH THE PALETTE OF A SOPHISTICATED 10-YEAR-OLD." This fell off my radar when I felt (I can't believe it myself) all cheesed out.
  • Wontons with spicy peanut butter sauce: When my then-boyfriend deployed & left me alone with the cat, Pink Bamboo Hot Pot Cafe became my best friend. To hit the delivery minimum, I'd order two orders of wontons - one for dinner & one for lunch the next day. When the delivery guy dropped off my food, I'd try to act like there was someone else in the apartment... just so I didn't seem like the girl ordering 12 wontons for herself. But again, when the restaurant's hostess started to recognize my voice & remember my order, I called the whole thing off - but I'd kill for those wontons right about now.

And now? Now I'm obsessed all over again. A few weeks ago, I tried Pho 14's bún bò nướng for the first time, & now I can't stop ordering it. If you've never tried this dish, let me paint a picture for you: thin-cut, juicy, tough-but-tender slices of beef served over a bed of light, thin vermicelli noodles, fresh cucumbers & scallions, shredded carrots, crispy shallots, crushed peanuts, & a liiiittle bit of lettuce, topped with sweet fish sauce.

Oh! If my verbal picture-painting didn't work, I can show you an actual picture:


Maybe, if you're a white-bread kid from the Applebee's-lovin' suburbs like me, it sounds sort of gross. I know that 10 years ago, I wouldn't have come near it. But today? Today I'm obsessed. Today I'm an enthusiast of the highest order. Today I ordered Pho 14's bún bò nướng for the third time in less than a week, & I have no plans to stop any time soon.

Clearly, I've got it bad. But... it's probably better than an obsession with grilled cheese, right?

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