Monday, April 25, 2011

Foodie Redemption

This past Friday I had the pleasure of dining at Shahnawaz Restaurant with a group from the USC Office of International Services. It was the last meeting of the OIS Diner's Club for the year, and also the last time one of its leaders—@MarciaonTour from Project Quinn class—would have the chance to host such an event at USC.

Seven people loaded into the campus bus for the 30-minute trek to Lakewood to enjoy a Pakistani meal. There was a student from China, two from India, two from the U.S. (Marica and me), one from Turkey (even though I first thought he was from Russian or Antarctica?) and last but not least, our cultural guide Asma from Pakistan! She was so excited to try a restaurant that served her home cuisine in LA, since she hadn't had her native food in about a year.

The menu was filled with some familiar items I'd seen on Indian restaurant menus before. This made more sense after one of the Indian students explained that many Indian restaurants in the U.S. serve Pakistani food and customers don't realize this.

When it comes to exotic menu items I admit there is sometimes a tendency to eat what I know and like. So the chicken tikka masala was my safe entrée choice. Others were more adventurous. They ordered chicken biryani, mutton biryani, a tandoori mixed plate, a chicken roll, and the spicy vegetarian okra dish bhindi. Our cultural guide kept mentioning her favorite dish, chicken karahi, which I admitted was not for me since there were peppers and onions in it, and I'm simply not a fan of green peppers and especially not in dishes like Mexican fajitas. Asma also ordered a pitcher of salted lassi, a yogurt drink that is either sweet (i.e. with mango) or salted.

The first dish out was the flavorful chicken tikka masala, served with the freshest naan (the garlic was great, the sesame outstanding). The mixed grill was tasty, the bhindi exotically spicy, the biryani lovely with a hint of cinnamon, the salted lassi was so refreshing. And my favorite dish? The chicken karahi! My inner dialogue went something like this: "Marly, when are you going to learn that [insert ingredient, in this case] 'peppers' can be more than what you think they are?!" There was an overwhelming richness of flavor and excitement in that dish, and I couldn't stop eating it. That's right, pre-judging dishes is silly, because the best ones may pass you right by!

Last night I went to another restaurant for the first time, Animal, the carnivore's dream of a restaurant next to Canter's in LA. My fellow foodie friend and I ordered two foie gras dishes (one terrine, one seared on a biscuit), a hamachi tostada and pig ears. Admittedly, the latter worried me a touch: would the pig ears be gelatinous, fatty, icky? The dish was delicious! Like crunchy fried chicken skin or even pork rinds with a briny, pickled flavor, and fried egg on top.

As much as I am a foodie, my timidity at trying new things sometimes surprises people, as well as myself! Probably about 90% of the time the things I hesitate trying end up being wonderful, so I think it's time to turn the page on trepidation at the table and just go for it.

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