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Sundae Bloody Sundae/Jjampong All Night Long

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Hey hey, everybody!  Welcome to another masterful Mastication Monologues which is just getting better and better as my time in South Korea winds down.  Today I’ll be bringing you two Korean specialties that I had been hearing about for ages but never tried until now.  First, there is sundae (soon-day) which is not the ice cream treat everyone loves, but rather a sausage made with blood.  There is a similar type of sausage in other cuisines like black pudding in England, morcilla in Spain, or kiszka in Poland.  However, it’s not for everyone.  Naturally, I like going off the beaten path when it comes to food, so my friend Bora took me to a specialty sundae restaurant near Sillim station where we’d meet up with her other friend.  I didn’t know what exactly to expect as we walked up the stairs of a pretty dilapidated building, but I was surprised to see how big and popular the place was.IMG_1982  People seemed genuinely surprised to see me there as I walked past tables of soju drinkers inhaling the savory scents coming from the large grills in front of them.  I couldn’t get a good look at the food since the old woman server was gruffly dragging us to her table.  Once seated, we got some sweet aprons that were totally my style…I would be thankful for mine later on in the meal.

My fellow diners

My fellow diners

IMG_1976They supplied us with a complimentary bowl of grilled liver chunks doused with a sesame sauce and seeds.IMG_1979  It was a great antipasto since each piece was firm and packed with rich, meaty tones with shades of the sesame seeds mixed in.  Our brusque server proceeded to bring a large grill similar to the aforementioned ones and piled slices of burgundy sundae, chopped and oiled vegetables, and noodles on the hot surface.  After about ten minutes of waiting, it was deemed ready to eat.  IMG_1981They also provided some sort of chili sauce (center of the grill in the picture) with that seemed like chopped nuts on top which ended up tasting like spicy peanuts.  As for the melange of ingredients on the grill, they were fantastic on the whole.  The eatery’s specialty, the sundae, was slightly chewy but bursting with a slightly iron-rich tang.  My favorite part was the noodles when they fried to a crispy layer that added a welcomed crunch to a mostly chewy meal.  I started to slow down eating when my dining companions apparently ordered fried rice, but the restaurant supposedly didn’t have any more rice which was shocking.  So the server managed to get some out of her own secret stash in her bag (Why she was carrying rice in her bag in the first place is beyond me) along with some cut-up parsley.  It was nothing special.  However, what I had next was unique as being touted as the spiciest and most popular soup in Korea.

As if I thought I couldn’t eat anymore, Bora and Youngmi brought me to Shingildong Spicy Jjambbong located at 165-5 Shingil-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul   (신길동 매운짬뽕, 서울특별시 영등포구 신길동 165-5) for the spicy jjampong (seafood noodle soup) challenge.IMG_1983 It’s so popular in Korea that their main sign has all of the tv channels it has been featured on, and the actual name of the place is only a small name plaque hanging next to the building off a traditional Korean statue.

Black:  Singil-dong (neighborhood) Red- May Oon Jjampong or "spicy jjampong"

Black: Singil-dong (neighborhood)
Red:  May Oon Jjampong or “spicy jjampong”

For months, Bora and Youngmi had also prepped me for what to expect with the spicy jjampong including:  swollen lips, seared nostrils, and a scorched gastro-intestinal tract.  There have been cases of people passing out from the heat, and they have plastic bags in the bathroom for people throwing up.  The official policy is that you have to puke in the bag and throw it out elsewhere because the proprietors were tired of cleaning up the patrons’ stomach contents constantly.  How could I say no?  We first purchased plenty of dairy products to fight the inferno I was about to ingest and then walked in.IMG_1998  The owner was extremely gregarious and excited that a waygookin (foreigner) was going to take on the challenge.  Bora informed him I had tried the Drop Dead Donkatsu challenge before, and he said (in Korean), “The donkatsu is just spice with no flavor.  My jjampong is spicy and tasty.  In my kitchen, it’s pure science.”IMG_1987  After a couple snapshots, I sat down like a man condemned to his last meal as I looked around at all of the warning signs I was walking into a disaster.  Most of it was in Korean with warnings like “out of body experience”, “I shit fire”, or this lovely one.IMG_1994

Just slightly afraid.

Just slightly afraid.

Right before the soup came out, they gave me a mountain of pickled yellow radish slices which was another ominous omen. IMG_1985 Before I knew it, I was face to face with the infamous cauldron of doom. IMG_1988 My fear must have gotten the best of me as I was trying to find the right way to eat it and even forgot how to use chopsticks as shown in my video.  Skip ahead to 1:30 if you want to see me actually eating the noodles and skip all of my fumbling and commentary.

The fear is gripping me.

The fear is gripping me.

When the noodles finally got cool enough to eat, I slurped them up much to the horror of the spectators watching this exercise in pain.  I found the spicy kick to have an immediate effect, but it was mainly focused on my tongue as it was enveloped in a blanket of spice.

The spice has made me crazy!

The spice made me crazy!

It was like eating a mouthful of habaneros, but it wasn’t terrible.  The fumes were actually noxious and bothered my nose now and then, but Youngmi and Bora were actually coughing.  I picked out the mussels and focused on the noodles.  The owner came out to check how I was doing, and I was coping with it like a champ to his dismay.  So he then proceeded to feed me the broth on the spoon with a “here comes the airplane” baby technique which was pretty funny.  However, I realized that the broth was a million times spicier than the soaked noodles, and the vegetables were the worst part since they were like little sponges soaking up the devil’s potion.  Bora told me the radish slices are traditionally put on the tongue to alleviate the diner’s suffering, so I gave it a shot.  I think she just wanted me to look silly, but it did help a little bit.

Just playin' with my food

Just playin’ with my food

Overall, I came through with flying colors for my final spice challenge in Korea, and the owner was right; his soup was extremely flavorful with a spice that was the equivalent of a raging forest fire in my mouth.  So if you’re feeling like you’re up for a challenge or want to get a good laugh while watching your friends eat it/suffer through it, go to Spicy Jjampong.

I don't clown around when it comes to spicy food

I don’t clown around when it comes to spicy food.

Taiwan (Part 3)- Hot Pot to Trot in Taipei

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Hey everybody!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  While I’m still here keeping it cool and kickin’ it live in South Korea, I am slowly but surely winding down the last of my Chinese adventure posts where I try some weird and wacky foods that you just can’t find in Korea or anywhere else for that matter.  Today is a bit on the tamer side where I started off my day with a typical Taiwanese breakfast with my friend David’s family.

We went to a really small place that specialized in three key elements of a Taipei breakfast:  fantuan, youtiao, and soy milk.  First, there is the youtiao.  A lot of people back home in the States skip breakfast because they’re in a hurry or just don’t feel like whipping up a bowl of cereal (as if that takes a long time).  In Taipei, you can get the youtiao to go, and I know I would make it an occasional part of my morning routine.  The reason being is that youtiao is basically fried dough or the Taiwanese version of a doughnut.

Fried dough and milk?  I'll take it!

Fried dough and milk? I’ll take it!

You can eat it plain or dip it in some soy sauce if you’re looking for a savory side to your doughnut.  It wasn’t sugary at all like Western doughnuts, but it had a rich, buttery flavor and was not sopping in grease which was refreshing.  We even got a more modernized version of it with a  piece of youtiao and a mini egg and green onion omelet stuffed inside a sesame and poppy seed coated flatbread which is called  shāobǐng yóutiáo (燒餅油條) or youtiao flatbread.IMG_2587  I could only relate it back to a heartier and better version of the Egg McMuffin.  The flatbread was light and airy while the sesame seeds interacted well with the green onions in the eggs.  The other part of my breakfast was a fantuan which consisted of the aforementioned youtiao, pork floss, and pickled radish encapsulated in a layer of sticky rice.  While it was roughly the size of a potato, I was full after eating just one.  The cooks packed in a lot of tender, savory pork along with old, stiff youtiao that provided a spine of stability to the otherwise squishy foodstuff.  I washed all of it down with a iced cup of soymilk which was slightly sweetened but still maintained an earthiness that reminded me that I was drinking soybeans.  You can get your soymilk either iced or served warm in a bowl on the side like soup. Once we filled up on a lot of deep fried carbs, Christie and I were off again on another sight seeing adventure which would eventually bring us to the top of the Taipei 101 tower where we tried a beer float since we had two for one coupons.  It was pretty much a cup of Taiwanese beer with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it.

Classiest drink on top of the world

Classiest drink on top of the world

It wasn’t anything special, but it got better towards the end when the ice cream melted and blended with the light lager.

Christie obviously enjoyed her free drink

Christie obviously enjoyed her free drink

After the Taipei 101 Tower while we were walking and talking, I brought up how much I enjoyed taro root in my boba tea, so she took me to a dessert stand that was kind of like a make-your-own-sundae but focused mainly on taro root paste.IMG_0934  For about 200 TWD, you can get three different ingredients in your bowl.  I picked the taro root paste, tapioca balls, and pineapple.  They had other ingredients like this clear jelly, kiwi slices, and red bean paste to name a few.

Oodles of ingredients

Oodles of ingredients

They lumped all of it into a bowl along with some shaved ice so that it became more like a soup I had to scoop into my mouth.IMG_0937  Obviously, my favorite part was the tapioca balls because they were chewy and sugary, but the lumpy taro root kind of put a damper on my sugar rush since it was just a lumbering giant in a room of nimble tapioca sprites. Another sweet deal (pun intended) that they don’t charge you for is you can add as much ice and sugar syrup to your dessert.  I didn’t think mine was that sweet, so I gave it another ladle full of the syrup.  It was a bad choice.  I could only finish 3/4ths of it before I had to stop because it felt like my teeth were going to fall out, and I was about to have insta-Diabetes.  Word to the wise and Lil’ Wayne, go easy on the syrup.  I didn’t eat anything after that, and we had a brisk walk to multiple parks and temples before sitting down with the family for a late dinner in the middle of a typhoon rainstorm.

This dinner was like deja-vu for me once again because we were having hot pot.  I had had it before with the Wu family on New Year’s Eve 2012, and it had more of a spicy flair to it thanks to the Sichuan peppers they used in the pot.  However, Christie couldn’t take the really spicy stuff, so we only had a medium spice level on one side and a mild broth on the other.  However, that didn’t stop me from trying some new items on the menu like ligaments, Mitsuyaki jelly, and shrimp paste tempura.

Like bobbing for apples but more dangerous

Like bobbing for apples but more dangerous

How hot pot works is that you literally have a pot that is heated until boiling in the middle of the table, and then you throw everything in and eat it when it’s fully cooked.  Easy peasy.  I personally preferred the spicier side, per usual, and the contents of the pot did not disappoint.  For my first plate, I went all meat lovers on it.

Ligament on the left, beef up top, and two pieces of duck blood

Ligament on the left, beef up top, and two pieces of duck blood

I had duck blood which was as good as the Moon Cake dinner’s version but a bit spicier due to the broth it had been simmering in.  Then there was the pork and beef which were high quality cuts with very little fat and sliced almost paper thin to almost dissolve on the tongue.   Then there were my ligaments.  Now, they might sound like some terrible eats, but I have to disagree.   True, it may have taken a bit of chewing, but the rubbery texture gives way eventually and soaks up a lot of the flavor from the other meats bobbing in the devilish red soup.  When I was done gnashing away on the ligaments, I moved on to my second plate.IMG_0944  Here we can see the pork meatballs that were original residents in the spicy side of the bowl until I relocated their savory and seasoned selves to a new one floor house in my stomach.  Then there were the nuggets of shrimp paste that congealed and cooked in the spicy broth to create small shrimp clumps that tasted fried yet were boiled.  The lamb was on par with the beef and pork.  The final part of my plate consisted of the jelly noodles that I had never seen before.  IMG_0940They weren’t really that different from other Asian noodles in terms of taste and texture, but they looked more gelatinous and almost alien-like with their pre-cooked color compared to their more beige-hued state after stewing in the spicy broth.  Then there was my drink that was unlike anything I’ve ever had.

Darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.  Yeah, right.

Darker the berry, the sweeter the juice. Yeah, right.

To get drinks in this hot pot restaurant, you just got up and grabbed a bottle from the back freezers.  I saw normal stuff like Lipton iced tea and lemonade, but I saw a dark bottle with everything written in Chinese.  Naturally, I took the plunge.  It was an experience right off the bat.  First, to open the bottle, you had to use a sharp edge on the top of the cap to open the safety seal over the mouth of the bottle.  Then as I poured the extremely dark brown liquid into my cup, my dining companions informed me that it was plum juice, but I must drink it with ice to combat the strong taste.  I thought, ‘Really?  I thought plums were supposed to be sweet, and I love plums.  How bad could it be?’  It was unlike any plum I have ever tasted.  Instead, it tasted like I was drinking a bottle of barbecue sauce.  I don’t know if the ice mitigated any of the strong flavor, but it had all the smoky, mesquite-tinged makings of a grade A sauce to slap on a rack of ribs or some chicken breast.  That was a strange finish to an otherwise flawless dinner, and my night didn’t end there as I went out to two clubs in Taiwan while walking though a typhoon multiple times in the process.  If it wasn’t for my strong “plum” juice, I’d have withered in the face of the howling wind and rain instead of getting my groove on.

Hot pot dinner, I hardly knew ye

Hot pot dinner, I hardly knew ye

Next up, the last chapter in my Taiwan adventures where I eat the head of an animal.  A capybara?  A rabbit? A rat? You’ll just have to wait and see!

Taiwan (Part 2)- Delicious as the Dark Side of the Moon

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Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  If this is your first time coming on the site, I’ve been writing about my adventures to Hong Kong and Taiwan, so check out the previous posts if you want to get caught up with all of my latest dietary adventures.  Today’s post will be focusing on my second day in Taiwan which was very hot, humid, and happy since I tried a crazy amount of foods that I’ve never tried before.  First, there was the National Palace Museum restaurant.

If there is one museum you need to check out in Taipei, it’s the National Palace Museum.  The only downside is that it is jam-packed with hordes of Chinese tour groups.  Nevertheless, it’s filled with priceless Chinese antiquities that are simply breathtaking especially some of the precious jade statues.  Walking around the giant complex caused me to work up an appetite, so I tried their restaurant which is by the second exhibition hall.  I ended up getting the beef noodle soup with a side of “rice with lard”. IMG_0903 The beef noodle soup was similar to the bowl I had back in Hong Kong at Din Tai Fung, i.e. a beefy ambrosia of sorts.  As for the rice, it was great ,but I suspect there was a problem with the translation on the menu because I think what they meant was that it was fried rice with a slice of sweet potato on the top along with a soupçon of soy sauce.  I was expecting rice mixed with chunky white shortening or something along those lines.  Then there was dessert which was a tofu soup with peanuts. IMG_0905 I’m normally not a huge tofu eater, but I commend them for making the bland bean paste edible.  Then again it was quite easy since it was soaking in cold sugary soup along with semi-soft peanuts.  Not my all time favorite dessert, but at least I tried something new.  As a whole, this restaurant was alright for Taiwanese food, but nothing compared to my dinner with the Wu/Ni family.

While I was eating lunch, Ms. Wu called me up to arrange dinner plans with the family for the Moon Cake festival.  After a few brief conversations, I found myself later that afternoon at the San Want Hotel.  I met my friend David’s cousins and grandparents.  We exchanged a few pleasantries before getting down to business with the food.  My plate was quickly filled as everyone was chucking food at me to try, and I didn’t know where to start since it was all new to me.  I’ll start with the flaky pork buns and pickled chicken feet. IMG_0909 The former consisted of a ball of lightly seasoned pork nestled within a multi-layered, flaky dumpling shell.  As for the latter, they were a bit rubbery and thankfully lacking the bones of their dim sum counterparts I had back in Chicago.  They just really tasted briny with a hint of chicken.  Moving on from there, we had the duck blood which I was really jonesing to try since I heard it was a Taiwanese delicacy. IMG_0910 When I first saw the duck blood cakes, I thought they were large pieces of liver due to the texture and color, but when I popped the piece in my mouth, it didn’t have the same granular texture of liver.  Instead I was greeted with a rich, mildly iron-tinged caress from the sanguineous specialty.  I liked it.  Next came the barbecue pork buns which were like heaven.IMG_0911  Imagine a pulled pork sandwich minus the risk of losing a single shred of piggy.  It was a sweet and savory nugget of glory.  The following two dishes continued the line of fantastic foods. IMG_0912 First, there was the ginger beef which kind of tasted like something you could find at a Chinese American restaurant back home in terms of the ingredients found in the bowl like marinated pieces of beef in a garlic ginger sauce along with sprigs of green onions. IMG_0913 The other bowl contained a similarly stewed tofu dish that once again proved my hate for the squishy soy product wrong with its beefy gravy and peppers.  IMG_0915After these somewhat heavier foods, I took a break with a lighter type of dumpling that I could only liken to a Chinese version of a croquette, but the dough was fried minus bread crumbs.  On the inside there was minced beef along with vegetables. IMG_0916 The next food won points in my book not just for the rich seaweed taste, but also for presentation points.  This Taoist inspired soup was an egg based broth with an infusion of seaweed.IMG_0917    The last dinner course was the stinky fish rice which pretty much was what it sounds like, but it wasn’t as odoriferous as I was anticipating.  Either way, it was a well made fried rice with fresh and juicy pieces of fish.

Dessert was just as varied as dinner where there were many things that were new to me. IMG_0919 First, there was a crunchy noodle pancake which you first had to put sugar on it and then pour some vinegar over the sugar.  It was a strange yet satisfying mixture of crunchy fried noodles along with a sweet and sour flavor profile that complimented the bold texture. IMG_0920 I then had a sweet egg dumpling that had a similar soft exterior like the bbq pork buns, and the inside was slightly runny but very sweet.  Then there were three bowls of goo that all were delicious.  I felt like Goldilocks in the three bears’ house minus the flaxen locks and risk of being eaten by wild animals.IMG_0924  First, there was the taro root pudding which tasted like a taro root which can only be likened to a less intense sweet potato.  IMG_0925The second bowl was filled with tofu pudding which didn’t leave any sort of impression on me, but the last bowl definitely did.IMG_0922  It was filled with turtle jelly.  It’s made from turtle shells and a bunch of Chinese herbs, and it’s used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of ailments like acne and muscle aches.  This was the most unique of the trio since it was like eating jello infused with a slightly salty and very herbal Jaegermeister.  The honey that came on the side cut through some of the intense medicinal ingredients though.  Finally, we ended the meal with the traditional foods of the Moon Cake festival:  the moon cakes and pomelo. IMG_0921 The moon cakes were delicious as the buttery, crumbly dough gave way to a chocolate interior for one, chestnut and orange for another, and red beans for a more traditional one.  As for the pomelo, I could only liken it to a love child between a lime and a grapefruit in appearance.  Po-po (grandma) told me I should wear the rind on my head as part of the moon cake tradition with their family, but I broke it to her that my head was too fat to accomplish such a feat. IMG_0923 Instead, I enjoyed the slices of this fruit which looked like slices of white grapefruit with a similar sweet and acidic taste profile, but it had smaller seeds than a regular grapefruit.  It was a bittersweet end to a wonderful meal with a very generous and caring family that I was grateful to be with on such a special occasion.  I really appreciated it.

Next post I will be eating random objects out of a bubbling cauldron of soup.

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