America is a great place to live if you love food, because contrary to the prevailing belief here that American food is all burgers and fries, American food is basically a cross-section of all of the people that live in America. If you want Thai, you can probably find Thai. If you want Vietnamese, it’s probably easy to find in any big city. Folks from small towns may not have as many options for world cuisines, but they might be persuaded to try them when they visit the big city nearby and certainly see them on television enough because food television is popular all over our great nation.
Korea reminds me in a lot of ways of how America must have been in the fifties and sixties. Things like gender roles, sexual repression, and the general covered-uppedness of the social scene are working their way towards a chaotic time of liberation. This country is going to be a wild place in ten or fifteen years, I think, if America in the sixties can be used as an example. Anyway, this applies to food too. There was a time in our country when eating sweet and sour pork and lemon chicken from an Americanized Chinese restaurant was freaking worldly. Foreign foods had a distinctly American spin on them. I’m reasonably certain that I can get a good facsimile of a Thai meal in my hometown in Texas, not exactly a culinary Mecca or anything. You can’t do that in Korea quite as easily.
We’ve tried lots of ethnic foods here in Korea. Generally you get a very Korean spin on the dish, and a side of pickles. After hearing our friends talk about it for months, we finally visited Maya, an Indian and Nepali restaurant owned by a Nepali man near Kyungpook National University. The food was amazing, and there was no side of pickles. The service was great, he spoke English perfectly, and did I mention the food?
Recently Maya has opened a second, larger location just outside of exit 3 of the line one subway at Beomeo station. The menu is the same, the ownership and cooks are the same, and the food is sublime. We’ve been three times recently as it’s a hell of a lot easier to get to, and this has allowed me to try a few new things, because the worst case scenario is that we just make a return trip if we don’t like what we ordered.
We always start with the samosas. They are a perfect fried shell wrapped around potatoes, green onions and sweet peas seasoned with turmeric, fennel seeds, and chili. They come with a fiery, and I mean fiery, red sauce that will clear out your sinuses while painting the wall behind you with your grey matter. This is a must have every visit.
The curries are delightful. I really can’t think of a better word to use than delightful. They’re spicy, but not too spicy. The flavors are bold, the food is rich, but you can eat it all without feeling like a total lard ass. There are vegetable, chicken, and lamb curries. My current favorite is the lamb. The chunks of lamb were perfectly tender and the curry itself was almost a bit sweet with a spice that grew.
The channa masala was a good vegetarian option, but as neither of us are super fond of raw onion it was a bit of a hard sell. We do love some damn chickpeas though, and this is a curry of…chick peas!
We order a dal fry nearly every time we visit Maya. Dal is one of those Indian foods that I absolutely love on a cold night. For some reason I imagine myself high in the Himalayas sheltering myself from the cold and digging into dal. I believe that the dal fry at Maya is an example of the most elegant and perfect way to use lentils.
The chicken tikka at Maya is just beautiful. Carolyn tried to describe chicken tikka to me for a long time before we ordered it, and you know what, she described it perfectly. It’s awesome. I love the marinade in the outside and the chicken is always cooked perfectly, never too dry to enjoy. The tandoori chicken is equally good.
The most important part of a meal at Maya, or any Indian restaurant for that matter, is the naan. Maya’s naan is probably the best I’ve ever had. It’s cooked in a tandoori oven, apparently the right way, because its got crunch, pull, taste, and texture. It’s everything that I want out of naan, and with a little garlic or butter it’s worth the hour trek over from our far edge of town all on its own.
Do I think it’s worth flying all the way to Korea to eat at Maya? No, that would be nuts. Do I think it’s worth making a trip down to Daegu from Seoul? Maybe, maybe not. Daejeon or Busan? Hell yes.