Gwyneth Paltrow’s favorites as well, fueling my silly belief that she and I would be fast friends if we met, kicking back over a glass of wine and discussing our mutual love of Spain and David Lebovitz…not that I think about that sort of thing).
I also tried my first ever xialongbao during a vacation to Shanghai. To the uninitiated, as I was until recently, xialongbao are also known as “soup dumplings” because their delicate (at least, if they’re well-made) wrappings magically hold hot soup inside. The ones we ordered at Ling Long Fan in the French concession were paper thin on the outside and filled with succulent morsels of pork and rich, fatty liquid that flooded into my mouth in a delicious gush when I bit down on them. We ordered three steamers’ full and they were all fantastic, but the twelve seasoned with ginger were a borderline religious experience.
And then, of course, I’ve been continuing to scheme about cooking at home more often—I went back to Gourmet after the ink noodles proved to be a bland disappointment and purchased an actual bottle of ink. My 8am-midnight workdays have hardly allowed for experimentation in the kitchen, but this week my schedule is returning to normal and I’m determined to try an ink sauce recipe I found on youtube made by a bald, bespectacled Italian man named Mauro. I don’t actually speak the language, but by using the video as a visual aid, along with my four years of Spanish and the blessing of cognates, I think I’ve been able to decipher the simple recipe. Wine, garlic, tomatoes, ink, squid--what could go wrong? (Knock on wood...)
This afternoon, I told my co-workers I was meeting a friend for lunch but instead walked to my nearby apartment and whipped up a grilled kimcheeze sandwich and ate it with Peggy and the rest of the Mad Men gang.
I must say, my sandwich looked much more appealing than the white bread concoction she ate out of waxed paper with Paul, plus I had the added benefit of not getting sexually harassed afterward.
So, food is still a major part of my life, and it always will be. But I’ve realized that for the five months leading up to Dan’s visit, every single meal I ate was enhanced by the anticipation of his arrival. I often dine with my co-workers, and during those months, even when six out of seven of them were glued to their smart phones or carrying on fast-paced Korean conversations I desperately tried to follow but couldn't, I imagined coming back to whichever restaurant I was at with Dan later. It made me feel less lonely, more connected to him, and more excited about the food.
Then he was actually here, and the only problem was that by that time, I had been to so many restaurants I wanted to share with him that I knew I could never fit them all in. It’s still hard for me not to feel dramatic about the places we didn’t get to go, either because we didn't have enough time or we were thwarted in cruel and humorous ways (the shellfish restaurant with transcendent scallops I just knew he’d love was too packed to get into, for example, and then there’s the time we tried to eat at the Bulgarian restaurant Zelen and accidentally ended up at the French restaurant next door thinking "Mustard chicken? That doesn't seem very Bulgarian."), but really, we spent two months of bliss using my summer bonus to eat at almost every amazing restaurant I’d planned on taking him to, and even discovering a few I hadn’t planned on.
So now, here I am, trying to recover the enthusiasm I had for eating before and during his visit while constantly being reminded that food is as much about the people you share it with as anything else. Even the best of meals is only mediocre when one is dining alone(and though I wish the reverse were true, I find that eating mediocre food with people I love doesn't magically make it delicious, though it does make the experience a lot more fun).
On Sunday, after a strenuous, stair-filled hike along the fortress wall that stretches for miles above stunning views of Seoul, three steaming plates of dumplings and a basket full of cupcakes were just what I needed. Even better, the hike and the food were shared with two wonderful friends, one of them in the "oldest and dearest" category. Food still doesn't taste as good as when Dan was here, but it's getting better.