For lunch today I went to Mad About Garlic, a Korean restaurant franchise in Clarke Quay that specialises in Italian food, especially Italian food with lots of garlic in it.
In North America, by and large, food isn’t very spicy. Nine times out of ten you’ll go for Thai or Indian, and there just isn’t any kick to the food. The tenth time, of course, they hit you with something so hot that you just sit there, incapable of even weeping, until the waiter laughingly asked if you want extra chillis with that.
There are exceptions to this, but they tend to either involve eating food to demonstrate your manliness, rather than because you like the flavour, or, if they have genuine culinary merit, to be well-hidden, or in the middle of America, and as I only touch the sides, I miss out on them. In Asia, on the other hand, the default setting is "CAUTERISE THE WOUNDS!" but then you can make allowances for that. I’m not that fond of very hot food, and my body certainly has little tolerance for it, so I shouldn’t be upset, but it is nice to eat food that isn’t bland.
Which is why it’s strange that Mad About Garlic doesn’t seem to be, well, all that mad about garlic. Maybe it’s like the reporter in Network: they’re mad as hell about garlic, and they’re not going to take it any more.
We started with the garlic tower. This is half a baguette, filled with garlic. Our waitress came over with this unpromising dish and then, before our eyes, took a fork and mashed all the garlic down inside the baguette. Maybe this is a Korean thing. Every time I have dolsom bibimbat, the waitress always takes it on herself to mash all the food together for me, as though I’m a helpless child. Perhaps part of the training manual the Korean owners force on all franchisees involves the denial of agency to their customers in favour of staff-based mashing. Or maybe it’s just me.
I ate the garlic tower. It tasted like bread that had never had anything to do with garlic.
I ordered the "garlicpeno" pasta. That is, garlic and jalapeno. Everyone told me how hot it would be, and how the chap next to me, from Sichuan province, would enjoy it, and I’d find it was too hot.
It tasted like … pasta sauce with a hint of garlic and a few dots of Tabasco sauce. I ate it in about five minutes and couldn’t understand where the jalapenos had gone. My acquaintance from Chengdu complained it was too hot.
Were they serving two different dishes, one for the etiolated Westerner and one for the spice-loving Chinese guy? Or had the heat setting in the cook’s handbook got all messed up? If not, it was impressive that as bland a dish as that cold be made from so much garlic. I cheered myself up by thinking how much good I was doing for my heart.
Finally, I had an espresso, which was also a bad idea as it meant in the middle of the afternoon I had the compulsion to punch my co-workers in the head. Usually that only happens in the morning. Or the late afternoon. The espresso didn’t taste of garlic, but then neither did anything else on the menu, so that was consistent.
Maybe the particular madness was a phobia, and it’s just that the sign wasn’t very clear about that.