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Pie in the Sky Prices = Not So Apeeling

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Well, life just keeps on getting weirder and weirder in Korea, but I’m really looking forward to tomorrow since I’ll be gracing Everland for the first time.  For those who don’t know, Everland is basically South Korea’s response to Disney World, so I’m excited to see their take on the enchanted kingdom.  Anyway, I’m here to talk about the supposedly “Best pizza place in Seoul” a.k.a. the Pizza Peel.  Here’s all the location/hours info courtesy of their business card:

IMG_1036So there you go.  The directions are pretty straight forward:  leave Itaewon station exit 4 and walk straight for about 10 minutes.  Once you pass the McDonalds, look on your left hand side, and you’ll see an arch saying, “Alley Market”.  Walk under it, and you’ll see the Pizza Peel. IMG_1029 As I mentioned before, the reason that brought me here was that I heard it was the best pizza in Seoul, but then again, it seems that there are many contenders for that coveted crown.  So I had to check it out for myself.  The interior was modest but very busy with people enjoying their Hangul day off from work/school.  I greatly admired the establishment’s brick oven that seemed to be cut and pasted straight from a pizzeria back home, NYC, or Italy.

Mother of all pizzas

The hot momma of all pizzas

As my friend, Aaron, and I sat down, we perused the menu.  We could see that it wasn’t the cheapest pizza in the world as exemplified by their menu below (range from 14,000 W to 18,500 W):IMG_1037IMG_1038

To drink they also have soda and beer options that goes beyond the typical Korean trinity of Cafri, Cass, and Hite which was pretty great, but the non-Korean choices are in the same league as the pizza prices.  However, I figured the pizza was so expensive because of the ingredients you’d never find on Korea pizzas like Feta cheese, pesto, Ricotta, and artichokes to name a few.  I kind of wanted to eat them all, and I even considered one of their dessert pizzas.  Sadly, I’m not making Psy money teaching English. Eventually, I went for the Buffalo Ranch pizza  (18,500 W), and Aaron went for the Canadian (15,500 W).

It apologized for not smiling for my photo

It apologized for not smiling for my photo

Aaron’s pizza looked marvelous, and I learned that apparently in Canada they actually have their own “Canadian style” pizza which must have mushrooms, pepperoni, mozzarella, and bacon on it (not Canadian bacon though for the Hosers or peameal bacon for the Canucks).  As for my pizza, it looked delectable as well.  Size-wise, if you’re a big boy/eater like me or just really hungry, you can easily eat one of these pizzas by yourself which further underscores the somewhat inflated prices.  In comparison to the North American fatty alliance at our table, the Koreans  around us were splitting the small pies between two people.  Go figure. We quickly tore into our meals, and mine was interesting to say the least.IMG_1030  First, the crust.  It was definitely on the thin side, and I dare say thinner than NYC slices which are like delicious pieces of paper with cheese on it.  What this all meant was that each slice’s integrity was close to nothing, so you had to fold it in half and hope the piping hot toppings didn’t fall on your clothes/hand like some delectable napalm.  I’ll take my thicker Chicago thin crust, thank you.  On the other hand, the crust was expertly baked in just the right places with a golden hue and warm, white center to every crust.  As for the toppings, there was plenty of natural mozzarella cheese instead of the typical, artificial, rubbery cheese-flavored product the Koreans use on their pizzas.  The chicken chunks were well roasted and went well with the ranch dressing which was the substitute for the traditional marinara tomato sauce.    It was like gobbling down pizza and chicken fingers at the same time.  Ranch just goes so perfectly with both!  I didn’t really taste much of the Feta or the hot sauce, but I was satisfied with my choice nevertheless.

So after finally going to the supposed “Best pizza place” in Seoul, I’d have to disagree.  True, they have some rarer pizza ingredients along with a brick oven for that rustic touch, but I’d still take Monster Pizza over Pizza Peel.  You get one giant slice of quality pizza for only 3,000 W roughly, and a whole pizza from Monster Pizza could feed a small army for just a fraction of Pizza Peel’s prices.  Now that’s something a gourmand like me can sink his teeth into.

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Achin’ For Some Bacon On A Lazy Sundae

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

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

The sundae's in the upper right hand compartment

The sundae’s in the upper right hand compartment

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

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

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

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

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

You can never have enough bacon

You can never have enough bacon

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

Blasphemy incarnate

Blasphemy incarnate

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

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

Tasty tart

Tasty tart

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

Bacon, Potatoes, and Pinapples Oh My!

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Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of Mastication Monologues!  So I’ve officially been in Korea for one month, and it seems like it has flown by even though every day felt like it was moving as slow as molasses.  When it comes to culinary adventures, however, it has been quite a whirlwind tour.  I’ve had a plethora of Korean specialties and so many different types of rice cake that they could probably fill a phone book.  However, today I will be relating my experience of trying Korean pizza for a second time.  In comparison to the first time trying Korea pizza from Pizza Maru in my previous post, “A Slice of the East”, the pizza from Pizza Etang was delicious yet peculiar in wonderful way.IMG_0002

First, there were the circumstances in which I consumed said meal.  I had just finished a day of teaching 5th grade, and everything went quite well aside from witnessing some intimidating Korean teacher discipline after the bell rang in one class.  After eating a large Korean lunch of random rice dishes and a soy sesame sauce that was way too salty for its own good, a delivery man came into our teacher room in with a bottle of Coke.  I went back to work in my cubicle thinking nothing of it, but next thing I know, I’m being invited over for a group meal of pizza and Coke with my co-teachers.  Turns out my 5th grade teacher ordered it to celebrate my first month in Korea and because she was angry at students (I think that was lost in translation haha).  Anyway, the first pizza I tried was the potato and bacon pie.  It was very decadent since it combined fatty meat, starches, and a ranch sauce.  The bacon was on the chewier side and had little to no seasoning (neither smoking nor encrustments).  Crunchy bacon lovers look elsewhere if you’re getting this pizza.  It was like having a loaded baked potato sans sour cream on a pizza because there wasn’t the traditional layer of tomato sauce underneath the cheese.  I’ll comment on the crust at the end since it’s unlike anything I’ve ever had.IMG_0003

The second pizza consisted of the same crust and was sporting not just cheese but zucchini, sausage, and pineapple.  The cheese and lack of sauce was similar to the previous pie, but the other toppings were surprisingly tasty together.  Now I, along with one of my heroes, Anthony Bourdain, think that Hawaiian pizza is one of the worst creations in the world.  I mean, who puts ham and pineapple on a pizza?  Blasphemy, I say, but with this Pizza Etang pinapple pizza, it somehow changed my mind in regard to pineapple’s status in the hierarchy of pizza toppings.  I think that it helped that the sausage crumbles it was paired with had slight bacon and herbal tones to lessen the saccharine overtones of the pineapple pieces.  The zucchini also managed to contribute a complimentary, earthy springboard from which the previously mentioned flavors could fully express themselves on my palate.  As the first pizza had a drizzling of ranch dressing in a spiral pattern, this pineapple pizza had barbecue sauce.  This savory element with the pork sausage and pineapple made it taste like I was at some sort of Hawaiian luau.  Take notes American pizza chains!  Now to the oddest part of the pizza:  the crust.

Coming from Chicago, I’ve seen my fair share of pizza crusts from the worst frozen cardboard disks to deep dish wonders of flour and buttery perfection.  Now that I’m in Korea, some of the creations I have tried have been complete game-changers.  Pizza Maru promoted their healthy dough that contained green rice and black Korean rice, but Pizza Etang went in their own direction with the actual construction of the crust that seemed to be flour based (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was rice-based, though).  Right after the cheese/toppings ended on the slice, I entered an area that was somewhat amorphous with the actual crust handle of the slice.  It was dusted with minuscule, toasted potato shavings and beneath it was an extremely thin layer of Korean sweet potato baked into the crust.  I had to closely inspect a slice to see what was causing the crust to taste so scrumptious, and when I found the lurking tubers, it made sense why the crusts provided the perfect semi-sweet flourish to each slice.

So if you’re looking to try some pizza with a unique crust and fresh toppings in Incheon and probably Seoul, try Pizza Etang!

Meat and Greet

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Hello everyone once again to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be talking about a few different types of food that I tried over the weekend.  The first was samgyeopsal which is part of the litany of things that Koreans love to barbecue.  They’re basically large strips of bacon minus the seasonings, but they taste so delicious no matter what.  While the bacon was sizzling on the grill, we had plenty of different types of banchan or side dishes to try.  I passed on the macaroni salad, but  I did enjoy the fresh tofu jjigae or tofu soup.  We also threw a couple cloves of garlic on the grill to give the bacon a bit more of a savory flavor.  After about ten minutes, we had our pieces of bacon cut up with the scissors they give you when you sit down.  You can take each piece and put some of the onion vinegar sauce on it or perhaps some of the red chili sauce depending on if you want it spicy or not.  Then you put it in a pepper leaf or a lettuce leaf and enjoy your delicious wrap.  They also gave us pieces of what we assumed were mushrooms to also grill since they had an almost meaty aftertaste mixed with earthy overtones when consumed.IMG_1290

Going from one type of meat to another, the following night I met up with friends in Gangnam to try Chinese lamb skewers at Gayang located at 강남구 역삼 1동 817-21 .IMG_1294  It was a very anonymous place that really didn’t have a line out the door like some of the other bbq places, but this grilling dinner was a bit different.  Instead of just doing the usual Fred Flintstone method of grilling with slapping big pieces of meat on  hot metal, we were doing more of a marshmallow method of grilling.  We got four total portions of skewers since we were quite hungry, but it’s not the cheapest meal out there at 10,000 won per serving.  However, you get roughly ten skewers, and the experience was worth it.  The lamb grilled up nicely with very little fat, and it came with a dry chili based rub that had clear cumin elements with a little garlic. The banchan was pretty typical, but I did enjoy the boiled peanuts and the sweet onions.  If you’re looking for something a bit different from Korean bbq, check out the Chinese lamb place in Gangnam.

The final part of this food trilogy entry deals with a spur of the moment food encounter.  After going to a couple bars in Gangnam, my friend Steph and I decided to try some street food at one of the stalls in the alley.  They were doing good business, so we just picked a mix of different fried foods.IMG_1304 (800x600)  We ended up having deep fried kimbap (rice rolls), deep fried plantains, and fried meat dumplings.  The kimbap were ok with small glass noodles, but the meat dumplings were decent since the meat had a great seasoning blend that made it taste like shepherd’s pie a little bit.  However, the flat pancake plantains were the best since they tasted like sweet potatoes but were almost too sweet.  We still aren’t sure what they were, but we were happy to experience an authentic part of Korean culture.

I Found My Thrill…

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Hello to everyone out there in the blogosphere to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  For those first viewing this site, I review restaurants in Chicago/the Chicagoland area/anywhere I’ve traveled.  Today will be a short but savory post.  Most people say that eating a hearty breakfast is the cornerstone to a productive day, but I’ve found that most people are too busy (or can’t schedule their time properly) in the morning to even grab a bite to eat.  However, if you do have more than five minutes to rush out the door, I would like to tell you about a great breakfast restaurant for any type of eater.  It is called Blueberry Hill located at 7340 Illinois 83 Darien, IL.

I have been to this establishment many times after hearing my mom rave about the variety of items they offer, and the high quality of said items.  I’m pleased to let you know that her claims were not some sort of culinary El Dorado or Utopia.  One of the only downsides about this restaurant is that it gets very crowded in the morning on weekends, and it stays open only until three p.m.  So bring your appetites and patience when dining here because you might have to battle the hordes for a table.  Thankfully, when I most recently ate there, it was crowded per usual, but we managed to get a table in fifteen minutes thanks to their efficient wait staff.  As I looked over the menu, I was sucked into their lunch options, but I decided to get a breakfast item since it is their signature meal.  Finally I saw something that caught my eye:  an avocado, bacon, and tomato omelet.  I also chose the complementary side of Greek toast instead of the side of pancakes.  A quick aside, for those not from Chicago/Chicagoland, Greek toast is basically thicker slices of toast that have sesame seeds on the crust.  Apparently it’s called Texas Toast in other parts of the country according to my friends.

Big portion, even bigger flavor

Big portion, even bigger flavor

When it finally came out, I was confronted with an omelet that most likely was made with an ostrich egg in terms of the overall size of it.  The first bite was nice and fluffy with tiny pieces of crunchy, but not burnt, smoked hickory bacon and large chunks of creamy avocado.  Unfortunately, the tomatoes were not as plentiful as the aforementioned two items, but they were still quite fresh when I stumbled upon them in the yellow fields of the omelet.  I kicked it up a notch with a couple soupçons of Louisiana Hot Sauce to give my meal a bit of that south-of-the-border/Mason Dixon line taste.  The Greek toast was perfectly toasted with a golden brown hue and a thick coating of sesame seeds on the crust.  There were even small slices of fresh cantaloupe and an orange slice on the side to provide some sort of healthy twist to this extremely unhealthy meal.  I ate both, but the orange slice had a prodigious amount of seeds in it.  So chomp away at your own peril.  If there was any part of the meal that really did not impress me was the steaming potatoes that were the side to the omelet.  They were essentially chopped potatoes that were steamed and therefore devoid of any real flavor.  However, most people would be stuffed after eating that gigantic omelet, so perhaps they don’t put as much effort into improving the potatoes.  Either way, I was very satisfied with the meal.

So if you want to give breakfast and your stomach the respect they deserve, roll out of bed and down to Blueberry Hill to find your gastronomic thrill!

Blueberry Hill Pancake House on Urbanspoon

Blueberry Hill Pancake House on Foodio54

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