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Nosh Pit

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What’s happenin’, everyone?  Today is going to be another snack post about a bunch of small items I have been sampling as of late in Korea.  Recently, my parents came to visit me during my summer break, and we traveled to many familiar places for me like Incheon’s Chinatown and some new places like Busan where I tried poisonous blowfish and penis fish (See:  Food Porn).  Another new locale that we checked out was the DMZ, but I didn’t know that I would be eating any sort of local delicacies when I went there.

A couple of months ago, there was a lot of fear back home in the States about whether or not Kim Jong Un really was going to start World War III just to solidify his power.  Yet Korean people really couldn’t care less.

South Korea in a nutshell

South Korea in a nutshell

That was the general  vibe I got when I finally made it to the 38th parallel.  While we were absolutely forbidden to make any sort of gesture that would be used for North Korean propaganda or could be seen as a provocation for war while at the JSA, in other places it seemed like we were in some sort of theme park with colorful sculptures you could take pictures with.  They even had souvenirs you could take home with you saying, “Hey, I survived going to the world’s most militarized border!”  For me, I was more interested in the food and drinks you could buy.  While there was North Korean liquor, I wouldn’t trust them making any sort of alcohol.  It’s probably half kerosene and half paint thinner (then again, it sounds like soju).  However, I couldn’t turn down the Paju chocolate (5,000 W).IMG_0598  It looked like normal milk chocolate but the difference was that it was studded with black soybeans known as seoritae. IMG_0599 I’m assuming that the South Koreans close to the border made it since Kim Jong Un is no Willy Wonka and would only kill children if they were disrespecting the glorious Juche philosophy.  Either way, I was genuinely surprised.  The chocolate wasn’t quite as sweet as chocolate back home, but it was quite creamy while the beans brought a subtle earthy element and a light crunch to each satisfying bite.  I wouldn’t mind buying it as a snack if they actually made it outside of that one tiny region of Korea.  My second snack treat came to me via Incheon’s Chinatown.

Incheon may not be the prettiest city in the world, but there are certain areas that are nicer than others.  One of my favorite areas is Chinatown which is a bit different from the Chinatowns back home in say Chicago or San Francisco.  While the American ones are more just neighborhoods celebrating a particular ethnic enclave, Incheon’s is more like a neighborhood built more for industrial purposes since Chinese workers are seen as cheap labor here just like in the US back in the 1800s with the construction of the railroads.  However, that doesn’t mean they lack certain treats that give you a view into their own cultural heritage.  I saw many different types of mooncakes, but I also noticed the mountains of round orbs that looked like bread.  I bought one, and I saw on the sign they were called 공갈빵 or gonggalppang which literally means “hole bread”.

You're pretty

You’re pretty

While it looked completely solid, as soon as I bit into it, it shattered like an egg shell.

What's on the surface matters most

What’s on the surface matters most

I found out that there was nothing inside it except cinnamon.  This made it even better since I love anything cinnamon flavored, and by the time I finished it I wasn’t extremely stuffed.

I'm not shallow though

I’m not shallow though

It was almost like a large, cinnamon-coated pita chip in semi-cibatta form.  Then there is the funky ice cream from Fell + Cole that I fell in love with.

Yesterday, a blurb came up on my Facebook stalker feed that the annoying people from Eat Your Kimchi (an expat Korea blog) went to a gastronomic ice cream parlor in Hongdae called Fell + Cole that sold really off-the-wall flavors.   So I decided to give it a shot since it’s blazing hot out in Korea, and I had a taste for something cold.  Here’s the easiest way to get there:  1. Go to Sangsu Station (line 6) and take Exit 1 and just walk straight.  2. Turn right on your first street, it’s not a big main road, it’s just a side street.  3. The street will split left and right but just stick right and you’ll hit Fell + Cole.IMG_0626  If you’re curious, the name comes from the intersection where the owner lived in San Francisco while studying for his MBA.  When I walked in, it was a lot smaller than I anticipated, but it was very well decorated with a laid-back Cali vibe.IMG_0617

Frontroom

Frontroom

View from my solitary ice cream island of a table

View from my solitary ice cream island of a table

The owner was very friendly and allowed me to sample some of the flavors.  I settled for the double cup (8,000) of Makkeoli (rice wine) ice cream and mango hibiscus sorbet.  He gave me two pretty decent scoops, and I was definitely blown away by both of the flavors.The mango was on top, and I greatly enjoyed its tropical sweetness that was paired with a slight floral undertone.

So simple, yet so tasty

So simple, yet so tasty

As for the Makkeoli ice cream, I liked it better than the sorbet simply because I don’t know how they made it taste like a mind-blowing, decadent vanilla yet still maintaining that gentle bite from the wine.

Buried, semi-alcoholic treasure

Buried, semi-alcoholic treasure

Sadly, they didn’t have their bacon ice cream or their Sichuan pepper cream or their perilla leaf ice cream, but now I have three more excuses to visit this hip and modern boutique of icy delights!  I highly recommend this place to anyone looking for a place to beat the Korean heat.

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Freude Durch Essen (Joy Through Food)

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Hello and welcome to another chapter in Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be telling you about two very different types of food.  One is a traditional Korean dinner dish while the other is a German dessert that has been transplanted to Korea (with smashing results).  First, there is the chicken restaurant that I went to in Incheon located by Bupyeong Station.  Here is how to get there:  Go to exit 12 at the Bupyeong metro station.  Go out and head straight and take the first left at the alley on your left hand side.  Walk down to the 7-11 and then make a left and it will be on your left hand side across the street from the bar Woodstock.IMG_0557

Anyway, it seemed like a pretty popular place when we walked in since every four to five person booth was filled with people chowing down on giant bowls of chicken stewing in a dark sauce with assorted vegetables.  The bday boy, Ryan, informed me that we were going to get Andong Jjimdak (안동찜닭)  with ganjang (35,000 Won).  For those who don’t know Korean cuisine, we ordered a heaping bowl of steamed chicken that was marinated in soy sauce and stewed with glass noodles and vegetables like sweet potatoes, onions, and chili peppers.  We wisely signaled to our waitress that we wanted the chicken without bones, and she understood us.  This made eating it a whole lot easier.  Before the meal, they supplied us with typical side dishes like pickled cucumbers and kimchi, but a nice twist was a cold vinegar soup with radish.  I was the only one who finished it at our table since I really enjoyed its cool yet briny flavor profile.  When the jjimdak finally came out, it was a plate that took up probably a quarter of the table.

Needs more carbs

Needs more carbs

Then again, there were five of us there, so we were each going to get a fair share of the chicken stew.  I helped myself to a couple pieces of chicken, some fiery red chili peppers, and a few large onion slices. IMG_0556 The meat was mouth-wateringly tender and fell apart in my mouth, and the soy sauce was on the sweeter end which really let the savory elements shine.  I obviously left the tteokbokki (rice cakes) for those who enjoy them more than I, but I did try to eat a lot of the noodles and chili peppers.  Once the chicken was gone, I tucked into the of dark brown, Sargasso Sea of noodles.  I found that it was quite difficult to eat them with just metal chopsticks.  Eventually I got my fill after some struggle, but they were not anything special.  I do have doff my cap to the chili peppers though.  Even when Koreans have bragged about their food being spicy, I have been left wanting.  So I was delighted to just go right to the source and snack on some Tabasco-level spicy chiles.  I normally eat more than the average bear, probably more akin to a grizzly, so I was still hungry afterward.  However, for two or even three people, it would be plenty of quality food for the price.  I highly recommend this restaurant if you’re looking for a traditional Korean dish that comes in an American-sized portion:  gargantuan.  The second part of the post involves a dessert I tried in Bupyeong Station called Schnee Pang.

I have seen numerous food stalls in the underground market of Bupyeong Station, but right by Exit 13 there is a German inspired, confectionery stand called Schnee Pang.IMG_0527  I finally took the plunge and tried one of their bizarre looking cookie balls.  After doing a bit of research on these addicting, diabetes-inducing balls of sugar, I found that they are  called Schneeballen or “Snowballs” in German.  They are over 300 years old and hail from Rothenburg, Germany.  They’re made with strips of dough that are then wrapped around a handle, and then said handle is removed.  These dough balls are then put in a special holder called a Schneeballeneisen (hooray for compounds!) and deep fried.  What you end up with is a large cookie ball that is coated in various types of chocolate and powdered sugar like my Snow Sugar Chocolate Schneeball (2,900 W).

You You You Ball of Chocolate! (I don't know why it's in French at a German place)

You You You Ball of Chocolate! (I don’t know why it’s in French at a German place)

It’s even fun to buy as you get the option of smashing the softball sized ball with a wooden hammer for no extra charge.  I went for the gusto and smashed it like the Soviets did Berlin in 1945.

Smashee Smashee Teacha!

Smashee Smashee Teacha!

When I finally tried my German pastry, it was kind of like eating buttery, thicker fortune cookie shards smothered in milk chocolate and powdered sugar.IMG_0530  Long story short, it was amazing and interactive.  What’s not to like?IMG_0532

Achin’ For Some Bacon On A Lazy Sundae

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Hello everyone to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  In this installment, I am not going to review a restaurant (tear tear), but I am actually going to talk about a couple interesting little snacks/meals I’ve had over the past couple weeks in Korea.  First, there are the school lunches.

Where to begin with the school lunches?  From what I’ve heard from my orientation cohort, I think I got off pretty easy in terms of the variety and quality of food my school serves.  My favorite days are either tonkatsu or “breaded pork cutlet” day or curry day.  However, then there are days like when they serve a variety of cold seafood omelets where they try and see how many different types of mystery meat and tentacles they can fit in one pan.  Frankly, I’ve tried them all, and I’m not a huge fan.  One day, I even saw something that looked a bit familiar to me.  There was a pan filled with small, purple-ish/crimson colored disks.  Naturally, I scooped up a ladleful and put it in one of my tray compartments.

The sundae's in the upper right hand compartment

The sundae’s in the upper right hand compartment

I chopsticked one into my mouth, and I realized that it was 순대 or Sundae.  However, instead of a rich mix of vanilla, butterfat, and chocolate syrup, I was greeted with a semi-coppery flavor of blood sausage.  If odd textures disgust you, stay away from this sausage’s rubbery skin.  It was somewhat similar to the Polish kiszka, but the Korean blood sausage had noodles on the inside of it which kind of put me off of enjoying it more.  A more positive experience during school lunch was when they were serving stir fried baby squids.  Now, I’m not the biggest seafood fan in the world, but I’ve found after living in Korea that they make some mean squid dishes.  This meal was no different.

I love it when you can look your food in the eye

I love it when you can look your food in the eye

The baby squids were stir fried in a sweet, orange based glaze and were accompanied by dried squid jerky on the side.  I personally preferred the stir fried squids because the sauce really made the savory essence of the seafood pop, and the squid jerky wasn’t as good as the barbecue squid jerky they served on a separate occasion.  It was very dry and tough which made for an unpleasant eating experience.  Moving on from the more intense elements of my culinary journeys through Korea, lets talk about some junk food.

First, there was the discovery of bacon chips.  Yes, bacon lovers in Korea rejoice.

You can never have enough bacon

You can never have enough bacon

There are chips that are literally shaped and flavored like bacon.  I originally found them at a rest stop on my way to go paragliding, and I definitely made the right choice.  The texture could be likened to a veggie chip, and it was strangely colored like a semi-raw piece of bacon.  As for the taste, it actually tasted like eggs’ natural companion.  Not the most natural thing in the world, but I’m glad I tried it.  Moving from the good straight to the ugly, there is the Chicago Style pizza from Emart.  For those not living in Korea, Emart is basically a giant department store that sells everything you could ever need.  So some friends and I split the cost for a couple pizzas including one that was supposedly a “Chicago Deep Dish” style pizza.

Blasphemy incarnate

Blasphemy incarnate

When we opened up the box, it wasn’t the same as the genuine article back home aside from the crust.  That was the least of our problems.  The taste was terrible.  Do not buy this pizza from Emart.  Just get the regular 11,000 Won pizzas.  They are a much better deal.  Anyway, the taste to put it simply was everything that is wrong about Korean pizza.  First, I’m pretty sure they didn’t use real cheese since it tasted like we were eating sticks of non-salted butter.  On top of that, we were greeted with a lovely flavor wave of very sweet Korean pizza sauce.  I’m not sure if the pepperoni was real, but it was the only redeeming feature. In short, it was the perfect storm for a terrible pizza recipe.  Putting this unpleasantness behind us, lets talk about some sweet things.

I have spoken about my love for my Kindergarten classes before, but I might also be swayed by the fact that I get free food from the teachers every time I teach.  One of the best days was on Childrens’ Day because I got something that didn’t think existed:  Korean bakery.  Up to this point, I had been inundated with so many different types of tteok or “rice cake” that it would make your head spin, but today was a special day with special food.  On my tiny plate, they served me 소보로 빵 or Soboro Bbang which I could only describe as a type of peanut infused streusel bread.IMG_0091  The bread itself was light and airy which was complimented by the generous, peanut butter crumble topping.  It was like a messier and sweeter version of a peanut butter sandwich.  Not something I was really complaining about when I was siting at a table that was lower than my knees.  In more recent news, today I received another sweet treat from one of my coteachers that inspired me to write this post.  I don’t know what they’re called in Korean, but I’m going to call it a Yuja cookie.

Tasty tart

Tasty tart

Yuja is the Korean name for citron which is a fruit that is similar to a lemon.  I first tried the fruit in a traditional Korean drink, 유자차 or yujacha, and I was instantly hooked on  its sour and semi-bitter bite.  With the cookie, the bitterness of the jellied citron pieces was toned down to a certain extent, but it still blended perfectly with the buttery crust that was not too crumbly.  It was a pleasant surprise to start the week off right.  So that’s about it for now, but keep watching for my next post that will most likely be about the best fish and chips shop in Seoul.

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