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Not Phonomenal

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be talking about a partially failed food mission that ended up turning out alright in the end.  At first, I was planning on trying Taco Cielo in the south of Incheon, but for some reason, they were closed on a Saturday afternoon (because you totally wouldn’t make any money then).  Not to be deterred, I knew that O’Malley’s Irish Pub was right next door, and I wouldn’t have minded sinking my choppers into a juicy burger or some other form of deep-fried bar food.  Unfortunately, their sign said that they didn’t open until 6 pm.  Talk about being on a roll.  I ended up going to a Vietnamese restaurant I saw during my walk to Taco Cielo called Pho Mein.  It’s located across the street from the main Shinsegae Department Store in Incheon.  Here is their website (sorry, it’s only in Korean) http://phomein.com/Main/.IMG_0449

Even though I suffered some initial setbacks, this gourmand was gunning to try Korea’s take on a Vietnamese classic dish, and I was pleased when I first walked through the door.  Although it didn’t possess the Southeast Asian hustle and bustle charms of Tank Noodle like back home in Chicago’s Argyle neighborhood, a.k.a. Little Saigon, (See:  “Getting Tanked“) its slick, modern decor made for a very comforting dining experience.IMG_0452  I decided to order a large bowl of the large spicy pho (12,000 Won).  I was kind of curious to see if the Koreans were actually going to make it spicy or just Kimchi spicy which is quite mild when it comes to bringing the heat.  Not only do they serve pho, but they also have fried rice dishes and meat dishes like fried cashew chicken.  While I was waiting, I saw that they had a bottle of hoisin sauce and another bottle of red chili sauce along with chopsticks, spoons, and napkins.  They also provided me with a complimentary carafe of cold green tea which was quite refreshing during this increasingly humid Korean summer.   My giant bowl of soup quickly came out to my table in probably 10 minutes.  I could then tell that this very flavorful dish was subdued for Korean tastes aside from the spice level.

Uhh, what the phok?

Uhh, what the phok?

 That was the first surprise as the devilishly red beef broth provided me with a good burn that I have been missing in Korea for so long now.  The thin and long rice noodles were expertly made al dente, and the thin slices of beef melted in my mouth.  The more subdued parts of the meal were exemplified in the garnishes that were provided with my bowl of pho.  I was supplied with yellow pickled radish pieces, sweet pickled onions, and raw bean sprouts instead of the more fanciful flavors of cilantro, lime, and jalapenos.  The lack of traditional garnishes reflected the Korean adaptation of the Vietnamese classic for local palates to my great displeasure.  Plus, compared to Tank Noodle’s version of pho, there was no tripe or sweet basil floating in the broth which definitely took away a certain exotic element from the food.

Overall, I was pleased with the amount of food that I got for the price, and it was a solid meal.  However, the fact that it was Koreanized took away from its potential to be a truly great dish.  So if you’re looking to try a little bit of Vietnam in Korea, I’d recommend Pho Mein for its excellent service, lovely surroundings, and competently made food.IMG_0450

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Someone’s Using Their Noodle

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I am going to be talking about a restaurant that my Korean coteacher had been raving about for weeks to me that I should try since it had the best Pad Thai and noodle dishes in the world.  The place in question is called Noodle Box.  It’s a chain that can be found in Incheon and Seoul, but I went to the location in Itaewon since I couldn’t find the one in Bupyeong in Seoul.  Here is their website:  http://www.noodlebox.co.kr/noodlebox/.

So I found the one in Itaewon quite easily after walking straight out of exit three.  I was confronted with a sleek and minimalist exterior.IMG_1724  On the inside, it had the same theme with hard wood floors, stainless steel lunch counters, and slate walls.  For some reason it reminded me of a fancier version of Chipotle.  Anyway, I was looking at their menu, and I saw the famous Pad Thai that my coteacher had been yammering for ages about.  Then again, I want to try something that might be a hidden gem on the menu, so I got the Thai chili noodles (6,300 W).  My thirst for adventure was rectified by the end of the meal.IMG_0243 After giving my order to the cashier, I helped myself to some free, cold water which I definitely appreciated on a humid day like yesterday.  After about 5-7 minutes, I received my meal in a moderate sized box that ended up being jam-packed with flavor.IMG_0244

When I first opened it up, I was greeted with a thick layer of bean sprouts.

Sprouts on sprouts on sprouts

Sprouts on sprouts on sprouts

They were fresh and crispy, but I soon dove further beneath this superficial layer of cellulose to find the spicy noodles.  There were plenty of flat, stir-fried rice noodles that were bathing in a devilishly red chili sauce.

Cultural Note:  Even though it's a great pic, sticking chopsticks in food like this is considered impolite.

Cultural Note: Even though it’s a great pic, sticking chopsticks in food like this is considered impolite.

 I knew what I was getting into with the three peppers on the menu, and I was pleasantly surprised at the spice level.  I would liken it to a very mild habanero like bite.  The sauce itself was not overly sweet, and the individual ingredients that were lurking amongst the noodles intrigued me.  Just when I thought it was just bean sprouts and noodles, a couple of mushrooms would poke their chewy caps out of the carb laden forest, or some thin but large pieces of sauteed pork would saunter out to be enjoyed .  The pork was juicy and tender, and there were even mussels in the mix sans their signature black shells.  By the time I reached the bottom of the box, I was quite full and satisfied with my blazing noodles.

Remnants of a delicious meal

Remnants of a delicious meal

So if you’re looking for a quality restaurant that serves more than just japchae and naengmyeon, head on down to Noodle Box to get a little more flavor to savor.

A Lot(teria) of Food

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Hello to everyone and welcome to another scrumptious edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I was kind of a fatty with how many things I tried, but I’m pretty sure that I’ll never eat at this place again since I don’t like to eat a lot of fast food very often.  The place I’m talking about is Lotteria.  Living in South Korea, it seems that three retail companies run/own everything:  Lotte, HomePlus, and E-Mart.  When I say own everything, their names are even on residential apartment buildings.  Talk about corporate branding run amok but just another little quirk of living in a different place.  Anyway, corporate omnipresence aside, I felt the need to try Lotteria since I never heard of it, and it seemed to be Korea’s answer to McDonalds.

It looked pretty much the same like any fancy McDonalds, but I saw some interesting options like squid rings and red crab bites  However, I don’t even eat Filet O’Fishes back at home, so there was no way I was going to be eating seafood here.  I ended up ordering the vegetable rice bulgogi burger and the shake shake chicken.  Oddly, they ended up giving me a Hanwoo Lady burger too for some reason, so I wasn’t going to argue with extra food since I’m pretty sure I’ve lost weight here with all of my radish, seaweed, and fermented cabbage ingestion.  Plus, the burgers are smaller here than in the States, naturally.

Got rice cake?

Got rice cake?

I started with the Hanwoo burger that consisted of Hanwoo beef and rice cake mixed into one patty with peppers, gochujang (red pepper sauce), mayo, and lettuce on top.  To start off, the patty was kind of bizarre.  I could taste the succulent beef, but I was oddly grossed out by the rice cake since it added a rubbery texture that offset the great beef.  I enjoyed the condiments too since it added a slightly spicy, Korean twist on an already interesting burger.  Once I got over that first mini-course, I tried the vegetable rice bulgogi burger.  This really threw me for a loop as I saw that the buns were actually made of steamed rice and dotted with corn, seaweed, and carrots.IMG_1282  Even though you would think eating a burger with rice for buns would be an absolute mess, it surprised me greatly at its versatility.  The rice, mayo, and bulgogi all came together perfectly like three drunk Korean businessmen at a noraebang (karaoke room).  It was something that looked completely ridiculous and excessive (especially with the mayo that I scraped off), but it wasn’t too bad overall.  The final act in this three-part gastronomic play was the shake shake chicken

And I helped!

And I helped!

.  It was basically the Korean fast food version of Shake and Bake.  I put the “Mexican chili” powder in the bag and shook away.  What I ended up with was small pieces of succulent chicken with what seemed like a cumin based chili powder.  I was just glad it wasn’t overly salty like ramen chili powder or Cajun powder they use on Five Guys fries.  Overall, I was pleased that I tried Lotteria because it led to me finding a mountain bridge in my neighborhood during a brisk walk after eating.  Who says fast food is solely a bad thing?

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