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  • Michael Krakovskiy 3:50 am on January 6, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Agent Z, , Barney Hall, Ben Simpson, Chip butty, , , favorite food, , , Galbi, , , , , Last meal, Malcolm in the Middle, , , Night, the Brits, ultimate comfort food, , XYZ   

    Bread and Circuses 2: Korean BBQ and Mark Haddon 

    I did not get much response to my previous installation of Bread and Circuses, the series of articles where I match my favorite books with my favorite food, but since I started already, well, I can’t chicken out now. You can read the first part here.

    Ok, so let’s say it’s 22 century, agents of the corpocracy captured me, and are about to send me to the Litehouse. Michael-47, they say, what kind of a last meal and book would you like?  I’d choose a David Mitchell novel and some pho, but they tell me that they are fresh out. What would my second choice be?

    Korean BBQ and a novel by Mark Haddon, of course.

    Korean food is spicy and strong smelling. It’s not subtle. It’s not refined. But it is the ultimate comfort food. It’s a bit like a little room in a Soviet communal apartment – dingy, smelly, but oh so homey. Also, I’m not sure I’m making myself clear, it’s very, very tasty. To me, the ultimate family meal is Korean BBQ (aka galbi).

    Whenever I feel extra bad and I need a cheer-me-up meal, I drag my wife to K-Town.  A typical meal involves frying bits of high and low grade meat over a special fire pit in the table, wrapping them in lettuce leafs and eating them. My favorite part is the little side dishes called banchan containing high quality kimchi (not the stuff you can find in a jar in a supermarket), various pickles, pancakes, salads, and many steamed, crunchy, slippery, tentacly things I don’t know the name of.  In better places they replenish the little dishes as you consume them. A galbi meal rarely fails to lift my spirits.

    Mark Haddon rose to prominence  for his book  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a novel written from the point of view of an autistic boy.  As most programmers I am slightly touched by the engineer’s affliction, so I can understand it very well. Haddon knows a lot about working class British engineers, dysfunctional families and  psychological trouble. His second novel, A Spot of Bother  is about a retired engineer who is losing his mind, yet keeps a stiff upper lip about it.  Haddon’s plots are very interesting, characters likable, and sense of humor outstanding.  These two novels really put of my mind from waiting for David Mitchell’s next novel.

    Once I finished Haddon’s bestsellers I learned that he actually started his career as a children’s writer.  He wrote and illustrated a number of children’s books,  culminating in the so-called Agent Z series. Oh, Agent Z. How I wish there were a few more of these left for me to read. Unfortunately the last one was written in 2001 and it does not look like Haddon is planning to write any more.

    The Agent Z series is somewhat similar to the popular American tv show Malcolm in the Middle. In fact, I suspect that “Malcom” was inspired by “Agent Z”.

    Agent Z is the pseudonym assumed by three British school kids who specialize in elaborate pranks. They are: Ben Simpson, the ‘handsome’ one of the crew, too smart and creative for his own good daydreamer from a lower middle class family; Barney Hall, a fat practical kid from an upper middle class family, who understands the adult psychology and is usually the brains of the outfit; and Jenks Jenkinson, a super skinny, wound up and ratty kid from a working class family who nevertheless has great fighting spirit.

      They take their revenge on bullies, boring teachers, nasty neighbors and relatives. Being kids, they don’t always stay anonymous under the cover of Agent Z organization, but usually get away with enough dignity to triumph over their tormentors.

    These books are infused with British culture, and I learned many interesting things.  For instance, it turns out that the Brits call ballpoint pens “biros” – honoring its Hungarian inventor (I guess that theory about Hungarian Martians is not that far from the truth).

    I also learned about chip butty (one of Ben’s favorite foods). Believe it or not, a chip butty is a sandwitch made out of two white (!) buttered (!!) pieces of bread, french fries (!!!) and ketchup (!!!!).

    Why am I so hung up on the Agent Z? Well, in my youth I had two friends, a good looking one and a crazy one, and together we formed the XYZ secret society. We did pull off a few pranks. MIT is home to a very powerful and very secret society that specializes in pranks, I followed their fine work for years. Hacks and pranks are ingrained  in the souls of all engineers.

    One of my favorite parts of the books is the illustrations that the author drew himself. Haddon is a very talented illustrator.

    Agent Z Goes Wild is hard to find for some reason. I got my copy at abebooks.com.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 4:18 am on October 3, 2006 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Chankonabe, Chorizo, , Hot pot, , Last meal, , Nabemono, Restaurant, Sapporo Lion Beer Hall, , Stew, Sumo wrestling, , ,   

    Deadprogrammer Visits Japan Part VIb : My Three Favorite Meals in Japan 

    I’ve had three exceptional meals in Japan. The first, and probably my favorite was in a little restaurant located on the grounds of Ryōan-ji, the famous temple with the rock garden. The restaurant is sitting in the middle of a gorgeous garden that is open only to the restaurant patrons. They serve beer and yudofu, a vegetarian stew with tofu and seven herbs.

    I am not a fan of vegetarian dishes, but this one completely blew me away by it’s simplicity and clean flavor. I can see how the monks could spend their entire life eating like that.

    You eat sitting down on tatami, the traditional way.

    We ordered a yudofu set that came with numerous side dishes, of which this is one. It wasn’t cheap at about $60, but was totally worth it. Maybe seeing the rock garden prior to eating this had something to do with it, but this was my favorite meal in Japan.

    My second favorite meal was in a little restaurant in Ryogoku, Tokyo’s sumo district. They serve chankonabe, stew traditionally eaten by sumo wrestlers. That was probably one of the most filling and healthiest meals that I’ve ever eaten in Japan – it was mostly protein.

    The restaurant was filled with trochees, memorabilia and pictures of sumo wrestlers, many in the restaurant itself and together with their families.

    Chankonabe is a meat, seafood and vegetable hot pot. It was prepared right in front of us.

    It’s eaten piping hot. I need to cook this at home more often.

    Our last meal in Japan happened in a rather famous place, the Sapporo Lion Beer Hall in Ginza. It’s the oldest Japanese beer hall that opened its doors in 1899.

    The interior has huge vaulted ceilings, Art Deco and Gothic decor. There’s a huge mosaic over the bar depicting a harvest scene.

    The selection of beer is as good as can be expected in a place like this. My favorite was Yebisu Black, which I sadly can’t locate here in the US.

    The selection of appetizers was huge too, and we tried several, including this awesome sashimi appetizer. Sadly, despite my advice, my wife ordered a chorizo(!) appetizer (it was the only thing that I did not have that night) and got a bad case of upset stomach later that evening. I was fine, so I guess a historic Japanese beer hall is not a great place for chorizo.

     
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