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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 ;).


I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Red Beans!

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So I don’t know if this post could really hold a candle to my previous post (See Crazy Karate) where I ate a live octopus, but it’s about food that almost everyone around the world loves:  ice cream.  Whenever I’m traveling to different countries/regions of the USA, I like to see what sort of twists the locals can put on foods that I recognize in order to accommodate local palates.  With ice cream in South Korea, it’s no different even when it comes to an American chain that most people would recognize:  Baskin Robbins.  Before I get to some good old-fashioned American ice cream that has been Koreanized, let me quickly mention a purely Korean treat that I tried after going to Jongmyo temple with my friends.

I had kept on hearing about the different types of traditional Korean desserts like the ubiquitous rice cake or even 팥빙수 patbingsu which is shaved ice traditionally topped with azuki beans, fruit, and yogurt.  I’ve never tried it, but while rummaging through the ice cream bin at the CU convenience store, I stumbled upon a red bean popsicle.IMG_0468  Thankfully, it was a 2+1 deal, so I got other flavors as chasers to this red bean one if it was really terrible.  I was glad I did that because this bean-laden ice pop did not beat the unbearable heat and humidity.

That ain't right

That ain’t right

When I bit into it, I was immediately immersed in a world of whole red beans.  The medium in which the beans were suspended didn’t have much flavor, but I was overwhelmed by the savory sweet sensation.  It definitely wasn’t a good choice.  However, Baskin Robbins didn’t disappoint in terms of trying strange new foods.

My friend Carolyn and I decided to get dessert after a small dinner, and that naturally led us to Baskin Robbins since she has a major sweet tooth while I’ve never been to one in Korea.  I scanned the menu for something beyond the typical cone and cup binary, and my eyes wandered over to the “frozen desserts” section.  They were cheaper than ice cream, but the names sounded so odd like “Apogato” and “Honeybread”.  Definitely not like the ice cream shops back home.  I eventually settled on a snow mochi (2,000 won) and a biscuit choux (2,000 won).IMG_0495

Koreans love their French

Koreans love their French

I started with the snow mochi since I had already had mochi before.  For those who don’t know what mochi is, it’s a type of rice dough similar to Korea’s tteok where it’s quite pliable and has a neutral flavor.  I picked up the little pink ice ball and bit into it.

Phase 1:  face to face

Phase 1: face to face

I don’t know what it was, perhaps my love for gummi candy, but the mochi’s rubbery texture combined with the hard, cold ice cream really made me love this small treat.  Plus, the mochi was strawberry flavored which resulted in a fruity vanilla swirl that would be hard to beat.

Phase 2:  Entry

Phase 2: Entry

In the center, there was some sort of gelatinous fruit that I assumed was more strawberry paste, but overall, I was quite satisfied with the snow mochi.

Phase 3:  Sweet victory

Phase 3: Sweet victory

With the bar set high by the snow mochi, the biscuit choux was bound to not live up to the same expectations.  While the outside had the same appearance as some sort of dry pastry (choux is the same dough used in eclairs), when I bit into it I was greeted with some chocolate hidden treasure. IMG_0500 This was the only bright point of the biscuit choux.



The ice cream was great with a rich milk chocolate flavor and high butterfat content, but the pastry was a mere spectator to the show that was our dessert.  Alas, it was flaky and flavorless.  While the mochi was exotic and entertaining like a Cirque du Soleil show, the biscuit felt like this, entertaining but falling a bit flat.

Either way, I highly recommend that you try some Baskin Robbins while you’re in Korea if you’re looking for some delicious ice cream.  As for the red bean popsicles, I’m going to give them the cold shoulder in the future.

Egg and Rice That’s Really Quite Nice

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Hello and welcome to another installment of Mastication Monologues!  Today is a pretty laid back day, but last night was a special dinner for one of my friends who is having surgery on Friday.  So we went out to wish her good luck and have a safe procedure.  We ended up going to a kimbap chungu called Tomato Kimbab.

I couldn't get their entire Engrish slogan in the shot sadly

Got to love the Engrish slogan.

Now you might be wondering to yourself, “Hey Mark, what in the name of kimchi is a kimbap chungu?”  Well for all of those uninitated to Korean cuisine, a kimbap chungu is a sitdown restaurant that serves Korean cuisine stalwarts that range from different varieties of bibimbap, kimbap (hence the name), jjigaes (soups), and even one of my personal favorites, tonkatsu.  These restaurants also serve a good amount of food for a decent price.  However, instead of getting bibimbap like everyone else in the party, I went for a Japanese dish that was adopted by the Koreans and once again slightly modified:  omaraisu (오므라이스).  Like other foods in the Korean diet, this meal was born out of the Japanese occupation of the country which spanned from 1910 to right after World War II.  The name itself is a contraction of the words, “omelet” and “rice” pronounced in a Korean fashion.  It’s a relatively simple but delicious idea for a dish.  First, there is the omelet shell that should be thin yet strong enough to withstand the stresses of holding in all of the delicious rice inside.  As I just mentioned, there is the second element of the rice which lurks within its large, yellow coccoon.  Most of the time it’s chicken fried rice with vegetables like peas and carrots which is flavored with beef stock, but sometimes it can even have pieces of spam or hot dogs in it (a culinary trace of Amurica from after the Korean War).

After everyone in my party received their bowls of regular bibimbap and dolsot bibimbap, I got my food last, but it looked absolutely perfect. IMG_0081 It was about the size of a football or perhaps a small baby, but I was ready to get it in my belly.  There was also a generous drizzling of ketchup on the top that looked like an audacious thunderbolt alerting me to the amazing flavors contained within the meal in front of me.  I also utilized some of the sweet, semi-glaze on the side to balance out the ketchup.  Once I opened up the yellow blob, a ton of fresh chicken fried rice spilled out and was piping hot.  Once the raging inferno inside the omelet subsided, I tried a forkful of the rice, and it was delicious.  The rice wasn’t over or undercooked, and the chicken pieces were juicy and just the right size to not need a knife.  As for the egg, it was light and fluffy and went well with the tangy ketchup and the sweet brown gravy.  Overall, it was a good meal, and Tomato Kimbap does make a mean omaraisu.  If it’s your first time having it, I guarantee you won’t have egg on your face due to a bad meal.

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