Hoagies, free food, and old roommates

One of the best things about coming home is going to festivals where you get free food. What a better way to show my patriotism than by standing in line with a free Wawa hat in front of Independence Hall, waiting to get a free hoagie?  And iced tea? And bag of chips? I’ved missed Wawa, and not necessarily hoagies, but rather cheesesteaks and breakfast sandwiches.  The list of greasy foods can go on.

Another feature of homecoming during the summers is my yearly date with Lauren, my first college roommate, who is even more of an enthusiast of free food, and who gives me the annual update on all of our old classmates – weddings, babies, drama, romances, repeating histories.  Seven years is a lot when I think about it; even a year is difficult to re-cap within the time it takes to have coffee or dessert.

When we first moved into the 7th floor of Johnson, we immediately bunked our beds, me on the top, her on the bottom.  That made room for the ugly chair, which promptly arrived and became the site of book reading, naps, hallway wars and congregations, etc. When she first saw it, fresh from a second-hand South Street store, she gave it one look and said, “We might need a cover for that.”  Though we never did cover it up, hence the name.

She kept her violin under the bed.  I’d always envied musicians with such portable, easy-to-hide instruments.  Mine was always inconsistent and monstrously lurking  in basement glass cubicles. We printed out monthly practice charts and taped them to the back of our door to track our practicing habits, which we always claimed were bad.

On quiet, war-free nights, we wrote  in our journals silently under the lamplight.  We  weren’t the kind of roommates who chatted incessantly til dawn, but rather we shared silence and music well. We would even message each other on the internet while sitting inches away. I’m sure every roommate has done that. When we did talk, I liked listening to her because, as an open and reasonable person, she always had, and still always has, some outlandish or tragic or funny story to tell.

We shared our fondness for e.e. cummings.

I still remember what the door sounded like opening and its tact, the turn of the key and knob.  If you weren’t careful it would slam, as it usually did in the neighboring boys’ rooms.  She was an extremely light sleeper.

We went to concerts together.  Sometimes we went to parties together.  Once we came home and, laughing uncontrollably, took photos of ourselves smiling drunkenly together in the dark, the Christmas lights blinking in the background.  In our room it was eternally Christmas. And spring was always a perhaps hand.

Food, food, food

My taste buds have been thoroughly fulfilled this week, even though this sometimes proves to be a challenge in Madrid when eating out. To find good Asian food (the height of good gastronomy), especially, is a task that requires some research, recommendations, adventure, and the possibility of being disappointed. This is the fun, and sometimes annoying, part about living somewhere so foreign — the lack of the options we are so used to as Americans makes us crawl the city looking for something we are familiar with, or something we want to become familiar with.

Three restaurants we’ve been to this week:

Nipon Taro is a nicely decorated, very decent Japanese restaurant located on Calle Serrano 213, very close to where I work. The greatest thing about lunch hour in Madrid are the fixed menus, which can range usually from 10 to 15 euros for a starter, main course, drink, and dessert. I had been to this restaurant before and had tried their sashimi and sushi platter — all very good, from what I can remember. This time I tried the bento menu, which came with miso soup, various maki, vegetable tempura, and chicken teriyaki. Everything was very fresh and delicious, and all for only 12 euros, wine and green tea ice cream included.

We also went to a Korean restaurant called Han Gang, on Calle Atocha near metro station Anton Martín. I had only been to one Korean restaurant in Madrid, near my house, and I usually order the menu de degustación there, which comes with things that are definitely not korean, including tempura and fried rice. En Han Gang, there are actual burners on the tables for you to cook your meat. We ordered kim-chi, bulgoki, some other spicy noodle/ rice dishes, some sake. Food was great, and company was even better. 🙂

P.S. I like how if you read the reviews for this restaurant, there’s one person that says this is a good “restaurante chino.” He might as well have said “Asian food.”

If Royal Cantones restaurant were closer to me, I would become a regular, weekly patron. However, it’s located on the opposite end of Madrid, near metro Almendrales on Calle Olvido 92. The first time I came here last year, I was so comforted by the Cantonese-speaking waitresses and the familiarity of the food — finally, real dim-sum! And dumplings, Chinese veggies, buns, chow fun, everything that I’m used to at home. I felt like I was suddenly not in Madrid anymore. Since then I’ve become a big fan of this place and have come here several times, and the food is always sooo good, so fresh, so yummy, and at an excellent price. The waitresses are also very friendly. This is real Cantonese cooking, and I’ve been so pleased by the food there that I’ve given up on other Chinese restaurants.

P.P.S. And of course, how can I forget the Salon de Té in Antón Martín, which serves us wine, fruit, and shisha as we laze around on oriental rugs and pillows, sharing experiences and shooting the shit…

Next-up on the food challenge… finding a Vietnamese restaurant that serves Pho.


I’ve discovered an AUTHENTIC Chinese store in Madrid near Metro Tetuan (well, there’s more than one there). When we went there to buy things for our first sushi-making attempt, I was flabbergasted because this wasn’t like all the other Chinese grocery stores in the city. It was as if I were in a small store in Chinatown in Philadelphia; they sold Chinese veggies, rice-makers, an abundant variety of snacks, utensils, frozen foods, dumplings (!), tofu, sauces, all the essential to make Chinese meals. My mother would be so proud!

We bought a 3L rice-cooker for 20 euros, a pack of dumplings, and one of these:

and afterwards we went to a Japanese store to buy things for the sushi. They came out pretty bad because we either put too much rice in them or we didn’t cut them properly. But we also made nigiri, which came out pretty nicely.

I miss this:

and this:

And in general, the diversity of food that you would find in New York. I’m dying of impatience for the day I eat my first home-cooked mommy food!