During my trip to the 2013 American Craft Beer Fest, Sean and I stayed at Hostelling International's Boston location, which is on Stuart St in Chinatown, leading us to having a few good meals in the area. I should also say, this was my first experience at a hostel, and it was a pretty positive one; the hostel was large, clean, and had some pretty decent amenities, including an espresso bar, lounge area, and even a kitchen space, and the rooms lock, which is fantastic, and each bed has its own locker that a padlock can secure. The room we were in had six bunks, each of which has a small cubby space at the head of the bed, which has a reading light and a few outlets to charge your phone. At just $50 a night per person, this is significantly better than just about any hotel in or around the city, and it is in a pretty great location, within walking distance to...well...just about anywhere in Boston.
Anyways, on to the food! When Sean and I arrived, we dropped our stuff off at the hostel, and went to grab some food. We spied Q Restaurant on the corner of Washington St and Beach St, a sort of pan Asian (or at least east Asian) restaurant offering sushi, Mongolian hot pot style dinners, Thai, and Chinese cuisine. We knew were going to get some dim sum in the morning, so we went with the Mongolian hot pot, which I last had back in 2000 in the Pacific Northwest (I think in Victoria) with my dad and brother on a vacation, and which Sean had never had. Essentially, you get a large bowl of hot broth (or in this case, broth that is heated to the point of an aggressive boil on a burner located in the middle of the table) in which you cook a variety of meats and/or vegetables. You can pick from a number of broths, which cost anywhere between three and eight dollars (or the Basic Broth, which is free), and at least one of these is vegetarian friendly. You can choose from combos or a la carte accompaniments for the broth, ranging from "Kobe" beef (I still have no clue why people aren't outraged that they are being asked to pay ridiculous amounts of money for a product that is not even available in the USA, and thus are being lied to) to fish balls to various vegetables. The combinations all include assorted vegetables, such as a small piece of corn on the cob, some baby bok choy, watercress, and a couple others. You also can choose from a few different noodle or rice options; Sean and I both went with the Udon noodles, and I had the Beef and Lamb combo, while he had just the Lamb. We went with a bowl of the Mala broth, which the menu says is their most popular. It was spicy, filled with chili peppers, and very, very flavorful, though the amount of time you are cooking the various items in the hot broth limits the amount of flavor transfer. The meat, which is sliced exceptionally thin (think lunch meat) cooks very, very quickly, as do the vegetables, though they can stay in the hot liquid longer without much issue. The noodles also did not require much of a soak, just enough to get them hot, really. The food was pretty delicious, and we were stuffed by the time we finished; the mile and a half long walk to the Seaport World Trade Center was definitely a positive, as it gave us time to digest, and also burned off at least a few calories (that we quickly replaced with beer, of course) as we walked in the very hot sun. I don't know how authentic the food was, but we both enjoyed it, and would go back. The prices weren't unreasonable, either, costing us each under $25 for the meal.
After the ACBF, we were pretty tired, and slightly tipsy, but by the time we got back to the hostel, we decided we needed some more food, if only to soak up the booze. Sean suggested finding a burger place, so with the help of my phone we found UBURGER, a small local chain with five locations throughout Boston. We went to the 140 Tremont St. location, which should only be about a 10 minute walk, that somehow we (I?) turned into a 30 minute walk via some unfortunate directional issues, arriving half an hour before they closed. I ordered a Cowboy Burger, which has barbeque sauce, pepper jack cheese, grilled mushrooms and bacon, and added a soda and fries, which cost me all of about $10; not bad in Boston. The burger was decent, nothing super special, but to a slightly intoxicated person at 10:30pm, it was perfect. Cooked a little more than I like (I don't recall being asked how I wanted it, honestly, though that could be me misremembering due to being exhausted), it was nicely salty, and the toppings were great. The fries were spectacular, shoestring fries that were deliciously crispy, salty and just the littlest bit greasy; aka, perfect drunk food. This is the kind of place that needs to be in the bar section of every college town in America. Probably not the most vegetarian friendly place, they do offer a veggie patty and some salads, but it is clearly not their specialty.
Sunday morning we woke up, incredibly sans hangover, and met my friends Forrest and Molly at China Pearl for dim sum. Few things appeal to me more as a breakfast food than dim sum, which consists of a variety of steamed buns, rolls, and rice dishes, among others, that are brought to the table on steam-table carts. There are a couple problems with this, as a non-Cantonese speaking individual: first off, I honestly have little to no clue what I am getting most of the time, as the wait staff for the most part spoke little to no English, and so I was left to guess what they were offering us several times; and second, I had no clue how much anything cost, since they just marked up the card on the table with stamps of Chinese characters. Despite these difficulties, we had some pretty good food, though it could have better. I loved the pork steamed buns (char siu bau), which were somehow both light and dense at the same time, and the sticky rice was great, filled with some variety of poultry. The steamed meatballs were less of a hit, though they were not bad by any means. The sweet buns filled with pork were great, a perfect combination of sweet and savory, though only Sean and I enjoyed them; neither Forrest nor Molly are big pork fans, as it turns out. We had a few other dishes, and I do not think anyone left hungry, though I suspect that I enjoyed the meal more than the rest of the group. We were each out exactly $10 at the end, so the fact that we had no clue what we were paying for individual dishes turned out not to be a problem at all; this was, in fact, remarkably cheap. China Pearl is one of two highly recommended Chinatown restaurants to get dim sum, with the other being Hei La Moon; I look forward to trying that restaurant as well in the future. I do not believe that this is a particularly vegetarian friendly type of meal, at least unless you are fluent in Cantonese and can converse with the waiters pushing the carts, as you may end up getting more than you bargained for otherwise.
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