Exploring the company we keep at UCI and beyond

Roller derby girls. God Without Religion. Harry Potter enthusiasts (fanatics?). These are a small sampling of the groups and organizations that have formed at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and around Orange County. Members share a devotion to their cause and a desire to pursue it in collaboration with others, which are the subjects we examine in this blog.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Food Club at UCI Best Eats

By: Da In Sung

"It's on Alton right? It should be pretty close then," says Benson as we drive in search of Inka's, a Peruvian restaurant. Just before, the club met in HH 108 on campus for a brief meeting and decided which new restaurant they wanted to try most and Inka's was the winner. We pull into a rather plain and empty plaza, a bit skeptical as to whether or not we found the right address. And there, standing outside as a group are the other food club members under a lit up Inka's sign.

The Food Club at UCI is all about exploring new foods. This casual club, which recently began winter quarter of 2009, is dedicated to discovering new cuisines, recipes, and restaurants. Benson Giang and Raywat Piphatchukiat are the co-presidents and two of the co-founders of The Food Club at UCI.

Every other Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Food Club gets together to learn something different about food, whether it be learning about proper food servings, how to make sushi, or sampling international desserts such Baklava (a Greek, sweet pastry filled with nuts and syrup/honey), The Food Club always offers something fresh and exciting. Ultimately, the main purpose of The Food Club is to gather people together to have an enjoyable time and food serves as a good common ground to connect people together. And what do all foodies look forward to most? Eating of course! After most meetings, the club carpools together and daringly try new cuisines like Peruvian food at Inka's.

Inka's: http://www.inkasoc.com/ in Irvine, CA.

The nine of us walk into the restaurant and are greeted by an aroma of spices and flavors. The hostess, an older woman with a strong Peruvian accent leads us to our table and hands each of us a menu. Andy, one of the Food Club members, eagerly opens his menu and the rest follow suit. The menu, full of foreign dishes, consists of various appetizers, chicken and beef dishes, seafood, and even vegetarian plates. From Ceviche (your choice of white fish marinated in spicy lime juice or a combination of fresh calamari, shrimp, and fish marinated in spicy lime juice) to Chicharron (fried pieces of chicken served with sarza criolla: onions marinated in lime juice), everything on the menu sounds fantastic, and those are just examples of Inka's appetizers.

The hostess, who also acted as a waitress, comes by bringing us warm bread and butter, "anything to drink?" she asks. Kristy Chu, another Food Club co-founder and secretary, asks what she recommends. "Inka Kola," she tells us, "is very good, I think you will like it; the Maracuya (tropical fruit punch) is also very good." Under her recommendation, a few of us choose to try the Maracuya, while a couple others choose Inka Kola.

As the hostess places each of our drinks in front of us (both the Inka Kola and Maracuya were delicious), tummies are grumbling. Eventually, everyone is able to choose (just one) dish, though the choice was quite difficult as everything sounded wonderful. Half the group decide to get an order of Empanadas, steak and chicken (separately) meat pies to start.

The Empanadas set the meal in motion. A crispy shell encases the meat and every bite is full of flavor as the spices awaken your taste buds. A lime sauce accompanies the dish, adding an exciting, tangy taste. Soon everyone's main dishes come out. An assortment of colors cover the table as everyone's dishes vary. I ordered one of Inca's chicken dishes called Picante de Pollo, a type of curry with chicken and potatoes sauteed in a spicy chile and garlic sauce served with steamed, white rice. The dish was rich in spices and had quite a bit of 'kick' to it; though I love my food spicy, Inka's has the option to have no spice, medium, or spicy, depending on the diner's preference.

From left to right:
Vegetarian Tallarin Verde (Spinach-basil with fresh vegetables on pasta), Picante de Pollo (Chicken and potato sauteed in a spicy chile and garlic sauce with rice), Pasta Blanca (Calamari, shrimp, and fish strips in Alfredo sauce served on pasta).

Everyone was definitely satisfied, as well as surprised, by the quality of Inka's food. When asked which restaurant, among the ones Food Club has tried, best, Kristy chose Inka's because she's "never had [Peruvian] before and the server was really nice and everything she recommended was really good. I guess it was surprisingly good, I wasn't really expecting much of Inka's actually." Inka's is a restaurant, while not well-known, is one she would recommend to others to try out.

Laventina's Big Cheese Pizza: http://www.laventinasbigcheese.com/ in Newport Beach, CA.

After driving around Newport a bit lost, we finally come across a small pizza place called Laventina's Big Cheese Pizza. We park at the side of the road and the foodies, of course hungry, rush out and across the street toward Laventina's. The overhang which reads Laventina's Big Cheese Pizza is a bright yellow, making it stand out amongst its blander neighbor businesses. We reach the erect door, covered with various skater stickers of labels and brands. Inside there is very little space for customers and no seating. The restaurant is very simple; customers walk up to the counter and order their pizza or spaghetti, and in a short time, a worker hands you your food and you're set to go.

Once we all get our food, we stand in a circle outside, holding warm pizza boxes and spaghetti boxes, discussing where to eat. The group is a bit smaller today, about seven to eight people, as midterms draw near. Kevin, another co-founder and in charge of The Food Club's public relations and multimedia, and Raywat are the only board members present.

We decide to head to the beach, as it is simply walking distance from Laventina's. Once at the beach, we crowd around a bench, the temperature being more on the chilly side. Just like Inka's, Laventina's becomes a great bonding experience. We huddle around together for warmth, laughing, eating, and exchanging embarrassing stories.

As the event ends, everyone feels comfortably full and happy. Though the food wasn't exactly spectacular or special, it was fairly cheap, quick, close to the beach, and ultimately, set up a fun, leisurely time. Just as we pack up to head out, a woman who finished playing volleyball nearby runs up and to Andy's dismay, requests his (last) piece of pizza. Being a good guy, Andy relinquishes his final piece.

Claws Restaurant: http://clawsrestaurant.com/ in Garden Grove, CA.
Tastea: http://tastea.net/ i
n Garden Grove, CA.

"Is everyone set to go?" asks Benson us as we wait in HH 108. "Yeah," says Kristy, "Ray can just meet us in the parking lot."

As the leaders head out, the rest follow. While walking towards the parking lot by the Humanities buildings, Andy stops. "Whoa! Look at that squirrel, it has a giant pine cone!" "It's hungry, too," jokes Greg, a new member of The Food Club although he is not a student at UCI. Even though this would be his first Food Club event, it feels as if he's been with us all quarter. Andy stops to take a picture of the squirrel as we all stop to watch it munch on the pine cone, before Andy accidentally scares it away. "I'm so hungry! I can't wait for Claws.." says Benson, and that gives us a cue to keep moving forward. Upon reaching the parking lot, we find Ray in his car, waiting. We split up into two groups, one group in Ray's car, the other in Kristy's.

I hop in the backseat of Ray's car. Along with me in the car are Andy and Jay, a Food Club member I have not seen before. Surprisingly, a lot of the car ride focused on talk about cars; apparently the three of them also know each other from another club called Imports at UCI. The three of them were pretty close (I had previously thought they had only me through Food Club) and a lot of laughter and jokes were shared. Of course, food was also a well covered topic. Andy and I had never been to Claws so Andy was pretty excited about trying this place out. Claws is a bit of a drive away from UCI, but it's similar to the famous Boiling Crab only without as long of a wait - and that, to hungry foodies, is worth the drive to Garden Grove.

When we arrived, we found that Claws was decently crowded, though still not as long of a wait as with Boiling Crab. So the eight of us gathered round in a circle outside of the restaurant and simply talked. A lot of "I'm so hungry" and "I can't wait till that table finishes eating" could be heard from our group as stomachs were definitely growling. "Omg, I can smell the Cajun spices coming from inside, it smells so good, it's like teasing us," moans Benson who apparently prepared for this feast by not eating as many carbs throughout the day.

While we waited, I spoke to Andy to get his opinion on Food Club. Andy, who is a regular member and attends meetings almost every time, loves Food Club. "What I like best about Food Club is the idea that you can explore the different cuisines from different cultures. I never had like Peruvian food before joining Food Club. And also, it's kind of like a Yelp club. Like, the Food Club introduces so many restaurants around So Cal that I've never heard of which are very good so it's kind of a good way to bring friends to a good place," says Andy, "I joined Food Club because I love food; I love to eat, I love to try out new things, I'm kind of interested to know how to cook too, which is exactly what Food Club offers."

"What word would you use to best describe The Food Club?" I asked Andy.
"Awesome," answers Andy, "It's just awesome."

Finally, our table inside is cleared and ready for us. Everyone eagerly goes inside and finds a place at the table. The table is set with a giant paper table cloth (as the meals are always extremely messy), small individual containers of mixed salt and pepper, and two bowls of cut limes. The waitress comes by and pretty soon, everyone is ready to order. "Could we get two pounds of shrimp, a pound of King crab legs, sausages, four corn on the cobs, Cajun fries, fried Okra, and Cajun wings?" asks Kristy, and this was only for our side of the table consisting of Kristy, Benson, Greg, Jay, and myself. The other half of the table had an even greater feast, later ordering more Cajun fries and taking the rest of mine.

Although I do not eat seafood, the Cajun fries, wings, okra, and corn were delicious, and everyone definitely enjoyed their giant bags of Cajun spiced shrimp, crab legs, and crayfish. Not long after the waitress brought out the bags of seafood, the table was covered with Cajun sauce, ketchup for fries, crab shells, and of course, shrimp heads - lots and lots of shrimp heads, feelers, and shells. Without exaggeration, the best way to describe our table would be to call it a shrimp massacre. While everyone was twisting off the shrimp heads and peeling off their shells, Ray had a different technique of eating his shrimp. "Ray eats the entire thing??" asks Jay, quite baffled by this feat. "Ray, can you eat one now? I gotta see this," continues Jay. Everyone was pretty interested in seeing Ray eat the shrimp, most people tend to avoid eating the head. As per request, Ray grabs a shrimp from the bag and nonchalantly eats the shrimp as is, head, feelers, the works; and while this is a rather unusual talent, it honestly is also quite impressive (not many have the guts to eat a shrimp as it comes). "Omg, I have to try this.." responds Jay, after watching Ray, and try it, he did, although he found it not really his thing.

"You must think we're like monsters," jokes Kristy. "Yeah, especially with Ray eating shrimp heads," adds Greg. Laughter and fun conversation was heard all around the table. Everyone was thoroughly messy, wearing bibs to protect their clothes, Cajun sauce everywhere - it was definitely a fun and interesting event, very fitting for a Food Club closing.

Once everyone got cleaned up (a rather difficult task it appeared) we all headed out and drove to Tastea. Tastea is a small, Asian tea and smoothie shop with a wide variety of drinks and green Boba, chewy tapioca balls which go in the tea. Everyone ordered a drink, a nice refreshment after all the spicy seafood. Before calling it a night, we had one last gathering outside Tastea, sipping drinks, trying each other's drinks, and freezing (it was quite cold out at 10 pm). And thus, the cold air concluded the night; everyone bid their farewells, climbed into the cars they came in, and headed back to their homes.
The Food Club at UCI is a great new club; although I, personally, am an extremely picky eater and do not love food nearly as much as the Food Club members, I had a fantastic time with them. After spending time with this club, it is very evident that everyone is welcome to join. People from all majors are current members, ranging from Ray being a mechanical engineer major to Jay, a psychology and cognitive sciences major. This group of connoisseurs all love essentially every aspect of food and all have a little chef side to them. So maybe you too have hidden culinary skills which you can discover with The Food Club at UCI!

Reporting Log:
1 1/2 hour interviews with Benson Giang (Co-founder & co-president) and Raywat Piphatchukiat (Co-founder & co-president)
Quick, 2 minute interviews with Kristy Chu (Co-founder & Secretary) and Andy Bai (Member)
Observation at meetings (every other Wednesday) through the months of April and May
2 hour observation at Inca's dinner/outing
1 1/2 hour observation at Laventina's Big Cheese Pizza dinner/outing
4 1/2 hour observation at Claw's Restaurant and Tastea dinner/outing
"Guide to Serving Size" handout
"Creamy Orzo" recipe
"International Desserts" list and descriptions
"Original Buffalo Wings" fundraiser flyer
Pictures from meetings and each outing

The Food Club at UCI official website: http://thefoodclub.weebly.com/
The Food Club at UCI official Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=171389598401&ref=ts

My interview with Benson Giang and Raywat Piphatchukiat: http://oc-groups.blogspot.com/2010/05/interview-1.html

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