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Costa Rica (Day 5)- Sloth Sanctuary = BOO-YA, Grandma!

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BARKBARKWOWOFOFUFFUFUFWOOFFBARKBARK!!!!!!!  We awoke in Costa Rica on day five of our vacation to the calming sound of a loudly barking pack of dogs at 5 am.  We had made friends with them the night before when we arrived at Kenaki Lounge, so I would have thought that they would have at least kept the woofing to a minimum before 8 am.

So friendly at night.

So friendly at night.

Instead, we found that the entire pooch army had encamped right outside our door with the big Great Dane literally like a giant rock wedged up against our sliding door.  With a bit of finesse and good humor, we got the big guy out of the way, and he greeted me with a smooch.IMG_5231  The sun hadn’t risen yet, but our lodging was quite luscious in the daytime.  IMG_5232We set out to see the beach that was right across the dirt road in front of our hotel, and after a bit of bushwhacking through some mud and palm trees, we finally managed to reach the Caribbean Sea.IMG_5234  The sunrise was absolutely beautiful; I really couldn’t say that about the beach.  Compared to the clear, sapphire waters on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, the turgid waters were silty and poo colored like the sand on our sandals.  It was more jungle-esque with more bugs too, but both were pretty in their own unique ways.  After walking back, we managed to find a normal path that we could have taken initially instead of jumping over soggy, muddy ditches.  We arrived back at our room to be summoned for a fresh breakfast of fruit and gallo pinto, of course, to be eaten on the deck in the open air.

Our view over breakfast

Our view over breakfast

IMG_5250IMG_5244  The starfruit were my favorite additions to the fruit plate since they were juicy yet sour which provided a nice contrast to the juicy watermelon and sweet pineapple.   On the side, we had a hot cup of tea along with a mix of papaya and orange juice. IMG_5245 Normally, I’m not a huge fan of papaya (the orange slice on the fruit plate) since it doesn’t really taste like much aside from the occasional hint of fecal matter.  I know it sounds odd, but that’s just my impression of it.  By the time we were chowing down on the last delicious remnants of our breakfast, our driver Rigoberto had arrived to whisk us to what we had been waiting for the entire trip:  the sloth sanctuary!!  When we arrived, we could hardly contain our excitement as everything sloth was surrounding us (even the road signs). IMG_5255 Our first close encounter with one of the slow creatures was with Buttercup; the local sloth diva that I ate fruit with before Janice broke down like a fan-girl. IMG_5260 We went on a canoe ride throughout the neighboring lagoon complete with pooping and screaming howler monkeys whose hoots echoed through the thick jungle air.  We then experienced such highlights like meeting baby sloths, feeding two toed sloths, and shaking hands with three toed sloths. IMG_5533 IMG_5298 Some fun facts we learned about the sloths include:  they’re related to armadillos and anteaters; they’re cold blooded mammals; and they can move as fast as an average human jogging if necessary.  Sadly, we eventually had to leave the wonderful paradise, but that meant that Rigoberto was going to bring us to a great Costa Rican restaurant that served food that was grilled right in front of your eyes.  Unfortunately, when we got there, the guy waved us away, but it was a blessing in disguise.  We went across the street to another Costa Rican greasy spoon diner called “Soda El Oasis“. IMG_5308 It looked a world away from the first soda we went to given that everything looked spotless from the walls to the silverware even though it was in the middle of a small town called Pocora. IMG_5307 Looking over the menu, which was just a whiteboard on the wall, I went for an order of carne ahumada (smoked meat), a cheese empanada, and a blackberry milkshake. IMG_5306 Janice got arroz con pollo (chicken with rice), and it was absolutely mind-blowing.  I don’t know if it was the spices, or the way they fried the rice, but it made me wish I got a side order of it.  As for my plate, the meat was off the hook or perhaps the grill with the wood-smoked flavor that thoroughly permeated every juicy bite. IMG_5309  The casado combined with the chayote mixed very well with the pork, and the light, mixed salad on the side countered the heartier half of the plate.  As for the empanada, it was a semi-fail since they gave me a chicken one instead of cheese.IMG_5311  It was good but not great by comparison to the rest of the meal.  Once we finally completed the long trek back to San Jose and bid farewell to good, ol’ Rigoberto, we decided to descend into the madness that was downtown San Jose in the middle of rush hour.  Our cab driver was trying his best to make his way through the chaotic and severely congested streets as hordes of people streamed past our windows and a thick blanket of exhaust wafted through my nostrils.  Eventually, we arrived at the main cathedral in the heart of San Jose.  It was rebuilt after an earthquake according to a security guard who proceeded to give me an entire history of the site after I crossed myself upon leaving.  We also saw the National Theater and the Central Market located on Avenida Central. IMG_5320IMG_5324 It was super busy like everywhere else in the area and was pickpocket central, so be wary with your possessions when walking through the masses.  We hit up a local bakery to get some pastries for next day’s breakfast, and I couldn’t wait to try them.  It made me even hungrier by the time we got back to the condo.  Word on the street was that La Casa de Mi Abuela (My Grandmother’s House in Spanish) was the place to eat at in San Jose, and strangely enough it was run by an expat Canadian.  It was in a strip mall nearby our timeshare that seemed quite abandoned, but the exploration was worth it.IMG_5325  We were the only people in the restaurant, so we got extremely personal service.  IMG_5326Turns out the owner was originally from New Brunswick, but it seems that the pura vida lifestyle called him back.  He was super friendly and polite like all Canadians I’ve met which was one of many pluses for this establishment.IMG_5327IMG_5328  I was quickly acquainted with the only downside of the restaurant:  the bathroom.  It was the dirtiest thing in probably the whole of Costa Rica as the owner winced when I asked him where it was.  He handed me a bottle of hand sanitizer, and bade me the best of luck.  Goody.  I undid the lock on the bathroom door (always promising), walked in, and it looked like I was going to get shanked if I didn’t do my business fast enough.  I hustled, and returned to order my meal.  Out of all of the small places throughout Costa Rica we went to, that bathroom was the dirtiest place we saw, and we went to small truck stop bathrooms in the jungle.  Bathroom antics aside, I got an order of the ribs with a glass of guanabana and blackberry juice.  Janice got the homemade pork sausages with mixed veggies and hand-ground mustard sauce.  While waiting for our meat to be grilled on the griddle out front,IMG_5329IMG_5331 we were treated to some complimentary garlic bread, rice, Nicaraguan red beans, and a homemade spicy sauce.  Everything was delicious, including the beans and rice. IMG_5342 Surprisingly, we weren’t sick of them because they were different than the typical black beans of the casado or kidney beans in gallo pinto, but rather they were bigger and slightly harder.  Plus, the spicy sauce was a slighty sweet and smoky bbq flourish that I was digging.  The garlic bread was sliced into irregular squares, but the owner went hard on the garlic cloves and the butter. I was in heaven.IMG_5332  The party really got started when I asked the owner if he had any guaro or sugar cane liquor, the local alcoholic beverage of choice.  He gave me another sideways look and just matter-of-factly asked, “Why?”.  I responded that I just wanted to try it, so he brought out two shot glasses.  He bade us luck, and I took it down while Janice sipped it. IMG_5335IMG_5341 I would liken it to a slightly sweet, slightly watered down vodka that isn’t as disgusting as Korean soju.  The owner was acting like it was Spirytus, but clearly he wasn’t of a stronger constitution like moi.  Janice also got the same drink as me, so she mixed it in with her juice.  Like vodka, it mixed very well.  Alcohol aside, the guanabana and blackberry juice was the ideal combo of sour and sweet to be paired with our savory plates that were eventually placed in front of us. IMG_5330 My ribs looked delectable, and I could smell the rich pork flavor wafting past my nostrils. IMG_5346 I took a bite, and it made me smile like a three toed sloth.  The food coma that would ensue later would make me move just as fast as they do.  I splashed some of the spicy bbq sauce from the beans and rice on top of the pork ribs, and it really gussied them up to go to the food jamboree in my stomach.  I really appreciated the ribs’ grease level since it was just the right amount that enhanced the flavor, but did not result in my hands looking like I washed my hands with baby oil.  Janice’s pork sausages by themselves were ok.IMG_5343  True, they had a softer casing that didn’t have a signature pop like Chicago hot dogs have, but the handground mustard sauce saved this dish. IMG_5344 It was a combo of Dijon and honey that enriched the pork but didn’t overwhelm my tastebuds.  The sauteed veggies on the side were competently made, but nothing really noteworthy.  By that point, we were thoroughly stuffed.  We paid the bill and made our way home looking at the stars in the darkness while holding hands hoping our trip would never end.

Make Your Own Froyo? YOLO!

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So I’m sure that you have read all about my terrifyingly spicy experience at Onnuriye Donkatsu in my last post, so here is the follow up to what happened after my challenge.   My stomach still was feeling a bit funky even with consuming the antacid, white rice, and milk, so we decided to get frozen yogurt to sooth my scorched tummy.  We ended up going to Snow Spoon Cafe which is located in Hongdae, Seoul.  You come out of exit 9 at the Hongik University stop.  Then you turn left and turn right at the first street on your right.  There should be trees on both sides of the street.  You keep walking till you cross another street and keep heading straight until you see the Super 7 club on your left hand side.  The cafe occupies an entire corner of the building, so you can’t miss it.IMG_0702

When we walked in, it was semi-full of college students seemingly unable to choose what they wanted because not only did they have 10 different flavors, but they also had a fixins bar that seemed a bit healthier than the froyo places back home, i.e. more fruit and nuts instead of brownie bites and cookie dough chunks.  I guess Koreans haven’t gotten the hang of making healthy things unhealthy like Americans can do so easily.  If you don’t want frozen yogurt, they also have gelato, funny looking ice cream bars, and ice cream sandwiches. Flavor-wise, they had some stalwarts like plain, chocolate, and strawberry, but then they became a bit more mysterious.  I decided to get one flavor that was simply called “Blue”, and it had a picture of Santorini’s classic whitewashed houses interspersed on a mountainside while an endless blue horizon spread out behind it.

Greeks:  known for Democracy and ice cream?

Greeks: known for Democracy and ice cream?

What it would taste like?  I had no clue.  Maybe it would be indescribable, or maybe it would taste like gyros or souvlaki given the Greek picture.  Then I moved down the line to get the rice flavored frozen yogurt.  You read that right:  rice froyo.

Only in Asia

Only in Asia

Though this wouldn’t be the first time I ate ice cream made with rice.  The last flavor I got was blackberry.  I can only take so much razzmatazz in one cup.  I garnished my creation with some trail mix and gummi bears since I can’t say no to any form of gummi candy.  They charge you by weight, so I paid about 5,000 Won for a good amount of ice cream.

As for the actual flavors, they quickly put out the fire burning within my lower torso with panache.

Diabetes?  YOLO

Diabetes? YOLO

The blackberry flavor was delicious since it actually tasted like eating fresh blackberries minus the pesky seeds.  Then came the rice which was really odd because I couldn’t determine whether it had more of a vanilla flavor profile to it, or perhaps it was more like the plain frozen yogurt option.  Finally, there was Blue.  It definitely was the superstar of my cold creation much like the Eiffel 65 hit circa 1999, but it definitely wasn’t played out by any means from my first spoonful to my last.  Turns out it tasted like a tropical fruit punch of sorts. As a whole, my experience was a satisfying spectrum of flavors that ranged from more conventional to the more bizarre yet surprisingly delectable.

A French flag of funky flavors

A French flag of funky flavors

So if you’re looking to eat some delicious frozen goodies in South Korea, check out Snow Spoon.  It’s the perfect treat anytime whether that is after surviving one of Hongdae’s ear-splittingly loud clubs or just on a whim to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Hair of the Waygookin

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  However, this is not any regular edition of my wonderful food blog, but rather it is my 60th post.  I never honestly thought I would stick with writing a food blog for this long, but when I realized that people from all over the world enjoy my food adventures, I kept the reviews and ideas flowing.  So if you have any suggestions for new restaurants and/or new foods to try, please send them my way.  I appreciate all of the views my blog has gotten so far, thanks! Anyway,  I decided to do something a bit different for my 60th post where I would comment on the different types of drinks I have tried while living in Korea.  First, I’ll go for the lifeblood of Korean nightlife:  soju.

King of Korea

King of Korea

Soju is an interesting character in comparison to all of the other types of  drinks I have tried.  I had briefly tasted it stateside when I went to a Korean restaurant/noraebang for karaoke, but I didn’t really remember it making much of an impact on my palate.  However, upon arriving in Korea, I was in the middle of many toasts with co-workers, new friends I made through my orientation program, and old friends who were already living in Korea.  Soju is probably consumed more than water here, and it’s definitely cheaper than water in 7-Elevens.  Plus, in orientation we were informed that it is the number one liquor in the world in terms of consumption even above Smirnoff vodka.  Then again, after watching drunk Korean businessmen stumble down the street on Tuesday nights, I’m not surprised.  As for the actual taste, it kind of is like Korea’s answer to vodka.  It’s clear, nearly scentless, and can be used with many different mixers.  However, there is a somewhat off-putting, slightly sweet aftertaste if you take it in shot form.  A Korean friend told me the taste is due to the distilling process since soju is no longer derived directly from rice but rather through using artificial sugars and potatoes or tapioca roots.

The fancy bottle hides a nasty surprise inside

The fancy bottle hides a nasty surprise inside

I even tried a different soju that was distilled with turmeric,  pears, and ginger to name a few ingredients.  It didn’t go down so well since it tasted like vodka mixed with an herbal tea.  So that’s a little blurb for you liquor-only drinkers.  Next is for wine afficionados:  bokbunja and flower wine.

Bokbunja is a traditional Korean blackberry wine that was exquisite.IMG_0023  It tasted similar to a Western sweet red variety or for those who are not well versed in wine types, it had a very high sugar content.  Ergo, it seemed closer in taste to fruit juice in comparison to a more intense and full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon.  Another fun fact about this delicious Korean wine is that supposedly it promotes mens’ sexual health and drive.  Personally, I didn’t feel any sort of heightening of my sexual spidey senses or anything like that.  Perhaps it’s just another gimmick to sell more wine.  As for the flower wine, I have sampled two varieties:  Baekhwaju and another variety that I don’t know the name of.  The Baekhwaju is made with over 100 different flowers (Baek in Korean means 100), and it was very smooth.IMG_0025  It was like drinking a chamomile tea with minimal alcohol aftertaste.  The other bottle was a bit more intense in regard to flavor, and I think that it might have been Dugyeonju which is made with azalea petals.IMG_0024  It was slightly more viscous than the 100 flower wine which also added a texture factor that I didn’t particularly enjoy.  Moving on from that slightly negative note, next is a rice wine that I greatly  relish in imbibing.

Makkoli is a rice wine that I actually really enjoy compared to the other Korean beverages I’ve tried so far.IMG_1172  I knew Japan had its signature sake rice wine, but I didn’t know that Korea had their own version of it.  While sake is consumed either cold or warm, Makkoli is typically consumed while cold.  It’s a blend of rice, wheat, and water which ends up as a drink that looks almost like milk.  The first time I had Makkoli was during our orientation trip to Ganghwa island outside of Incheon, and we had lunch at a peasant village with a Korean tour group.  While we were eating our kimchi and chapchae, a bright green bottle caught my eye on the table.  I poured some of the milky liquid into my cup, and I was very satisfied with the taste.  It was almost like drinking a carbonated vanilla milkshake minus the richness of the butterfat and instead had a slight alcohol aftertaste.  Still, not too bad, and I definitely enjoy it more than drinking soju even though both have very low alcohol percentages.  Then there is Korean beer…

Buying mekju in Korea is buying in bulk

Buying mekju in Korea is buying in bulk

Asia really isn’t known for having amazing beer like traditional  brewmasters Germany, England, and the USA due to varying local resources, but Korean breweries have seemingly modeled most of their beers off of many of the large American lagers like Budweiser and Coors.  The three biggest brands are Hite, OB, and Cass.  I’ve tried all three, and they’re nothing to brag about.  They’re pretty run of the mill in terms of taste (minimal hops and quite thin in regard to body), but at least they’re affordable compared to foreign beers.  Sadly they don’t have any dark beer to speak of, but beggars can’t be choosers when in a different place.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this special post celebration 60 wonderful posts of food and drink adventures.  Raise a glass and here’s to 60 more!

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