Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Lunch Hour

The wires are off. The time had come. I had waited 52 days, and today I was finally able to eat at a restaurant again. And not just any restaurant, a restaurant I had never dined at before. You see, as I mentioned in the last post, I still can't eat anything that requires me to chew. And as I've mentioned in several posts before, my love (bordering on obsession) of Chinese food has always presented me with some sort of food option I can work with. So after ordering Ma Po Tofu delivery as my first real meal last night, eaten in the privacy of my own home to ensure that I could actually eat again, my tongue enjoyed the privelage of solid foods once again. And now I know what I that solid food is...tofu.

It's like meat, but soft enough that it will just smoosh in my rehabilitating jaw with little effort. Lathered in a tasty sauce, it will pass as the greatest food in the world...since my options are slim. So, today, when I am confronted with the possibility of eating out at a restaurant again, my mind immediately turned to tofu. And where do they sell tofu exactly?

Well, how about at the place in Rockville that I have driven by before that has a bunch of Chinese (Korean??) letters and then the words Tofu House. I mean, there's really no doubting that a place like that has tofu. But I've never been there before and it's in the middle of an industrial area, and it looks kind of shady. Should I really go there?

And that's when you realize that your standards for food drop dramatically when you are starving and have little options to choose from. So, I turn to my mother at work, and make the bold call. "We're going to the Tofu House."

As we arrive at the Tofu House, we are both very skeptical. In passing the place in the past, I really hadn't taken a strong look at the establishment, but now as I parked my car in the lot, I realized how many Chinese (Korean???) letters there were all over the place. And then we noticed a family of Asian people walk in. And then we followed them up the stairs, past the three newspaper vending machines. But these weren't the Washington Post and USA Today, these were written in the same Chinese (Korean????) letters.

And then we walk in the door. If a juke box had been playing, I swear it would have stopped. All eyes turned towards us as we entered the building. The wait staff is rattled but a girl comes up to us and waves two fingers, and I nod that there are, in fact, two of us as she takes us to a seat. The place is very nice, with a traditional Asian feel with the rich wood in grids all over the walls. We are seated and then the girl walks away.

The silent looks that my mother and I are giving each other confirms that I'm not the only one who noticed that we're the only ones in the place that don't look like Jackie Chan. And why didn't the hostess give us a menu? Oh, that's because there's a piece of paper in a plastic stand on the table with Chinese (Korean?????) letters on it. Thankfully, there's also English subtitles below the letters, stating the main ingredients.

I immediately see Beef, Pork, Tofu, Soup under one of the lines, and decide it's best I not bother looking for much else...though there's only 12 things on the list to begin with. The waitress returns and sets two glasses on the table full of a clear liquid with a slightly brown tint. Holy Crap, where the fuck did I make us come...the water is brown!!!

The girl asks us if we're ready to order and as my mother starts to stumble from the daze, I quickly chime in that I want the Beef and Pork Tofu Soup. Apparently, that was too many English words, because what I got back was, 'You say number." I'm so rattled by everything, I've completely forgotten that my jaw was ever broken as I grab the menu from my mother and see that I want the #7.

She turns to my mother, and suggests she get #10 or #11. Apparently, these are the items for the non-Jackie Chans: ribs or sliced steak. She goes with the steak, and we both order Coke, because I know I ain't drinking that brown water. I give it a smell, just to see, and the waitress informs me that it is corn and barley iced tea. Uh, yeah. Could have just as easily been dirty water, because that's what it tasted like. Glad I ordered that Coke.

A few minutes later the girl returns with our Cokes along with four plates of different vegetable looking things, a bowl of an orange liquid with what looks like cabbage in it, and a clay bowl of rice. There at the table, she spoons two helpings of rice from the clay bowl into metal bowls and places them next to both of us. She then pours some sort of liquid into the clay bowl over the remaining rice and places it on the table as well. What the hell just happened? What is all this stuff? Are we supposed to eat it? We begin doing what any other confused white American would do in this situation, we looked to see what the other people were doing. I think they're eating it, but I'm not sure what to make of the liquid in the rice bowl.

Before we can make an awkward move towards any of the dishes, the waitress returns again, this time with a bowl of Tofu soup with pork and beef, and sliced steak on a plate with sesame seeds on it. Sweet!!! I know what this is. And then she throws me a curve ball.

She places a raw egg on a plate on the table. She is obviously aware that I have no idea what this is for and I even read that a raw egg comes with the Tofu soups (I guess I did read a little more on the menu after all), so she gives me the run down. You put egg in soup.

Put a raw egg in my soup???!!!! Uh, no thanks. Apparently facial expressions are not the universal language because my disgusted face does not get through to her, as she apparently thinks I just didn't understand her. She motions towards the egg and makes a move to bring it towards me, as I give her the undeniable head and hand shake off. No she's got it. Hope I didn't offend her.

And then I turn towards my soup. Despite all of the awkwardness and confusion that has preceded this moment, I am completely at ease and in a zen moment as the broth hits my tongue. Dear Lord, how I have missed eating real food. And this shit was awesome. I mean, really awesome. I couldn't have asked for a better, more easily consumed first meal out, as I surprisingly finished the entire bowl as well as dabbled at a few of the smaller vegetable items, which I could swallow whole.

I could not explain my situation to the waitress (that would have been a nightmare) but she had just filled a young man's dream of eating normal food again. I can't even explain the amount of joy that I received upon completing that meal. Food has always been one of my passions (I even close my eyes sometimes when I eat a great steak or sushi piece to savor the taste) and to have been without it so long makes this meal that much more intense.

And thus my obsession has been strengthened. The Chinese have come through once again. Providing me with a meal when others could not have provided it. God bless the Chinese...or were these Koreans??????


Anonymous said...

You were lucky enough to eat out at a Korean Soon Doo Boo house. Do a Google search for "Soon Doo Boo" and you will get a number of good descriptions of the dish you had. The raw egg, by the way, cooks in the soup after being cracked & mixed in - it gives the dish a little more richness & depth of flavor.

The J Man said...

Yep, did the google search you suggested and sure enough, that's pretty much what I ate. Although, looks like I broke a rule of etiquette by mixing my rice into my soup.

Anonymous said...

Since you have now popped your Soon Doo Boo cherry, when are we going to hit up Tofu House?


jaemyung Kim said...

hey, i really really liked your blog.

like... i was waiting for chinese- orange chicken, which i miss so much. chinese foods are similar with korean food. and i am a korean. your descriptions are so vivid and so nice. it gave me so much pure laughter.

I am glad that you like the tofu(chinese) or dooboo(korean)

and it seems like the restaurant might be the korean since they put the rice in the soup. i haven't seen any chinese doing that yet. but in korea that's pretty much traditional.... or at least it's too general that we mix soup and rice together. it's something like you eat bread with jam and peanut butter.

hope you are doing great thesedays
p.s. ireally loved reading this blog. thanks

The J Man said...

It's been several months since I first posted this blog entry and I have visited this Tofu place about 5 or so times since then, every time ordering the same delicious meal. I would definitely recommend anyone try this restaurant, which is called Vit Guel Lighthouse Tofu on Twinbrook Pkwy, since many have asked. Enjoy.

Anonymous said...

the place is korean. you might want to refrain from using the "jackie chan" description when describing the asian people in the restaurant, though. kind of racist. or generalist.

if you love korean food, more power to you. most people do. its the ignorance that permeates through your blog that can be taken the wrong way. barley tea is not dirty water. its tea. keep drinking it and you'll learn to love it.

Anonymous said...

Just another stupid mee-gook with no idea of where or what he's eating. There is a huge difference between Korean letters and Chinese pictographs just as there a huge difference in being totally stupid and learning to appreciate other cultures. That you chose Viet Gol for your first meal after your jaw was broken was good for you, too bad you didn't appreciate the complexity and intricacies of Korean food. Soon Doo Boo is an excellent way to start eating Korean food. You can request spicy, spicier, and even spicier. Shame you didn't try the spicy. Perhaps the next time you attempt to eat something that doesn't come from McDonalds or Popeyes, you'll attempt to open what little mind you have and learn to appreciate other cultures.