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Category Archives: South Korean

I Believe I Can Fry

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Hey, everybody!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues which is my early Christmas present to the world.  Today I’ll be talking about a restaurant that Santa himself would love to dine at in place of downing his traditional fare of milk and cookies.  The place in question is called Gongdeok Town (공덕전타운) which is located at Gongdeok station going straight out exit 5.IMG_1426  Walk for about 8-9 minutes, and you’ll see it on your left amongst many narrow and claustrophobic alleyways including one that specializes in jokbal or pigs’ feet.  What should you be looking for?  Fried food as far as the eye can see.  You can smell it coming from a mile away that’s how intense this dining experience is.  So let’s begin at the start of the adventure.

First off, I would have never found this place had it not been for the luck of my friend, Steph, who found this fried food heaven on the internet.  Naturally, she shares my same sense of culinary curiosity, so we made plans to go there after a very long work week.  After going out exit five and going left, we were quite lost.  I looked to my right in the distance, and I could see an alley that seemed to be more bustling than the others, and we were greeted by incredulous looks by the restaurant owners at the fact that two waygookins (foreigners) were in this labyrinth of produce and meat.  After walking past a few eateries, I could see plates piled high with pork knuckle and no fried food.  They sent us further down the main road, and we finally saw the promised land.  They had a mind-boggling variety of tasty morsels to try that ranged in price from 500-5,000 W per piece.  IMG_1409IMG_1412

Mmm shrimp

Mmm shrimp

Lots of fried sweet potatoes, kimbap, and vegetables (left to right)

Lots of fried sweet potatoes, kimbap, and vegetables (left to right)

Some of the pajeon or Korean pancakes of egg or kimchi

Some of the pajeon or Korean pancakes of egg or kimchi

How it works is they hand you a wicker basket along with a set of tongs, and you just work your way down like a Supermarket Sweep of sorts.  Some of the labels were a bit hard to follow due to the imperfect translations and others were just very vague.

Skinflints for only 500W?  What a deal!

Skinflints for only 500W? What a deal!

Something looks a little fishy...

Something looks a little fishy…

 Nevertheless, we soldiered ahead and took a little bit everything.  Once we had our baskets filled to the brim, we brought them to the end of the line where a lady weighed our food and gave us a number.  We were then ushered inside where we found out that the smoking section is downstairs and the upper level is non-smoking and much larger and warmer. IMG_1421 Eventually they brought us our plate of food along with the bill.  For this mountain of food, it was 8,000 W between the two of us.IMG_1416 IMG_1417 Within our fried cornucopia that lied on our table just beckoning us with its golden-hued breading, we had more conventional foods like gooey Western style cheese sticks and crunchy chicken tenders that came with a complimentary drizzling of honey mustard.  Then there were pieces that were more Korean like the squid tentacles, kimchi pajeon, and various forms of sweet potato which I was semi-averse to since I prefer regular potatoes.  It still was a nice contrast to the savory, semi-greasy breading.  An interesting selection in the mix was the fried beef liver.  Texture-wise, it was quite firm, and it had a rich beefy flavor with plenty of body.  I greatly enjoyed the fried cucumbers, chilies, and pork stuffed perilla leaves as well.  Plus, they had plenty of different forms of taro root like the purple sesame seed coated balls you see on the first plate.  So for all you vegans out there, there is plenty of selection for you too aside from that last one.  There was also a mystery nugget that I chose because it looked like it had a strip of bacon in it, and I loves me some bacon.

My mystery nugget and I.

My mystery nugget and I.

 When I finally tried it, it was quite bizarre since it didn’t taste bacon or anything else for that matter.IMG_1420  It had a generic flavor of meatvegetablesbreading?? that left me generally confused along with the imposter  “bacon” strip that just tasted like burned matter.  It was quite the letdown.   Once we finished our first plate, I had to go back for a second helping since I still was hungry.

Round 2 (starting lower left corner and going clockwise):  scallop, taro ball, cheese sticks, potato bread, chilies, millet cakes.

Round 2 (starting lower left corner and going clockwise): scallop, oyster, taro ball, cheese sticks, potato bread, chilies, millet cakes.

 The scallop was quite delectable as it was rich and buttery like breading that enveloped it, and the oyster was quite good aside from a rubbery texture that might put off some diners.  The potato bread was a bit of a mystery to me at first since I was anticipating it to be stuffed most likely with pork, but it just ended up being a ball of fried dough.  Last and definitely the least favorite of all the food I tried there were the millet cakes.  They looked almost like mini-red velvet cakes minus the cream cheese frosting, but they were the opposite of the tantalizing dessert.  Not only did it taste quite musty, but it was filled with red bean paste!  Arrghhh, my Korean culinary arch-nemesis.  Foiled once again from having a completely fantastic dinner.  That minor bump aside, we ended up eating a ton of food for about 12,000 W each which is a bargain any way you slice it.

So if you’re looking for a warmer way to eat street food in the winter or perhaps need to layer up on some blubber for winter hibernation, go to Gongdeok town for some greasy good times.


Last Action (Grill) Hero/Which Came First: Toast or the Egg?

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Hey everyone!  Welcome to the 120th installation of Mastication Monologues!  Not only is this post special just because I’ve reached another milestone in the “arduous” quest to be a great food blog writer, but it’s also an installment that chronicles my 26th birthday.  Naturally, I had to go big for my second birthday overseas, so I ended up at Action Grill in Hongdae.  Here is their business card with all of the information you need along with their Facebook page.  The directions are quite long and detailed, so I’m sure Google Maps will suffice.1425636_3030604761194_2036417494_n

It’s surprising that I even ended up here in the first place because I found it originally on accident like Christopher Colombus minus the biological warfare and genocide of the local population.  It was a lovely summer day with my friend who I went out with to get ice cream at Fell and Cole.  We then walked around Hongdae just for fun, and we stumbled upon the establishment that drew us in with the grills set up outside.  We took a look inside, and I knew that I absolutely had to eat at Action Grill one day.  What better day than my birthday?  So I set everything up with the owner, Kim, whose number is on the card.  He was very helpful and understanding, so I’d give the service an A+ just based on his accommodating nature.  Now you might be wondering what sets Action Grill apart from other restaurants and made me want to eat there above all other places?IMG_2647  Well, at Action Grill you camp indoors while you eat.  So basically everything from the seats to the grills, to the decor are straight out of a foray in the forest. IMG_2642IMG_2643 Their menu revolves around grill sets which range from 15,000 W to 40,000 W.  They also have a wide range of beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.  For our group of 12 people, we got three of the “Brother” sets which feeds four people, more or less.  It took about 15 minutes for them to prepare it, and then they brought it out to our tables in full Weber grills.  When they removed the tops, I was taken aback by how much delicious food was piled up in front of me.IMG_2644IMG_2645  On one grill we had slices of bacon, sausages, full shrimp, chicken, potato wedges, and veggies encased in a tin foil tent.  It was a fun group eating experience since you had fold out forks and filled up each others’ small camping bowls with the food.  As for the actual meal, all of the food was great.  I was especially partial to the bacon because there was a lot of fat on it which made it especially smooth and buttery tasting.  The chicken was good but oddly had an aftertaste of hot dogs.  I personally liked combining the onion and pepper veggie salad with the different meats to provide a crisp contrast to the savory elements that the meats brought.  As for the potato wedges, they were well made with crunchy exteriors along with firm, snow-white interiors.  It was an even more interesting dining experience since I was interviewed and filmed by Korean college students talking about how I much I enjoyed the restaurant.   Overall, I was quite satisfied with my meal at Action Grill and the unique camping experience was quite entertaining since they took away all of the annoying parts of camping like mosquitos and rabid raccoons.  However, my birthday food adventure didn’t just stop there.  I also tried some pizza beer with my friend, Bora.  Somehow Tom Seefurth managed to distill the essence of a classic Margherita pizza into a lager.  It wasn’t something that I would ask for again, but the experience was worth it.  It had a distinct oregano smell, but as for the taste, it was more peppery and cheesy.  This was an occasion where I think they over-elaborated on culinary fusion.  Nothing’s better than pizza and beer, but when they combined them, it left me feeling less than saucy.

Mama mia!  indeed

Mama mia! indeed

Much later in the night after a lot of dancing and the occasional imbibing of some adult beverages, my friends and I stopped for some Korean street food.  This time I tried a Korean winter specialty,  계란 빵 or egg bread.

Breakfast for a late night snack

Breakfast for a late night snack

It’s exactly what it sounds like.  Creative name, huh?  They look like small hors d’oeurves served up on a hot griddle, but they were just what I needed to brace myself against the chilly night.  The egg is served sunny side up on top of the bread, so watch out for some yolk splatter.  As for the bread, it was pleasantly crispy and completed this small, hearty breakfast tablet that I ate in the middle of the street.

Freezing but so worth it

Freezing but so worth it

A tasty end to my birthday even though half of it ended up on my face thanks to Bora trying to feed me it.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Pork Cutlet

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Well, this is a historic moment in not only Mastication Monologues history, but also in my own personal history of pushing the gastronomic boundaries of my stomach and will to eat whatever comes my way.  I have had numerous experiences with eating legitimately spicy foods like chicken wings coated with sauce that was equal to law grade pepper spray (See Devil Wings), and not so “spicy” foods especially when it came to Korean food.  Now, I’ve tried many different types of “spicy” Korean food like buldak which are popcorn chicken pieces in red chili sauce, or tteokbokki which are gelatinous rice cakes in chili sauce.  However, neither  lived up to the spice levels I’m used to back home where I put Sriracha chili sauce on everything like ketchup, and you could get spicy Tex-Mex food anywhere you looked.  However, I finally met my match tonight.  Out of all of the spicy foods that I have eaten in my life, I never ate anything as spicy as the Drop Dead Donkatsu at Onnuriye (Around the world) Donkatsu located at 355-23 Shindaebang2-dong, Dongjak-gu, Seoul (온누리에 돈까스, 서울특별시동작구 신대방2동, 355-23).  Go to Sindaebangsamgeori station and leave exit 3.  Go straight, and turn left at the CU.  Then make a right at the next street and walk five minutes till you see a restaurant where the menu is literally on the ceiling inside and there are pictures of their famous breaded pork cutlets or donkatsus.

After my friend, Steph, and I wandered up and down looking for it for about ten minutes, we found it.  It’s a traditional Korean restaurant, so there are no chairs, only cushions and low tables.  There are pictures of only about 70 people on the wall who have finished the Drop Dead Donkatsu challenge.  I read about it initially on the internet on CNN Travel, so I knew I had to test my mettle when it came to a spicy food challenge.  When we sat down, they saw that I wanted to try the spicy donkatsu (15,000 W), and they made me first taste a sample.  I chopsticked a piece into my mouth, and it was quite piquant.  A quick note, they make you bring milk with you if you want to do the challenge.  No milk, no challenge.  What happened next made me quake fear a little inside out of fear.  Once they saw that the first piece didn’t phase me, they opened my milk carton, poured me a glass of milk, and put a small, mysterious plastic packet in front of me.  The waitress didn’t speak any English and was explaining everything in Korean, so I figured out she wanted me to drink the packet’s contents along with the milk.  When I ripped the top of the packet off and started drinking it, I saw it was white and tasted really funny.  Then I realized it was an antacid to help me eat the donkatsu.  S&#t just got real.  Eating contest contracts be damned!

Eventually it came out, and they explained the rules to me in Korean.  I saw most of the restaurant was watching me as one of the spectators sitting next to me on the floor decided to jump in and translate for me.  If I finished everything on my plate along with a bowl of rice in 20 minutes, I’d get it for free and my picture on the wall.  I looked down at my plate which was bigger than a hubcap loaded with three mammoth slabs of pork staring back at me like a den of rattlesnakes about to strike.

Age of innocence

The age of innocence

It's garnished with hot peppers too.  Not overkill at all.

It’s garnished with hot peppers too. Not overkill at all.

I quickly got to business cutting each cutlet into small pieces faster than Edward Scissorhands on Meth, and I quickly was faced with a dose of reality when I popped the first two pieces in my mouth.  The first one went down fine, but the second one was way too hot temperature-wise.  The heat combined with the spice began to overwhelm me, so I took a good swig of milk which combated it quickly.  Then I got two more pieces down, but I realized my body couldn’t take it.  I started to hiccough, and my esophagus began to spasm.  Thinking quickly, I began to eat some of the plain rice in the bowl next to me which had a negligible effect on the shock to the system.  I got one more piece down, and my mouth, especially my throat, felt like I just swallowed molten lava.  I slowed down immediately, and I realized that I had finally been bested.  Eating the pickled radish and salad on the side were last ditch efforts to continue, but I threw in the towel due to being in so much discomfort.  I don’t know what their secret marinade contains, but it must be some sort of supernatural pepper grown to simulate eating a piece of the sun.  Our waitress just smiled and took away the plate like she has done it many times before, but thankfully she came out with a free dontkatsu for my trouble which was the best I’ve had since coming to Korea.

The pity meal

The pity meal

It was something about the breading that made it really shine.  It was crunchy with an almost buttery finish to it that went hand in hand with the sweet curry it was swimming in.  It was a nice change of pace from the blast furnace I just swallowed, and the cheese donkatsu (5,000 W) Steph had was perfect with the right balance of smooth mozzarella and succulent pork.  She tried a single drop of the spicy sauce and was in pain for a couple minutes.  That’s how bad it was.

The happier, pain-free side of the table

The happier, pain-free side of the table

Culinary adventures can only go so far until you realize that its your health at steak (see what I did there), and you have to live with the consequences of your choices.  I didn’t feel like leaving the restaurant with a colostomy bag since these pieces of pork practiced their own form of a slash and burn campaign with my gastrointestinal tract.  Word to the wise.   I have to qualify my experience with the fact that I think my resistance to heat has dropped since moving to Korea since I went from eating spice everyday to a very bland diet.  However, if you feel like you can muster up enough courage, and your organs are coated with teflon, please try the Drop Dead Donkatsu challenge.  Either that or just get the regular donkatsu and pass up the pain.  Either way, it’s quite the worldly experience at Onnuriye Donkatsu.

On a Spicy Wing and a Prayer

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Hey everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Things have been trying as of late at school with the crazy work schedules due to the Fall festival that is coming up, but that doesn’t mean that my appetite has been affected.  Today I will be talking about a Korean place that I have passed on my way to Geomam station probably 1 billion times already (rough guesstimation right there).  The reason why it stood out from the other Korean restaurants surrounding it was the fact that it specifically advertised spicy food.  It’s called 땅초 or Ttangcho Hot Food which are all over Korea, but the one I went to is located at 인천시 서구 검암동 606-7번지 네오프라자 106호  or Seo-gu, Incheon City Plaza 106 West geomamdong 606-7.  Here is their website (sorry, it’s all in Korean):  On the right hand side of the page, click on “매장정보” to find store locations.IMG_0681

Moving on from logistics, let’s talk about the food.  Now, where I live is a lot less cosmopolitan than Seoul or even other parts of Incheon.  Naturally, when I walked in I was greeted with a lot of curious stares.  Not only because I was a foreigner, but also because I was eating alone.  Group mentality runs deep in all aspects of Korean life even when it comes to eating, and I could see the server/staff become somewhat wary of serving me since I was alone.  In contrast, all the other tables were filled with Korean students digging into their tteokbokki while occasionally staring or offering a giggle/wave coupled with a “Hi!”.  Their most popular items like the 엽기떡복이 tteokbokki (sticky rice cakes in spicy sauce) or the 닭볶음탕 dakbokeumtang (a fried chicken stew) were in the 20,000 W price range since they were family-sized bowls.  Instead, I went for the more manageable 참숯 닭날개 (14,000 W) which I found out were spicy chicken wings.  When they came out, I not only got a small mound of wings, but also an egg soup ( 계란찜) that looked similar to the one I had when I ate the live octopus. IMG_0679 I was expecting the wings to be drenched in some sort of red gochujang sauce that Koreans are so fond of, but these wings looked to be treated with a dry rub that had sesame seeds mixed in with the spices.IMG_0680  Even though the wings looked diminutive, the bone to meat ratio was favorable, and the chicken was sufficiently succulent.  As for the aforementioned seasoning, I could definitely taste some cayenne pepper working hard for its money as I took each bite.  Mid-way through the plate, the guy who looked like the owner came over and said, “Too spicy?”, and I just responded with a smile and an “아니요” (“no”).  He found all of it amusing either because I used Korean, and/or that I could eat food that Koreans had trouble eating.  I’d probably rate the spice level between a jalapeno and a habanero.  I took a couple spoonfuls of the egg soup, but it was quite bland after eating the fire-kissed wings.

On the way back to the bus stop, I passed two old ladies in an open air stall selling these curious snack treats that I had passed by all over Korea but never tried one.  They are called 붕어빵 or bungeoppang which means “fish bread” (“Bungeo” is a type of carp, and “Ppang” means bread).  Based off my picture, they are quite obviously named.

The one that didn't get away.

The one that didn’t get away.

I saw that they were making two varieties of this baked good, the traditional red-bean filled type and a custard filled type.  Never forgetting my dislike for red bean flavored products, (See Ice Cream), I went for two custard filled carp (1,000 W).  I definitely made the right choice.  The outside was like a freshly made waffle with a sugary peck on the lips with every nibble while the inside was gooey and infused with a very delicate vanilla pudding similar to the filling of another Korean pastry, Manjoo Hana.

It's all about the creamy center.

It’s all about the creamy center.

It definitely supplied me with a sweet reprieve after my savory meal.

So if you’re looking for some quality spicy Korean food, check out Ttangcho Hot Food.  Speaking of spicy food, I will be attempting to eat the Drop Dead Donkatsu this weekend.  If I survive, expect a classic recounting of my adventure.  Until then, foodies!

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



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.

Heaven’s A Place On Earth

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Hola a todos y bienvenidos a mi blog Mastication Monologues!  Today I finally managed to go to a restaurant that has been three different visits in the making.  Now, living in Korea has made me miss a lot of things back home, but none more than the variety of food that we have back in the USA, especially any type of Latin American/Spanish cuisine.  So, I was determined to try Taco Cielo in Incheon since I heard it had the best Mexican food around.  The first three times I went there (Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, and a Wednesday evening) they were closed which left me absolutely flabbergasted that they would be closed during times that people would want to eat.  However, today was no ordinary day since I managed to survive a huge Korean deluge and a killer workout in the gym.  So I was hoping that my luck would change with this taqueria.  I eventually made my way to Taco Cielo on the Incheon 1 Line all the way to Incheon Bus Terminal.  I then left exit two, crossed the main street in front of the bus terminal, and turned right and then left when I reached the KEB.  I walked about 100 feet, and I was in front of the building where it was nestled on the sixth floor.  Here is their website.

It's up on the sixth floor.

It’s up on the sixth floor.

When I entered the elevator, I was praying that I wasn’t going to be greeted with another, “Sorry, closed” sign on the dark glass door, and it seems that it was open…sort of.  I got there at 4:45 pm on a Tuesday, and they didn’t open until 5 pm.  I have no idea what is up with their operating hours, but they were quite hospitable.  I was able to sit at a table and drink water until their kitchen opened.  Plus, they had plenty of A/C, so that was muy bueno para mi.  It had a good ambiance even though I was the only person in there, and I eventually chose two items that really caught my fancy on the menu.IMG_0613  I plumped for the beef burrito with cheese gravy (9,600 W) since it was discount Burrito Tuesday (I saved 4,000 Won), and then I picked the beef fried Mexican rice (7,000 W) to get a little Korean/Asian flavor up in my meal.  The main cook came back because he was astounded that I would order two things since he insinuated that I ordered enough food for three people.  I’m surprised he never met hungrier waygooks than me.

Anyway, the burrito came out first, and it looked like Mount Popocatepetl just erupted all over a pueblo below its mighty cumbre (summit).IMG_0607  They did not skimp on the queso fundido salsa which made me very excited since real cheese is quite rare in a land that considers quality cheese to come in tube form.  I quickly got up in its guts to find plenty of beef, lettuce, cilantro, onions, and tomatoes beneath a fresh flour tortilla.IMG_0608  It was like everything from back home managed to make the 13 hour plane ride to join me for the meal.  The beef was juicy and seasoned with a bit of cumin while the lettuce and cilantro were both freshly chopped.  The cook also double checked to see if I wanted cilantro in the first place which I found interesting because he was Korean, and most Koreans seem adverse to cilantro in dishes.  Yet I know I definitely don’t look Korean, so perhaps it was just a force of habit for him to ask me if I wanted any.  Portion-wise, the burrito was about six inches long tops, but the savory cheddar sauce definitely stole the show for the first part of my dinner.  The second act of this food telenovela was somewhat odd.

Now back home in Chicago, almost every Mexican restaurant pairs entrees with a side of beans and rice, but I knew I wanted to try the Asian twist on a Mexican classic where they combined Korean fried rice with Mexican ingredients.  What I ended up eating was certainly better than what I was expecting.

That's some funky arroz frito, tio.

That’s some funky arroz frito, tio.

When the waitress brought it out, it was a mini-mound of rice on what seemed like a Nacho Libre sized tortilla along with a square, tostada- looking tortilla.  She then recommended that I keep the fork to cut the crunchy tortilla, but I found that the tortillas were superfluous to the actual meal unless you planned on eating the rice with your hands Indian-style.  I wouldn’t recommend it though.  The actual rice was found underneath the center flaps of the larger tortilla which was drizzled with soy sauce, gochujang, and sour cream.  All of that combined with the fried Mexican rice and cilantro to create a cool, spicy, and tangy creature that can only be likened to a culinary Chupacabra.  I’ve only heard rumors about it in its natural habitat, but I’ll never forget this tortilla to mouth encounter which left me full and muy satisfecho.

So if you’re craving some Mexican food while visiting Incheon, definitely go to Taco Cielo.  It seems to be a better bargain than Vato’s Tacos in Itaewon in Seoul, but I still have to check that establishment out.  While it’s no Taco Grill like back home in my other post or Los Nopales, you definitely will feel like you died and went al cielo!

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 ;).

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

Somewhat Hoarble

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Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Even though I recently talked about my visit to a Vietnamese eatery to sample some pho (See Phonomenal), today I will be talking about my dining experience at Pho Hoa located in Itaewon on Itaewon-Ro heading straight out of exit 2 for about 10 minutes.  Here is their website.

While my friends Ravi and Carolyn were in town, we were running all about Seoul seeing the sights, but with all of that traveling we managed to work up a serious appetite.  Ravi wanted to try this Korean vegetarian place that consisted of traditional side dishes served to you in a tapas style meal.  However, when we got there, there was a wait for a table since it was a very small establishment, so we decided to walk back up the street to find another place to eat.  We eventually settled on Pho Hoa since it was close by.  All I knew is that I wasn’t going to eat pho again, so I looked over their rice dishes.  During my search, I did notice that the pho bowls they offered were more authentic than Pho Mein’s they provided you with cilantro, jalapenos, bean sprouts etc.  I settled on the pork rice in the end (10,000 Won) along with a Saigon beer (4,000 Won).

When both of them came out, I was more interested in the beer since it looked more intriguing.

Charlie don't drink good beer

Charlie don’t drink good beer

However, I didn’t have my hopes up since Asia really isn’t known for their quality brews.  I was correct when I found out I was sipping on a pale lager that had a very small head and really devoid of any flavor.  As for my food, I found it as unspectacular since I recognized the bulgogi (which is beef, not pork) residing next to the mound of white rice. IMG_1914 At least the egg roll was Vietnamese, and it was delicious with its golden, flaky wrapping and fresh veggie innards.  One of the main reasons why I disliked this meal is because it was so bland and the rice was not fully cooked.  Thankfully, after a couple generous dollops of Sriracha sauce, I ate every spicy spoonful.  The meat was a bit better than average since it had an interesting sweet aftertaste, but some pieces were a bit on the dry side.  I could tell this was a plate specifically designed with Korean audiences in mind due to the lack of severely spicy elements that are more common to Southeast Asian cuisine.  I’m sure if I got one of their pho bowls, I would have been more satisfied.  Overall, it was an average meal that could have been better if I went with one of the safer options like pho.

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.

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