Food in Indiana & Illinois – 2015

I’m a major foodie, but I don’t go out to eat a lot, mainly due to my dietary restrictions: vegetarian and I don’t eat onion, garlic, leeks, chives, or hing (asafoetida). Basically, everything in the genus Allium, which also includes leeks, shallots, scallions, etc. What makes it a lot easier is that my entire family follows the same diet so in order to satisfy my craving for foods of all kinds, I end up cooking. A lot.

Why? Purely because though America is getting on that vegetarian bandwagon with things like Meatless Mondays and an increasing amount of vegetarian-friendly restaurants in addition to the all-vegetarian/vegan eateries, those aforementioned spices that I don’t eat are often featured in the food. It also saves me the waiter/waitress the trouble of having such a “difficult” customer and me the trouble of trying to figure out what in the world I could eat. As a note, my brand of vegetarianism is more Asian-based; if you go to Taiwan, all vegetarian restaurants there actually make their food without those spices (I was in Gastronomic Heaven there). Traditionally, Buddhist vegetarianism doesn’t include those items. Of course, this differs by the country, but if you trace it back to the very beginning, that’s how it was. There are several folklore-like stories of why this is which leads back to how eating those items was akin to eating meat itself. Then more scientifically, some of them, like garlic, is touted for their antibacterial character… which is great when you have tons of germs that need to be killed when eating meat. What is it going to kill when you’re only consuming plant-based foods? In a sense, you’re just harming yourself… plus, people that eat it mainly do it for the flavor it imparts and not its ‘benefits’. That’s just a nice side effect.

Plus, I frankly avoid them now because they’re so pungent. Comparably speaking, it’s all right if other people eat it because it’s easy enough to avoid them, but it’s hard to get away from yourself when the smell is, well, coming from yourself. Interestingly enough, I have met some people who have an actual allergy towards onion and garlic, so if you’re wondering, that is an actual allergy. Personally, I’m not allergic though if it’s strong enough, my eyes actually water and my nose stuffs up to the point that I feel as if I somehow got severely congested (and blinded by the influx of tears) in the matter of 5 seconds, so I guess I am somewhat allergic in a sense. That only happened once to me and I never want it to happen again. Trust me, if you avoid them for just a week or two, you’ll start feeling the affects due to your increased sensitivity towards them.

So, on this trip up to the Midwest, I found myself battling the constant frustration of trying to find food other than sweets, salads, or sandwiches that I could have, since I no longer had access to my beloved kitchen. Plus, I hate buying food that I can make. It seriously bothers me. To make it more simple, I would either tell my waiter/waitress that I was allergic and if I found myself in an Indian restaurant, I would tell them I ate Jain vegetarian, which also avoids those spices, among other things.

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[PLACE] Common Bond

I first heard of this place on the news. I mentally added it onto my list of Places to Go in Houston, but I never got around to it until sometime around two months ago. My sister and I decided to drop by at around 1 PM on a weekday only to find out that their display case of pastries (what we were going for) was completely empty. Completely sold out. We left empty handed.

What is this place? Common Bond.

Common Bond

My birthday was this past week and one of my friends insisted on meeting up. I suggested this place and – awesomely enough – it was on his list of places to visit as well! So we went. I did a little bit of research and found out that the place was particularly busy for brunch, which is served from 9 through 3 on the weekends. We decided to meet right when they opened to get good parking spots (they supposedly have a small lot) and to finally get to see these pastries of theirs, hoping that first time was a fluke.

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[PLACE] Torchy’s Tacos

I haven’t had “fast food” in a while, so when my friend suggested tacos for our next culinary Tacossssadventure, I was a bit excited. I was even more excited when I found out that they had vegetarian* options (and it wasn’t truly fast fast food)! Having had said that, their idea of vegetarian does not include eggs, because when I ordered my second item (migas taco) which contained eggs, they said it wasn’t vegetarian. Anyway, moving on from the vegan versus vegetarian question, which I thought was interesting (after I passed the initial confusion)…

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[PLACE] Guru Burgers and Crepes

I like burgers. I like crepes. However, I never thought I would ever find the two in one place… until now.

I’ll be heading off to Korea soon for my one-month-long escape from the States, but not from work. Nope, I’ll be traveling and working while abroad at the same time. I’m not quite sure how this will actually work out, but I’m willing to give it my best. Before then, however, one of my friends called me up in an effort to catch me before I go off on another adventure. We ended up going to Guru Burgers and Crepes, which took me off guard for half a second. Burgers.. and crepes? What the heck – let’s do it!

I got there before my friend because of my awesome driving skills and unusually cooperative traffic. I was seated by the hostess (they have a hostess stand, as well!) and then relocated myself to somewhere closer to the floor to ceiling wall-windows with another door that leads onto the patio area. I loved the jar they used as a cup and then I perused the menu. The possibilities were endless since you could choose options for almost everything. Sure, I saw the concept before (i.e. Which Wich, Chipotle) but those weren’t sit-down restaurants with waiter service. For example:

Burgers: 13 choices with 3 different sizes (sliders, regular, double) and choice of bun (twist roll, whole wheat, gluten free, bunless)

Sides: 3 different fries and homemade beet chips with your choice of seasoning (salt+pepper, parmesan, sweet+salty, and truffle oil) in 2 different sizes (regular, share)

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[PLACE] HRW: Uptown Sushi

The first time I heard the name of this place, I thought about how utterly unimaginative it was; it was located in the Uptown/Galleria area and it served Japanese cuisine of the sushi variety. I love sushi as it is my one big weakness which is why I’m essentially a sushitarian, but I never thought I would get the chance to go; I don’t usually eat out and it’s a bit on the expensive end of the spectrum. However, this changed when I learned about Houston Restaurant Weeks.

Basically, over 100 fine restaurants (and 1 cooking school) in the Houston area signed up to offer a 3 to 4-course meal for the month of August for only $35 per person. On top of that, $5 of that amount will go to the Houston Food Bank. Even though my diet is a little more flexible than the strict vegetarian, the exception of raw seafood still limits my choices, so after one of my foodie friends told me about HRW, I had to look up each and every restaurant that was participating and I made a list of restaurants that served vegetarian-friendly dishes or sushi. From that list, my friends decided upon Uptown Sushi and a reservation later, we found ourselves there enjoying their great food.

We arrived a little after six. There were a few seated tables, but it was barely halfway full, though this changed by the time we left when almost every table was occupied. The interior was clearly up-scale, which made me feel slightly self conscious after I launched myself at a friend for the biggest hug I could give a split second after the door closed behind us, but they were professional about it, though I can’t say the same for what they were thinking. A hostess led us to our table; a booth with comfortable seating along the wall. There was also an elevated seating area. Half of the walls were tiled and the other half, curtained.

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[PLACE] Maggiano’s Little Italy

Oh, Italian food.

Spaghetti was one of the first things I learned to cook, right after the art of making rice in a rice cooker and scrambled eggs. Then came learning to make a larger variety of pastas and then making a pizza from scratch. On top of that, I love tangy foods so I love the tomato that is featured in most Italian dishes. It’s no surprise that I still have a soft spot for Italian and it was pure luck that my work is right in the center of an area home to a number of good restaurants in Houston, with Maggiano’s being one of them – a little taste of Italy, indeed.

The first time, I went with a good friend of mine, but we had gone a little later and with the dimly lit interior, there wasn’t enough natural light for good photos. This time, I went with another friend and we ended up meeting slightly earlier, so it was enough for a few decent photos, but even so, I apologise for the poor quality; I did my best.

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