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Odds and ends of world cuisine

Tokyo (Day 1)- The Money Shot

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Well, back to Korea again after another wonderful adventure overseas.  This time it was to the Land of the Rising Sun a.k.a. Japan.  Now, I know Japan has left quite a Godzilla-sized cultural imprint on the world with technology, car manufacturing, and maddeningly-cute cartoons like Hello Kitty and Pokemon.  In these posts, like all the others, I will be showing you a gastronomical glimpse of the land that has brought sushi, tempura, and sake to a wider audience.  Naturally, there is much more to Japanese cuisine than just these three components, and I hope to demonstrate this through my Tokyo food series.

Day 1

After touching down in Narita, I was bracing myself for the train system which is the most complicated metro system I’ve encountered on my travels not due to its size but rather due to the number of private train companies that operate different lines which in turn affect fares, travel times, and how one manages to get from point A to point B based on which line and exit they take.  After a long time with the train info lady and making the sojourn to my hostel, I explored the neighborhood a little bit before heading back to my hostel to get some dinner ideas.  I talked to Hiromi at the front desk while showing her my handy-dandy personal guide I normally write up before I go places.  Thank you, Wikitravel!  I asked her about one restaurant, Torafugu Tei, and she immediately lit up with excitement.  It was probably because fugu is a Japanese deliciacy which involves making sushi out of an extremely poisonous blowfish.  Chefs have to have a special license in order to even serve the fish on the premises.   Roughly five people a year still die from this goofy-looking fish whose vital organs are deadlier than cyanide, and it’s the subject of one of my favorite Simpsons episodes where Homer thinks he’s going to die from ingesting improperly prepared fugu.  So I liked those odds for my first dinner in Tokyo.  Hiromi also recommended the sperm sacks which apparently were a winter specialty and her favorite part of the fugu since they tasted like cheese.  Turns out there are multiple locations in Tokyo, and I went to the one closest to my hostel located at 2-14-15 Nishi-Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo.  Mind you, they’re only open from 5 p.m. onwards. IMG_3305 I got a picture of the floating pufferfish, mouths still agape, while thinking this might be my last meal. IMG_3306 I’ve had it before during my trip to Busan in South Korea in soup form and survived, but this was raw fugu in the heartland of Japan.

Eventually I came in the restaurant behind some old Japanese businessmen, and the waitress thought I was with them for some bizarre reason.  She told me to take off my shoes, but as soon as the leader of the old men gave me the ‘What you doin’, gaijin?’ look, I was out of that room.  No one spoke English there, so it was just a humorous episode of confusion.  I was seated in a cosy wooden room, and I went for the fugu sashimi, the sperm sacks, and Hoshuku sake from the Nara prefecture served warm.  They brought out the sake first in a petite flask with an even tiner cup.  It was smaller than the cups I used to drink with my Kindergarteners.  However, it was a smooth, warm elixer with a bit of an acidic, alcohol-tinged bite to the end of each sip.  Eventually, my sashimi came out complete with a sumptuous presentation of each translucent slice arranged around sliced fugu skin, wasabi, green onions,  and a perrilla leaf. IMG_1767IMG_1768 The waitress motioned for me to squeeze the lime to coat all of the fugu pieces which I subsequently did.  She then imitated making mini fugu tacos and dipping them in the soy sauce on the side.  I summoned all of my chopstick skills which was a bit hard since the pieces were sticking to the plate and were extremely delicate.IMG_1769  Eventually I got the wee concoction into my mouth, and it was glorious.  The lime with the subtle richness of the fugu went well with the bolder wasabi and onions.  After eating most of the dish, I noticed my lips were slightly tingling which made me brace myself to hit the floor while being asphixiated, compliments of the poison, but it never happened.  The sake was also a nice palate cleanser to segue into the plat du jour:  the fugu sperm sacks.  IMG_1770They were served in a small porcelain bowl which I uncovered to find four golf ball-sized orbs that seem to have been roasted based on the char marks.IMG_1771  I decided to just take a bite out of one of them, and I was greeted with a piping hot stream of fugu semen.  Even though I was semi-injured due to my tongue being burned and quasi-violated based on what I was eating, I soldiered on after letting the sacks cool off.  I used the spoon that was provided to actually taste the semen, and strangely enough, like Hiromi told me before, it tasted like cheese.  I’d liken it to a cheddar flavor.  When the last drop of sake left the cup and my bowl was empty, I didn’t feel like I was full, but the meal amazingly kept me satiated for the rest of the night.  I guess the danger factor fed my adventurous soul along with my adventurous stomach.  I’d recommend it for anyone in Tokyo looking for a twist on your typical sushi experience.

Beijing (Day 3 and 4)- I Got a Black Magic Chicken

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For those who get the Santana reference in the title, you’re welcome.  To the rest of y’all, get ready for some more funky food that Beijing has to offer along with a couple normal plates for those who are a bit averse to the adventurous eating route I normally take.  First, there are the somewhat odd platters I sampled for a late lunch after returning from North Korea.  I was feeling full of life after a near brush with the North Korean authorities, so I felt like going for the gusto with my food and beverage choices.  First, I noticed that other people were drinking large carafes of a steaming white liquid, so I got one of those on the side to then accompany my black chicken and stuffed lotus root with sweet rice.  The random drink came out first along with a plate of sugar.IMG_1696  I first sampled the libation without the sugar, and it turned out to be very fresh soy milk with no sweetener.  Good think they gave me the sugar because there was no way I was going to drink all of it without a little some-something to boost the old flavor profile.  After a couple lumps, the milk tasted like a soy milk that is commercially sold in the USA with a bit more of a grassy taste to it.  Eventually, my black chicken and lotus root came out.IMG_1698  The biggest surprise for me that came with both of these dishes was the fact that they were both served cold.  Now, I don’t know if that’s how they’re traditionally served or if it was going in line with the Chinese medicinal concept that can be likened to the Western 4 humors concept in early medicine.  It is the same in Korea where many people believe that in order to keep your personal energy in line with the weather, you have to eat hot food when it hot outside and cold food for colder climes.  Doesn’t make sense to Western logic where one would imagine to eat warm food while it’s cold and cold food to cool off in the heat, but I’m not here to discuss medicine.  Food time.  So, first there was the black chicken.  When I say black chicken, I don’t mean it’s just blackened from a seasoning or charring.  The entire chicken, from its skin to its bones, is completely black compliments of selective breeding back in Ancient China.IMG_1699  They’re called Silkies, and Marco Polo even mentions the very same “furry chickens” in his travelogues.  Therefore, it was going back in a culinary time machine where I consumed a piece of the past, and it tasted like a heap of coriander with a hint of Sichuan pepper that numbed my tongue ever so slightly.  The downside of the preparation, as with many places in Asia, it was filled with tiny bones which took away from me actually enjoying what little meat there was on the beast.  However, I did enjoy it a lot more than my lotus root dish which also was served at room temperature.  Now, I love my fried lotus root, but this raw version did not sit well with me because of the limp texture and the odd, sweet ketchup-esque sauce. IMG_1697 It wasn’t a highlight on my visit to Beijing.  However, the following day was great in so many ways.  First, there was my visit to the breathtaking Great Wall of China at the Mutianyu section that was occasionally blighted by hawkers trying to sell you food, drinks, and terrible souvenirs.  This wasn’t even at the most touristy part of the wall!  After hiking for about three hours up and down some knee-crackingly high stairs, I zoomed down the mountain on a self-regulated toboggan which was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done in my life.  The lunch we had at the foot of the mountain really wasn’t anything of note, but the dinner I had after going to the national circus was noteworthy with how cheap and flavorful it was.  While I was trying to find a place open in my neighborhood by my hostel on a Sunday night, which was proving a bit harder to do than I thought, I stumbled on this 24 hour eatery (or at least that’s what I figured from the 24 on the sign).IMG_1713  I walked in much to the surprise of the staff, but I was quickly seated and supplied with a huge menu.  I’ve noticed all the menus in China have 10 billion things on them which is refreshing compared to Korea, yet so intimidating at the same time.  All I have to say is thank God for picture menus.  I ended up getting the pork stuffed green scallion pancakes along with the cumin seared beef.  For the equivalent of 10 bucks, I got a huge skillet of quality cuts of beef rubbed with a great chili and cumin rub all topped off with a huge mountain of cilantro. IMG_1709 The side of fried pancake was wonderful as well.IMG_1711  It was a bit greasy but not too much, and the minced pork mixed with the tangy green onions and pliable, golden brown dough was a combo made in heaven. IMG_1712 So those are some more notable eats I have sampled during my trip to Beijing, and I will be wrapping it up in the next post with my final day in the Chinese capital.  Until then, readers and eaters!

Beijing (Day 2)- Go Duck Yourself!

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Welcome to another installation of Mastication Monologues where today I will be bringing you day two of my food adventures in Beijing!  It was quite a happening day complete with a visit to the Forbidden City, and let me tell you that the only thing that is forbidden there is sitting down for a rest.  It was an immense sight to see, so we worked up quite an appetite by the time we found an exit.  Nearby, there was a large stretch of shopping malls and restaurants, so we decided to take a gander at what they had to offer.  We eventually ended up at this Muslim/Uyghur restaurant.IMG_1494 China, being the gargantuan country that it already is, encompasses a multitude of cultures and ethnic groups.  The Uyghur people are one of the most distinct groups in the mix as they mainly inhabit the far western part of the country, and a majority are Muslim instead of Buddist or Taoist.  In terms of food, you can definitely tell that they are not like the Han majority as they consume a lot more mutton, flatbreads, yogurt, and kebabs.  A little Middle East meets the Far East flavor for ya.  We were the only non-Asian people in this eatery, so the local clientele were very surprised to see us.  Upon sitting down, they insisted on covering our seat backs with protective covers and the table cover with an extra layer of plastic.  This was a signal that our meal was most likely going to be like Sea-World, i.e. the first three rows are going to get wet.  We plumped for the lunch special for two which involved a Beijing hotpot that was quite novel.  I say novel in the sense that the actual cooking device didn’t look like a typical pot used for this type of cuisine.  It looked more like the progeny that would arise 9 months later if a lava lamp, a smokestack, a fire pit, and a castle moat got together during one crazy weekend in Jamaica. IMG_1495 Inanimate object freakiness aside, the rolls of thinly sliced lamb had my mouth watering.IMG_1497   They also had scarlet bales of beef with plenty of vermicelli and wheat noodles on the side. IMG_1499 IMG_1498While the meat was delectable, I think that it was a bit of a disappointment with how much of it was boiled off in the water.  The shrimp were quite useless since they were frozen together in a clump to the plate the entire time…talk about fresh.  If you’re a veggie head, there was plenty of tofu, fungi, lettuce, cilantro, and onions to satisfy your cravings.IMG_1501IMG_1500  One of the more interesting dishes of ingredients we could throw into the boiling water were these cheese-filled, sea scallop balls and the mystery black balls. IMG_1502 The former were quite funky in a good way with their playful striped exteriors and piping hot cheese and seafood sauce innards.  The latter were a bit more unsettling since I couldn’t really tell what sort of meat I was eating, and it seemed like each meat orb had a piece of string in it.  I don’t know if that came from the preparation, but it didn’t bother me terribly.  All throughout the meal, I enjoyed watching the wait staff watch us eat since we were so proficient with chopsticks.  They were probably thanking the heavens they didn’t have to search for a fork.  It was an ok dining experience, but I prefer my previous Sichuan or Taiwanese hot pot dinners.  If my taste buds were snoozing on me after that lunch, I would give them a jolt they would never forget as we made our way to Wangfujing Snack Street (王府井小吃街; Wángfǔjǐngxiǎochī Jiē).IMG_1505  It was a lot more crowded than Donghuamen market, and it seemed more like a local place to get snack food which also meant the prices were a bit more reasonable.IMG_1508  I saw a lot of the usual weird food that they also had at Donghuamen, but one of the sticks was really calling my name:  the scorpions.IMG_2810  I don’t know if it’s just the fact that they are poisonous, or that they were still alive and squirming on the stick that made me want to eat them.  I got a stick, and it was the best bizarre food I tried in Beijing with the spider running a close second.IMG_2812  I’d have to say that it was a mix of the chef’s spicy dry rub, and him knowing not to burn the arachnids while frying.  Those two elements combined to create a snack that was crispy, piquant, with a bit of meat that didn’t taste like anything.  It seems that insects will taste like whatever you season them with, so I consider them the tofu of cheap proteins.  Another fun part of the experience was having other western tourists walk by with their Chinese friends and reel back in horror as I took down the creepy crawlies with no trepidation.  Naturally, the Chinese broke out the classic praise phrase in English, “You’re strong!” while their Western friends insisted on a raincheck when I offered them one.  Quick note on Asian cuisine I’ve noticed while traveling, the weirder it seems to Western palates, more often than not it can somehow increase strength (read:  male libido) in some fashion like dog soup in Korea.  Long story short, I’d eat the scorpions again if I had the chance, and I recommend you try them as well.  However, my day didn’t end there.  All of these brief excursions culminated at dinner where I had the signature dish of Beijing:  Peking duck.  While New York has its delis and Chicago its deep dish pizza, you would have to be a fool to go to Beijing and not try one of these succulent fowls.  The place we went to was called Lao Zhai Yuan 老宅院.IMG_1521  It was in a really small hutong or neighborhood and gave me the impression that I wasn’t at some touristy clip joint.  We ate in one of their courtyards which thankfully had plenty of heat lamps, but it just further added to the ambiance of it all.IMG_1519  We also enjoyed the menu descriptions of some of the items they had to offer, and the prices were extremely reasonable.  Our entire meal probably cost 10 bucks.  IMG_1512While we were waiting for our duck to be prepared, I got a bottle of baiju 白酒 which is like China’s version of Korea’s soju.  However, the difference is in the alcohol content. IMG_1514 While soju only has around 20% alcohol, baiju has a 40% minimum, so it’s more like vodka in that aspect.  I definitely felt that way when I took a small sip of it straight, but it got more interesting when I mixed it with Sprite.  It didn’t blend very well with the Sprite like vodka would, but it added a strangely pleasing berry twist to the citrus Sprite. IMG_1513 In the distance, I could smell a sweet fragrance wafting our way, and I saw our chef going to work on our duck with brain surgeon-like precision. IMG_2816 His craftsmanship showed with each plate they brought to our table of just the meat, the golden brown skin, and the meat with strands of the skin still attached with a thin layer of fat between both tissues.  It was hands down the best meal I had in Beijing.

Heaven in one meal.

Heaven in one meal.

The skin was not only crispy but had dulcet tones to every bite while the meat was tender and rich.  It doesn’t take a mathamagician to put one and one together to imagine how great the skin and meat bits were.  The meal was only further enhanced with the delivery method of the duck to your mouth which took the form of utilizing a paper thin pancake and smearing the plum sauce all over it first.  Then, you could either put horseradish, sugar, cucumber sticks, or onions before loading up on your duck.  Once you have it all piled up, you roll it taco style and enjoy.  It was a great combination of sweet, savory, and tangy to create the ultimate dining experience in Beijing.  The plat de résistance was the duck head that they served to us as the very last item.  It was cleaved in half still with everything inside like the brains, tongue, and eyeballs. IMG_1516IMG_1517 Naturally, my dining companion didn’t think I was going to eat it, but I ended up consuming it nevertheless much to her disgust.  It was worth it though, and not my first time doing so since I had it in Taiwan.  There wasn’t a lot of meat on it, but I’ll always say that the eyes are the best part since they have a buttery quality to them.  All’s well that end’s well as I went to sleep that night with a very happy stomach.  Long story short, find this restaurant, and you will not regret it.

Beijing (Day 1)- A Bug’s Life

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Things have taken a turn for the amazing for my blog as I’m quickly approaching the 130 post mark, and more and more of people are liking Mastication Monologues as I get the good word about different types of food out to the world.  Thanks to everyone for your support, and keep on viewing, commenting, and liking!  Today will be no different as I continue my recap of my vacation mastication adventures.  This series will be talking about all the wonderful things I tried while staying in Beijing, China.

Now, I’ve had my fair share of Chinese food which ranges from hot pot to some delicious dim sum to even tongue-numbing Sichuan cooking, but mainland China definitely knew how to push my buttons and boundaries as the daring gourmand that I am.  My first food experiences started, oddly, with a trip to McDonalds.  Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Mark, why would you want to go to a worldwide chain that has been slowly eroding local eating customs since 1955?’  Well, dear readers, while I do like my McDonalds back in the USA, I also like to try it in different countries to see what sort of unique options they offer that cater to the tastes of the local population.   At this Beijing branch they had most of the standard burgers, but I was drawn to the beef or chicken rice wrap.  I got one of those along with a taro pie for dessert.  The beef wrap was delicious since the meat was flavorful along with some good, not great, fried rice. IMG_1456IMG_1457IMG_1458 I was more partial to the taro pie.  IMG_1459Think your classic McDonalds apple pie, but beneath the cinnamon-sugar encrusted dough there are sweet, steaming pieces of purple taro inside.  IMG_1461It’s going on the list of foods they need to bring to the US along with the chicken tikka sandwich from Subway shops in England.  Once we figured out where to go, we decided to visit the Donghuamen (东华门) night market .  It was a bit hard to find, but it’s by Wangfujing metro station.  We stopped for a traditional Beijing beverage/food called nai lao.  It’s basically Chinese yogurt you can drink through a straw out of these small porcelain jugs.IMG_1463  They’re everywhere, and you pay about 80 cents to stand there and drink it.  We were in a tiny convenience store that could have doubled as a closet, but the old couple that ran it were very friendly while we were standing there and slurping the sweet yogurt.IMG_1462   After some wanderings, we eventually found the market.IMG_1465

My own Elysian fields

My own Elysian fields

You can’t miss it with it’s red lanterns and seemingly endless array of bizarre foods such as scorpions, snakes, lizards, testicles, starfish, goat penis, and spiders to name a few.IMG_1467IMG_1470  There are also more normal options like dumplings (amazing designs as shown below), corn dogs, and even fried ice cream!IMG_1486IMG_1485  I, however, went for the gusto immediately with a starfish.  IMG_1469It was absolutely terrible.  Imagine taking food, burning it to a crisp, shaping it into a star, and serving it on a stick.  I ate about 3/4ths of it before I gave up.  It was gross through and through.  I moved on to a much more appetizing prospect in the form of a spider.IMG_1471  This was a million times better than the starfish.  I don’t know if it was the savory seasoning he put on it, or the fact there was a bit of meat to the spider after crunching through the exoskeleton.IMG_1472  Either way, I followed it up with a giant centipede which immediately fell into the same category as the starfish.  It was just as bad, but I think the guy over-salted it after frying it. IMG_1475 So it tasted like I was chugging a salt shaker while eating a lot of crunchy legs and gooey body segments.  If you haven’t vomited all over your computer at this point, I don’t eat anything else weird in this post.  I instead got something a bit sweeter that is another Beijing staple:  糖葫芦 or tanghulu.  At first, I was looking at the fruit a bit sideways because it looked like they were all frozen in ice. IMG_1483IMG_1481 I naturally assumed that since my hands were quickly becoming ice blocks compliments of the lovely northern Chinese winter.  I was sorely mistaken though as it turns out the ice is actually a hardened sugar coating that the vendors dip the skewers of apples, kiwi slices, pineapple bits, and grapes in before serving.  I went with a Chinese grape skewer, and it was the opposite of my extreme foods. IMG_1482 It was insanely sweet to the point of it almost hurting my teeth.  I think if I got the apples or the intriguing sesame seed stuffed apples, it would have been better.  I’d recommend trying at least one skewer though since they’re literally everywhere much like the yogurt bottles.  I have to add a slight caveat to Donghuamen Market though.  It seemed like a bit of a tourist trap.  I found there were other more local markets serving the same fare for slightly lower prices.  Just my two cents.   After all of that strenuous eating and walking for miles, we went to a Belgian beer bar called Beer Mania.  It was a cozy little party place that had a vast array of Belgian beers that almost made me think I was back in Brussels kicking it in the Delirium Tremens bar.  The only downside was the live music was ear-splittingly loud.  Thankfully they gave up playing after ten minutes of being ignored, so we could enjoy our beer in peace.  I went with a Guillotine which ended up being a pretty bold pale ale from Belgium.  IMG_1489It had a slightly apple aroma which then transitioned into a sweet introductory taste that packed a bitter aftertaste punch right in the tastebuds.  After that one brew, we were both pretty tired after walking around all day, so we called it a night.  I was quite satisfied with the night since I could knock off so many food challenges by just moving from left to right about 15 feet.  What a country!

My Glorious Food Revolution- Day 3 and 4 in N. Korea

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Hello to everyone out there in cyberspace!  I can tell that you have been enjoying my posts that have been offering you a brief glimpse into the mysterious land that is North Korea.  Today’s post is going to be a double feature since Day 3 really didn’t offer anything that spectacular in terms of food and drink yet my last day was filled with memorable meals.  So, I’ll begin with January 2nd (our third day).

Breakfast started off like any other even though they also had some delicious donkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) that actually had more of the texture of breaded sawdust along with the taste.  After hitting up some memorable sites like the Party Foundation Monument and took a ride on the Pyongyang metro, we ended up at another hokey foreigners-only restaurant in another anonymous building in the city.  The only highlights of lunch were plates of fried food along with a rather bland bibimbap with limp vegetables.

A lot of meh

A lot of meh

IMG_1681Weak sauce, North Korea (they didn’t even have enough gochujang or chili sauce for everyone).  However, I tried a new beer called Bonghak or 봉학멕주.  It was a little worse than the Taedonggang or perhaps on par with the common South Korean beers, i.e. an extremely watered-down lager.IMG_3049That was about it for day 3 which was kind of depressing from a culinary perspective, but day 4 more than made up for it.

Day 4 was the same old song and dance with breakfast, but it was going to be a unique day as we would head to the North Korean side of the DMZ along with visiting the city of Kaesong.  After a long bumpy ride through breathtaking mountain passes, we were introduced to the Korean soldier-guides at Panmumjeon, and we saw South Korea from the Joint Security Area.  Their armistice museums were quite eye-opening as well, but I’ll save that for my travel blog.  We rolled into Kaesong after the DMZ, and it was more like what I was expecting from North Korea in terms of a gloomy atmosphere.  However, this wouldn’t translate to the food as we were served a royal meal in a gaggle of small golden bowls with each container containing a new nugget of nom.  IMG_3137I didn’t know where to start once I un-capped all of the tiny basins.IMG_3140

However, most of the elements were not new to me since they have the same dishes in South Korean cuisine.  Go figure.  I’ll break down the picture above for those not in the know.  In the upper left hand corner, we have the dark green strips of dried and salted seaweed paper with a hint of sesame which makes the perfect encasement for making sushi rolls.  To the right in the white bowl are balls of tteok or sticky rice cake in a sweet red bean sauce.  I’m not the biggest fan of either red bean or rice cake due to the savory flavor and lack of flavor, respectively, but these two together somehow managed to pass my taste test.  Moving to the upper right hand corner is a simple piece of fried tofu.  No fuss no muss.  In the second row starting on the left, there is a bowl of random gelatinized eggs that were pedestrian in terms of taste, but the greens to the right of them were delectable and can be found in any bibimbap.  The same goes for the bean sprouts right next to them.  The last bowl in the second row is a bit different.  It’s filled with green bean cake which was kind of disgusting.  I don’t know why they feel the need to make regular and jelly versions of every food.  The last three bowls were a bit more normal with the stewed potato strands on the left and salted baby fish in the middle.  They’re very chewy and salty.  The last bowl is a meat and potato melange.  All of this was the backdrop to the star of the show:  bosingtang or dog soup.  IMG_3142I’ve had dog soup before in South Korea, so I wanted to see who could do it better.  In the end, the North won this battle because not only did they have more meat in the soup, but it was spicier which is a key element for me when it comes to savoring a great dish.  It definitely beat the cold that pervaded almost everywhere we went since effective indoor heating doesn’t really exist in either of the Koreas.  After leaving Kaesong, we ended up at the Taedonggang brewery bar which was extremely modern in decor, and could have been found in any major Western metropolis minus the wonderful Eastern European pop videos on the tvs from the 1990s. IMG_3168 They offered seven varieties of beer from 1 to 7.IMG_3169  1 being the most like an English bitter and 6 and 7 being like Guiness.  Everything between that was a terrible mix of rice and barley.  I decided to go with a 6 since they were out of 7, and I did not regret my choice.IMG_3172  For only two bucks I got a legitimate brew that would cost six times as much back in Seoul.  There were other North Koreans coming in to drink with us, and I could tell that they were higher-ups in the party based off their nicer clothes and shiny new Juche pins.  After downing our pints, we headed to our final dinner together.  They sent us off in style with duck bbq Korean style.IMG_1686  As with most other Korean barbecue, there was not much to it in terms of seasonings or anything like that.  Just throw meat on a grill and eat along with the usual pickled side dishes. IMG_1687 I did like their duck donkatsu which was a welcome change from the typical pork cutlet. IMG_1688 Their dumpling soup was pretty scrumptious as well. IMG_1689 ‘Twas a fitting meal and an excellent end to a wonderful trip to the most magical police state on earth.  Stay tuned for my Beijing eating adventures that involve me consuming some interesting animals and parts of animals.

Taiwan (Finale)- I Got Too Ducked Up/In the End, Everyone Pies

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Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I am presenting the final chapter in my food travel series where I manage to go out in true foodie style with some very visceral cuisine.  I started the day with a pretty laid back lunch with Christie at the department store right by Taipei Main Station on the MTR.

While we were perusing the food court, I didn’t know where to turn first since everything looked so delicious, but I wanted to get something that I couldn’t get in Korea.  Having the sweet tooth that I do, I was drawn in by a lit up glass case that contained about 20 different kinds of pies at a stall called Rose Pie.IMG_0952  Trying to find legit bakery in Korea is quite hard to do, so I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip through my fingers while abroad.  I wanted to try them all, but I saw one that caught my eye that I thought was some sort of chocolate and peanut butter pie.  After Christie asked the girl behind the counter what kind it was, turns out it was my old nemesis:  red bean.  I shall never escape this crimson fiend!  So after I dodged that pitfall, we got a slice of lemon poundcake pie and plain cheesecake.IMG_0953IMG_0954  The pound cake was interesting because it was made like pie in a tin yet the contents were light and filled with tart lemon notes along with subtle sugar notes.  As for the cheesecake, it was heaven.  The body was softly whipped into a moderately sized slice of cream cheesy goodness.  The only downside from our dessert experience were the forks that were severely undersized to cut through the thick bottom crusts on the slices.  I also got a cup of classic iced boba tea with extra tapioca bubbles since Taiwan is the home to this refreshing beverage.

Blast in a glass

Blast in a glass

I knew I came to the right place as the tea itself was milky yet sweet, and the bubbles were there in force and extra chewy.  I’m all about experiencing different textures, and this drink fit the bill.

Now, we were meeting up for lunch, and we started off with dessert.  Strange, don’t you think?  However, that didn’t stop us from eating in reverse order as Christie took me to another small hole-in-the-wall place that specialized in two Taiwanese specialities:  臭豆腐 or stinky tofu and  蚵仔麵線 or oyster vermicelli.

No frills dining at its finest

No frills dining at its finest.  We ate all the way in the back through the door on the right hand side.

First, there is the stinky tofu.  You don’t have to be a genius to wonder why it’s called “stinky”.  Just walking past restaurants or street vendors who were hawking small deep-fried nuggets of the bean curd made me wonder if I briefly fell into an open cesspool based on the smell.  I got a good whiff as soon as I walked in the door to the main part of the restaurant as its pungent odor attacked my nostrils.  We were led to a smaller back dining room that was enclosed with just some clear heavy-duty plastic sheets that could be found being used as butcher shop doors.  We ordered a plate of deep fried stinky tofu to share and our own bowls of the intestine vermicelli.  IMG_0955When the tofu came out, it didn’t smell as bad as when we first walked in, but with my first mouthful, I could taste the rank, semi-putrid funk of this overly ripened tofu.  However, it went great with the soy sauce.  As for the vermicelli, it was different since there were pieces of pig intestine in the soup instead of oysters which are normally served with this dish.  I found that I preferred the vermicelli over the tofu due to its heartiness and rich, meaty flavor from the intestines.  The thin noodles also were great because they snuggled into the gentle curves of my spoon quite easily which made chopsticks unnecessary, always a good day in my book.  It’s not that I can’t use them, but rather I just think the spoon is much more versatile in terms of eating a wide variety of foods both solid and liquid.  It was great sitting cheek to jowl with the locals and soaking in the atmosphere while the latest Pink single was bumping on the stereo.  Hooray for globalization!  After that filling lunch and a long afternoon of sightseeing, we went to my friend David’s and Christie’s grandparents’ house for one last meal together.

When I got there, it was a simple apartment, but I could already smell what Po-Po (grandma) was cookin’, and it only heightened my anticipation.  We were also graced with Mr. Wu’s presence; hence, we were being treated to Po-Po’s famous chicken soup among many other things.

A feast of the roundtable

A feast of the roundtable (going counterclockwise): cooked whole shrimp, stewed fish with marinade, duck and beef slices, a bowl of tripe and intestines, a plate of fresh bamboo, some mixed greens, and the cucumber segments.

She told me through Mrs. Wu interpreting that the whole chicken was prepared and stewed in the stock for over three days.  I helped myself to a bowl of this homemade blend, and it was hands down the best chicken soup I’ve ever had.  I mixed in some white rice to soak up more of the slightly salty but bursting with flavor broth, and I really liked the sliced potatoes because they were tender enough that you didn’t even need a knife to cut them.  They were like small white icebergs bobbing in a sea of delectable ambrosia.  In addition to a couple bowls of soup, I got my fair share of meat with slices of beef, duck, beef tripe, and pork intestines.  All of them were cooked to excellence, and the tripe was the most interesting just because it looked like it had little spines from the inside of the stomach.  I also had my first experience with eating whole shrimp.  I had to take the shell off with my hands and devour the sweet pink flesh inside.  Then the piece de resistance was sucking out the fat and brains from the shrimp head.  I could see why Mrs. Wu told me this was the best part since it was like taking a shot of butter to go along with your cooked shrimp.  Then there was the stewed red snapper that apparently was the object of desire when Mrs. Wu and Mr. Ni were kids.  They know good food because the flesh was extremely tender, but you had to be careful to de-bone each piece of its needle thin bones.  I managed to do it with chopsticks, so I think I’ve reached Mr. Miagi level of proficiency.  The flesh was only enhanced with the soupy gravy that surrounded the fish since it soaked up all of the extra flavors and spices from the cooked fish to create a hyper-concentrated marinade that could be considered a type of controlled substance it was that addictive.  Now I wasn’t a complete caveman with eating just meat this meal.  I actually enjoyed pickled fresh cucumber pieces that had a sweet, vinaigrette zing as I popped each crunchy segment into my maw.  I also saw a plate of what looked like cubes of potatoes or apples, but it turned out to be pieces of fresh chopped bamboo.  I didn’t know what to expect taste-wise, but I was greeted with a cool, crisp almost neutral taste that leaned ever so slightly towards a red delicious apple flavor.  It was Mr. Wu’s favorite dish, and he showed me that it went well with a dab of mayo.  He showed me the light as the eggy/semi-salty mayo balanced out the lighter pieces of bamboo.  They saw I was still a little hungry, so they brought out the big guns to really see what I could eat.  First, they gave me a dark piece of food that looked like a thick stick bent at a 45 degree angle, and it turned out to be a duck wing.  It had a smoky, bbq taste, but there wasn’t much meat on it.  Then they threw down the gauntlet when they gave me a thin, semi-elongated piece of meat that seemed to be filled with ridges, nooks, and crannies.

What is it?

What is it?

I started gnawing on it, and found this mystery food to be quite bony and filled with cartilage.  My hosts then informed me I was eating a duck’s head, and I should flip it over.  I  followed their instructions, and I was shocked to find my food starting back at me with one black glazed eye.

O hai!

O hai!

That didn’t stop me though from stripping it of the little tender meat still sticking to the cranium along with a piece of tongue.  The best part of the head was actually the eyeball since it was oddly creamy and had a decadent buttery flavor to it.  Once everyone was finished with their extravagant meals.  We had a simple dessert of Chinese and Korean pears and the more bizarre yet awesomely named dragon eyes.  They were similar to lychees, but the insides were clear and jelly-like minus the lychee red juice that stains your fingers when cracking through the outer shell.  The taste I could only liken to some sort of fruity version of a walnut which may have been influenced by the large pit in each small capsule.  With the last slice of pear gone and the final dragon eye cracked, I bid farewell to my lovely hosts.  I will never forget their hospitality as I was brought into their house as a guest and part of the family.  Looking back, my vacation was a hell of a ride, but I never forgot to stop and smell the roses and perhaps eat some if they were stinky or different enough.  Never stop traveling and pushing your own boundaries.

Taiwan (Part 1)- Sh*ttiest Dinner Ever (in a good way)

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Hello everyone and welcome to another entry on Mastication Monologues!  I’m nearing the end of my series of vacation posts, but I’ve saved some of the best restaurants/foods for last.  I’ve already sampled snake soup, durian, and some great dim sum in Hong Kong, but now I’m moving onto the isla formosa a.k.a. Taiwan.  I had a great time in Hong Kong, so I was doubtful that Taiwan could top my experiences I already took part in.  Food-wise, it just got better and stranger.  Stranger not in the Camus sense, but rather my first meal in Taipei was at a restaurant where I ate out of a toilet and drank out of a urinal.  I’m talking about Modern Toilet located at 2樓, No. 7, Lane 50, Xiníng South Rd, Wanhua District, by the Ximen metro stop.  Here is their website.  I had seen it previously on a Travel Channel show with its feces-inspired dishes, so it was too odd not to pass up.

I knew I couldn’t miss the actual restaurant because the outside of the restaurant sported a giant porcelain throne as the neon beckoned me inside to finally try their bizarre dishes.IMG_0853  Everywhere you walk in the restaurant, you can’t escape the extra Japanese kawaii (cute) piles of anime excrement.

Goldmember's poo's on display

Goldmember’s poo’s on display

I guess that’s the end result of all of that Pokefood that Brock was always feeding to Pikachu and his Geodude.  Sorry, nerdlinger moment there.  Going back to the food, I wasn’t really shocked with the decor until I walked into the main dining room.

It looks so normal

It looks so normal

Every square inch of the place had something to do with the one room of the house where it’s pretty taboo to do any form of eating.

Then you see poo lights and sit on an arty throne

Then you see poo lights and sit on an arty throne

The tables consisted of sinks with glass over them while I sat on a stylized, non-functional toilet.  Oh yeah, and the lights were also piles of poo.  Thankfully they didn’t include the authentic smell with all of these dookie inspired designs.  Their menu has a mix of curries, au gratin dishes, noodles, and desserts that all revolve around bathroom functions.  I went with a simple chicken curry for 220 TWD which came with a drink on the side along with an ice cream dessert.  To drink, I got a urinal of jasmine green tea for 40 TWD.  The drink came out first, and it was in an actual hospital urinal complete with the clear plastic cap.  As if it wasn’t kitchy enough, the jasmine tea looked like real urine, but thankfully did not smell/taste like it (no, I’ve never tried it like Patches O’Houlihan).  While sipping it out of my urinal using my crazy straw, its herbal and honey tinged notes really quenched my thirst for a cold drink since it felt like a swamp outside the restaurant.  Fun fact, if you get the urinal sized drink, you can take the urinal home for free as a souvenir!  Eventually, my food came out, and it lived up to the kookiness of the restaurant.

So gimmicky, yet so tasty

So gimmicky, yet so tasty

Not only was my curry hanging out in a mini-latrine, but my pickled cabbage was kept fresh under a plastic cover shaped like, yep you guessed, it, poo.  The actual curry was well made but nothing out of the ordinary.  It went well with the rice on the side.  The warm radish soup was pretty good, and I didn’t expect it to come with my meal.  It was fairly bland, but kind of had a chicken broth undertone to each spoonful.  Once I ate all of that food, there was one last act in this three ring circus:  the ice cream dessert.  Most places serve ice-cream in a classic cone or cup, but in Modern Toilet, they serve you your chocolate and vanilla swirl ice cream in an Eastern-style squatter toilet.

A thing of beauty

A thing of beauty

The ice cream melted very quickly, but it was delectable especially the chocolate part since it had an unexpected coffee aftertaste.  I left Modern Toilet a very satisfied diner, so if you want to try some average food in an extraordinary environment, pop a squat at Modern Toilet in Taipei.

Next post, I celebrate the Moon Cake festival with an opulent and very diverse banquet.

Hong Kong (Part 2)- Stank Bomb and Russian Gangsters

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In continuance with my previous post, Hong Kong Part 1, I bring you another installation of Mastication Monologues!  This post features some a very odd food along with some just plain tasty Turkish cuisine.  However, I’m going to start at the beginning of my day where I started it off right with a proper Hong Kong breakfast.

Now most tourists wouldn’t really know where to go to get breakfast in Hong Kong since it really isn’t a city known for its flapjacks and French toast.  This is where I found the glory that is known as 茶餐厅 or a cha chaan teng or literally “tea food hall”.  What these cozy little restaurants are known for are their plates that combine both western and eastern staples to create the original Asian fusion scene in Hong Kong.  Before World War II, Western foods were considered luxury items, so no one could afford them.  However, after WWII, locals wanted to emulate their British rulers by offering cheap versions of Western food for the common people.  Thus, the cha chaan teng was born providing the once rare Western food items like cakes and breakfast items to the public along with cheap Cantonese favorites.   The cha chaan teng I went to was called Tsui Wah Restaurant, and they are all over Hong Kong. IMG_2310 I was quickly seated, and there were no other foreigners in the dining room aside from myself.  I knew I came to the right place again. IMG_0750 I picked the 31 HK satay beef and ramen noodle breakfast platter.  With this eastern entree came a side of scrambled eggs, a western bun with butter, and a cup of “silk stocking” tea or milk tea which is called the former because of its color and smoothness.  It consists of black tea and condensed or evaporated milk, and is a key part of any Hong Kong citizen’s daily life which is just another carry over from the British colonial legacy.  I was quite happy with the meal overall. IMG_0747 The eggs were pretty good although somewhat on the buttery side which was kind of odd, but the roll was slightly warm which became even better with the salty butter.  Coming from Korea and their terrible bread that’s filled with sugar, this roll tasted like heaven.  As for the beef satay with noodles, it was a hearty and savory meal for the long day ahead of me.  I also appreciated that the cha chaan teng provided deep red chili flakes soaked in spicy oil on the side with salt and pepper.  I could get used to that very quickly.  The beef was tender and slightly seasoned with some cumin while the broth was salty and contained all of the juices from the meat.  The noodles were piping hot and al dente which showed that the cooks didn’t just put some boiling water in a cup and hope for the best.  As for the silk stocking tea, it was unlike any tea I’ve ever tried.  It was silky smooth like the name implies, but with a flavor profile that ranged from earthy to herbal to the more obvious milky notes from the key ingredient aside from the tea.  Overall, it was a great deal for a big meal in a real piece of Hong Kong life, but hurry to one because they’re being phased out as new chain restaurants are taking over.  For dessert, I chose one of the most bizarre foods on earth:  durian.

For those unaware what a durian is, it’s considered the “king of fruits”, and is notorious as a foodstuff that people either love or hate.  One of durian’s chief haters is the country of Singapore where it’s illegal to possess one under a fine of 5,000 dollars.  Plus, Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Food’s fame who has eaten everything from anuses and penises could not finish one bite of this fruit.  On the other hand, one of my heroes, Anthony Bourdain, loves the fruit.  So, I took it upon myself to finally get my hands on this spiky devil fruit.  I went to the Sogo department store in Central, and as soon as I walked into the supermarket in the basement, I came face to face with the enigmatic fruit.  It cost me about 24 HK for a date with foodie destiny. IMG_0751 It was already packed up in plastic, but the cashier insisted on wrapping it again and taped my bag up.  Oh boy….while walking I could still smell it through all of those precautions.  I decided it would only be fair to eat it in an open place instead of my hostel room.  I didn’t want to be subject to a blanket party like Pvt. Pyle in Full Metal Jacket.  Still, I sat down on a bench on my way up to the Peak and opened up the container. IMG_0752 I was immediately smacked in the face with a smell I could only liken to the worst body odor you could imagine combined with burnt hair and manure.  Appetizing, right?  So I started chowing down on the pieces, and first there was the texture.  It was like eating a gooey Camembert cheese, but it was fruit somehow.  Then there was the taste.

It was kind of hot outside as well.  Not the best compliment to the smell.

It was kind of hot outside as well. Not the best compliment to the smell.

I seriously enjoyed eating it because it reminded me of some really strong blue cheeses I ate before yet mixed with some slight notes of open sewer smell and roadkill just to keep it real with my adventurous palate.  If you are not an adventurous eater, I’d recommend trying durian ice cream or custard before deciding to dine with the king.  If you do take the plunge, bring a lot of gum with you if you don’t want to offend anyone for the next six to eight hours.  The stank follows you no matter what.

Finally, there was the more normal part of my day when I had dinner with my friend Tom at Turkish Kebab House in Kowloon located at G/F, 104 Woosung Street, Jordan, Hong Kong. IMG_2367 We thought about eating at Chungking Mansions, but it seemed like we’d get an intestinal worm from the open air Pakistani stalls or get rolled by the large Nigerian gentlemen selling second hand cellphones.  Instead, we opted for the small Turkish eatery which became even cozier with our fellow patrons at the table next to us.  We were pretty sure they were Russian gangsters since they had necks as wide as their heads, were constantly making calls on multiple cell phones, had tattoos, and gold chains.  It was hilarious to watch them demand that the waitress immediately clean their table off even though they weren’t done eating.  Bratva members aside, I ended up getting the kofte lamb meatballs for 55 HK which came with a side of rice or French fries.

The menu.

The menu.

I ended up getting the rice since that’s the only proper way to eat Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food, and overall it was a fantastic dinner.IMG_0765  The rice was the only downside though since it could have been at least seasoned or perhaps a pilaf, but it was just steamed white rice.  The meatballs were juicy, spiced with some chili and rosemary along with some garlic which all nicely complimented the distinctive flavor that only lamb brings to a dish.  The salad on the side was a good compliment to the savory lamb since it contained fresh greens and some roasted peppers on the side.  Another great part of the restaurant were the sauces that came with the food.  Two were tzatziki inpired creations while my favorite was the orange chili sauce that heated up the night while we watched our Eastern European comrades make deals and the typhoon rains blew past the open door.  It was a great meal only equaled by the light show which brought us eventually to a German beer hall called Biergarten located at 5 Hanoi Street, Tsim Sha Tsui (Use MTR Exit N1 or N2.) to close out the night.  Here’s their menu: http://biergarten-hongkong.com/contactus/.   I got the Kostritzer black beer which was just right after the lamb since it was full bodied and filled to the rim with deep caramel tones.

Goethe's favorite beer and just as dark as his philosophy

Goethe’s favorite beer and just as dark as his philosophy

They also had some interesting tables which would be fun to dine in for a date night or something like that.

Barrels of fun downstairs.

Barrels of fun downstairs.

Next episode involves me going to Macau and trying some classic Portuguese cuisine.  Stay tuned!

Hong Kong (Part 1)- 10 Points For Slytherin For Going Hog Wild

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Hey everyone!  Sorry for the long hiatus on the posts, but I have just returned after a whirlwind adventure through the Far East for the Korean Thanksgiving holiday.  During my travels, I sampled many different foods that ranged from the more standard fare to the downright bizarre and frightening at times.  Today I will be talking about the first day of foods that I sampled when I touched down in Hong Kong.

As soon as I got settled in my hostel, I asked the front desk where I could eat some good snake.  They directed me to the Sogo department store because they thought I meant, “snack”.  I clarified by making a sidewinding motion with my hands, and their eyes lit up with a mixture of excitement and slight bewilderment at the fact that a foreigner would want to search out such a food not normally served for western palates.  Either way, they gave me the address of a place called Lee Kum Kee which is located in Central outside of the Causeway Bay metro station a little bit north of the intersection of Percival and Lockhart Road.

It's the red and yellow sign.

It’s the red and yellow sign.

Before I even entered, I saw it was one of the few shops on the block that didn’t have any English on the front of it and had various types of cooked game hanging from hooks in the front window.IMG_0713IMG_0723  Time to go into the unknown.

As soon as I stepped in the room, the whole place somewhat stopped to see the foreigner who was foolish enough to wander into a locals only place.  However, they were very cordial and gave me an English menu.  If you don’t like being hustled about or are claustrophobic, don’t come to this place because I was put at a table with strangers since there was no room anywhere else in the dining room.

Interior of Lee Kum Kee.  Really old school.

Interior of Lee Kum Kee. Really old school.

I showed them that I wanted the snake soup (60 HK), and they were even more incredulous that I was going for the gusto after intruding their little culinary sanctuary.  When it came out, I was surprised at how it looked.  I was expecting some skin or at least some scales, but it looked more like egg drop soup garnished with pita chips, lotus petals, and grass.

Ssssome ssssuper sssnake sssoup

Ssssome ssssuper sssnake sssoup

However, I realized it must be snake soup when I saw them butchering some serpents in the back, and the actual meat didn’t look like beef or pork or chicken.  Overall, it was pretty tasty.  I would liken the taste of the meat to chicken even though it didn’t look like it, and I really enjoyed the texture variants with the crunchy, fried pieces of bread and reedy lemongrass that gave the soup a slight tang with every spoonful.  While I was enjoying my soup, a new group of three customers sat down at my table during the lunch rush, and they were looking at what I was eating.  The biggest guy of the group introduced himself and his friends as Chinese nationals from Guangdong province who work in Hong Kong for the day, and they were surprised to not only see me there but also how well I ate with chopsticks.  They were really friendly though and offered me some of their steamed, tennis-ball yellow Hainan chicken which was extremely succulent.  The bowl of soup wasn’t enough, so I also ordered a bowl of barbecued pork and beef over steamed rice with a free side of broccoli greens (40 HK).IMG_0716  My word.  The Hong Kong locals know how to live high on the hog because the pork stole the show with it’s crunchy, carmel brown, sweet skin which encased a savory interior that was the right level of salty that would be balanced out by the rice.  I couldn’t help myself from scarfing at down because I haven’t had that sort of sweet barbecue since leaving the States for Korea.

Moving on from there, I had to get something to drink since the hot cup of Hong Kong tea really didn’t quench my thirst since it was at least 95 F outside and humid.  So I went into a convenience store to get a bottle of fruit spike tea (8 HK). IMG_0736 I don’t really know what they really were trying to say, but it was a very herbal tea that could fall into the range of Chinese herbal medicine.  It’s not as enjoyable as a Lipton Brisk ice tea or anything like that, but it was cold and more traditional which did the job for me.  Finally, there was the matter of dessert.  I eventually saw a line of Chinese customers lined up around the block at this place that was advertised in Chinese, but then below it it said, “Super Bowl Snack”.

This place needs no cheerleaders.

This place needs no cheerleaders.

I didn’t see any footballs around, but it must be popular enough to have a line long enough as one of John Madden’s signature/hilarious ramblings.  When I came up to the counter, I got one “super bowl” (6 HK), and the guy used a bowl to stick two sticks into the substance while putting another bowl over it and flipping it to remove it from the original bowl.  I would have thought it was going to be cold since he was taking the bowls out of a cooler, but it was piping hot.

Funkiest popsicle ever.

Funkiest snack ever.

I thought it would be chocolate, but I ran into my old nemesis:  red beans.  This dessert ended up being some sort of gelatinous dough that contained tons of red beans.  Needless to say, I took a couple hearty bites but couldn’t go any further.  At least everything else I had was delicious.  Then there was dinner.

I made a friend at the hostel, Tom, earlier in the day, so he became my travel buddy for my stay in Hong Kong.  Before going out in Lan Kwai Fung, the party center of Hong Kong, we went out to Zhong Guo Song which is right off Lan Kwai Fung on Wo On Lane.

Just look for yellow and green.

Just look for yellow and green.

They advertised healthier Chinese food with no MSG and less oil.  Tom and I both went for the Yongzhou rice (40 HK), but I got the Thai spice ribs (65 HK) while he got the orange spice chicken. IMG_0741 All of it was fantastic and tasted like they lived up to their promise of no MSG and less oil.  The ribs were delectable since the sauce actually had a bit of a peppery bite to each bite, but the downside was that there were random bony pieces with no meat on them.  Tom’s chicken had less bones, and the orange sauce was like eating orange chicken back home at Panda Express.  As for the rice, it was a fried rice which contained plump shrimp, scallions, egg, peas, and carrots.  We were properly stuffed by the end of the amazing meal which was a reflection of the fun time we had later that night watching the United match followed by bar hopping down Lan Kwai Fung.

So to recap day one, I’d recommend snake at Lee Kum Kee, great Cantonese food at Zhong Guo Song, and stay away from super bowl desserts unless you really like red beans.  Coming up next, I finally grapple with the stinky durian fruit and try a Hong Kong fusion breakfast.

Food Porn and Cheating Death

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Hello and welcome to a summer edition of Mastication Monologues!  I just got back from a short weekend jaunt to Busan in the southeast corner of the Korean peninsula.  I definitely enjoyed my time there as it was filled with plenty of sun, surf, and super people we met along the way.  However, the main point of this post is that I crossed off two more of my Korean food challenges while seeing a new place.  One of the biggest tourist attractions in Busan is the Jagalchi Fish Market, and it was the first thing we visited since it was right next to our hostel.

The biggest fish market in Korea.

The biggest fish market in Korea.

Not only is it the biggest fish market in Korea, but it was probably one of the least smelliest fish markets I’ve ever been in.  I was quickly face to face with one of the more notorious types of “fish” in Korea:   개불 or gaebul or penis fish.  It’s quite an apt name when you see them in person.

Anyway, so I was looking at them in the basket just chilling out there, and very quickly one of the fishmongers asked me if I wanted to look at one.

It's like a nude beach.

It’s like a nude beach.

I replied in the affirmative, and she quickly pulled one out and almost shoved it in my face.  However, she then proceeded to squeeze it, and the “fish” literally began to start peeing out water.

Yep, it's really peeing.

Someone needs to get their prostate checked.

This was getting a bit too real for me, and she proceeded to throw it back in with the other members in the basket.  However, I signaled that I wanted to eat it, and she smiled and yelled out, “Sashimi!” to her friends.  What that meant for those not familiar with sushi terms or the Korean version, “Hoe“, it meant that I was going to eat it raw.  It was only 2,000 Won for one gaebul.  I saw that the fish quickly shrunk, and it was full of blood while she was slicing through the flesh.  She brought it out to me awash in a devilishly red gojuchang chili sauce, and I found the taste to be surprisingly delightful.IMG_1940  I never thought I would be saying that after eating something named after a male sexual organ.  Texture-wise it was quite firm yet slightly rubbery, and taste-wise it kind of had a neutral taste even though I was expecting some sort of briny wave of flavor.

No homo, bro.

No homo, bro.

Overall, it was better than the second fish dish I had that didn’t quite live up to the hype.

Now if you know me, I’m one of the biggest Simpsons fans, so I was naturally intrigued by the episode where Homer eats fugu (literally meaning “river pig”) or poisonous blowfish.  The danger lies in the organs like the liver and eyes, and if not prepared correctly, a diner will slowly become paralyzed while still conscious.  Eventually the person will die of asphyxiation, and there is no antidote for the poison once ingested.  Sounds like a tasty meal, right?

No sweat for kitchen prep.

No sweat for kitchen prep.

After taking down my sexually suggestive snack, we wandered about the Jagalchi area and ended up finding a restaurant that specialized in 복국 or bokguk  which is a blowfish soup. IMG_1991 When I walked in there was only one man going to town on a bowl of fish soup, but the owners were surprised when I asked him for a bowl of pufferfish soup (10,000 won).  While I was waiting at the table, the ladies in the back were just staring at me like I was a madman.  While they set out the side dishes, they warily approached me like I was some sort of superhuman being.  Eventually they set it out for me, and I just saw a clear broth filled with bean sprouts.

Below the surface lurks the poison

Below the surface lurks the poison

I slowly began to eat the crispy veggies along with the occasional peppery perilla leaf, but the clear broth was quite bland.  Once diving beneath the layer of semi-mediocrity, I was face to face with three big pieces of pufferfish.  Most of the pieces were bones unfortunately.  I was somewhat freaked out since I could see the black and white skin along with the eye sockets (one of most poisonous areas), but thankfully the skin is safe.  I took a couple bites of the tender white flesh that was hanging off the bones, and in the back of my head I was somewhat freaking out thinking whether or not it was going to be my last.

Going in for the kill (hopefully not me).

Going in for the kill (hopefully not me).

The flesh of the pufferfish was actually disappointing.  Although the flesh was quite delicate in terms of texture, it was devoid of any sort of flavor.  So if this was going to be my last meal, I’d definitely ask for a refund.  However, in the end, I could proudly say that I survived eating a potentially life-threatening animal regardless of my crestfallen state after consuming it.  Plus, it was just another highlight of a great weekend trip to my new favorite city in Korea.

In the end, if you were to try one of the two, I would suggest trying the penis fish over the blowfish soup.  It’s more than a mouthful of culinary pleasure ;).

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