RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Chinese

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

Posted on

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

Posted on

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.

Around the World In 80 Flavors

Posted on

Annyeong hasayo and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  So this past weekend was quite action packed, and I thought it was going to be a restful day on Cinco de Mayo.  Korea had other thoughts.  Instead, I found myself outside in the middle of Seoul on a beautiful day at an international food festival.  There were tents all over the streets surrounding the Seoul city hall where people from all over the globe were offering opportunities for visitors to learn something new about a different culture through music, clothes, and my favorite, food.  It was extremely crowded for some interesting  countries that I wouldn’t have expected like Kyrgyzstan with their shish kebabs or Iraq with their own version of doner kebab.  I guess people can’t get enough of roasting meat over open flames on sticks.  Perhaps it hits some sort of primal chord within us that hearkens all the way back to our prehistoric ancestors when they felled their first woolly mammoth and had history’s first barbecue.  I wasn’t swayed by the Central Asian sensation and instead went for the funkiest things I could find from countries’ cuisines that I have never sampled before.  First up, Kenya.

After breezing through Asia, Europe, and Latin America, we went to the African stalls.  Once we got to the Kenya tent, there was a delicious aroma wafting through the air, and we quickly found the source.

Now that's fresh

Now that’s fresh

It was the smell of fried mandazi.  They looked like gigantic samosas which are fried dumplings that contain vegetables and meat, but I was greatly mistaken when I was handed a freshly fried one and took a bite.

Needs more Amurcan fattening ingredients

Needs more Amurcan fattening ingredients

It was piping hot and perfectly fried to a golden-yellow similar to the sun that was shining that day, but it was a sweet, not savory, treat.  It was kind of like a freshly fried American donut but not as sweet.  My friend Ben said that it could use some powdered sugar, and I wholeheartedly agreed.  Either that or maybe some sort of dipping sauce.  Still, mandazi was a solid first choice out of many at the fair.  Next up, Iran.

I have had Persian food before, but I never saw these two types of food they were serving:  geimeh and zereshk polo.IMG_0158  I decided to only pick geimeh because the zereshk polo was pricier.  Geimeh has roots all the way back to Mesopotamia and is a stew containing lamb, tomatoes, peas, and onions while being garnished with potato fries and jalapeno peppers.  I also got some seasoned rice and a mini salad on the side.  Overall, it was a solid choice.IMG_0161  The stew was quite hearty with large pieces of lamb that were very tender and the vegetables added extra body to the stew.  It went very well with the rice that was seasoned with tomato paste, cumin, and tumeric and contained more peas and some carrots.  The salad was fresh but was not very impressive.  However, the potato fries were a unique element to the meal because they weren’t exactly like typical French fries because they were in some sort of spice that I couldn’t quite identify.  The last two snacks came from Asiatic countries:  Singapore and Malaysia.

I already knew the Singaporian cuisine is a reflection of all of the different ethnic enclaves that occupy the tiny but rich southeast Asian nation.  So when I saw small fried vegetable fritters, I could immediately see influences from both the Indian community with their love for fried treats like samosas while the cooks were using Chinese vegetables like bean sprouts, Chinese celery, carrots, bok choi, and spring onions. IMG_0162 It was about as big as my hand, but it was kind of a let down.  While it was expertly fried, the vegetables were drowned out by the greasy aftertaste of the dough.  There in lies the fine line one treads when frying food.  Harmony has to be struck between using enough batter while allowing the internal ingredients to shine.  While the Singaporean food let me down, my final choice from Malaysia ended up being the most bizarre and my favorite food out of all of them.

I saw no one was going to the Malaysia tent, so I walked up to see they were offering sago gula melaka a.k.a. “best seller” according to their sign that had the price slashed.  It was somewhat worrisome, but I asked them what it was.  They said it was, “Sweet dessert coconut”.  Those three words together sounded great to me, so I got one cup of it.  After about ten minutes of breaking into the Fort Knox of dessert cups, I opened the container to find something that looked absolutely disgusting.

A beast and a beauty in one

A beast and a beauty in one

It looked like someone puked in the cup and then threw in some pale yellow fish eggs that had congealed into a small sponge.  I was wondering to myself how could something so terrible looking actually be delicious?  I was quickly proven wrong when I took a spoonful of the brownish-white goop.  A perfect example of never judging a book by its cover.  It literally tasted like a vanilla pastry sprinkled with coconut.  Texture wise it was different too because it was semi-gummi but quickly disintegrated after a couple good chews.  This is because sago is derived from a plant similar to the tapioca root which is used in Asian cuisine to make gelatin.  The brownish white soup was palm sugar syrup which supplied the vanilla-esque sweetness.  Sago gula melaka is the prototypical ugly duckling of desserts in my experiences, but I would recommend anyone who has a sweet tooth to try it.

Overall I had a fun time at the food festival, and it just goes to show that if you try things that may seem scary, there really isn’t anything bad about them.  So follow your stomach and go explore the culinary wilderness!

Flick and Swish

Posted on

Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be talking about a Korean dish that is another adaptation of a “Japanese” dish:  shabu shabu.  First, even though everyone thinks that shabu shabu is Japanese, its roots stretch all the way back to Mongolia, and the meal was made popular in Japan after WWII.  Then Korea acquired it through Japanese occupation and made it their own.  Which brings me today when my principal and vice-principal treated all of the teachers to a celebratory dinner before the midterm exams at Yoree Shabu Shabu in Incheon.

I already knew that shabu shabu involved putting raw pieces of meat in boiling water, and then swishing them about to cook them.  Hence the name, “shabu shabu” which is supposed to be the onomatopoeic representation of the meat moving about in the bubbling cauldron of water.  So, when I sat down to enjoy the meal, I suddenly had a moment of deja-vu.

I think we've met before

I think we’ve met before.

Looking at the mini-mountain of beef bales and the steaming pot of broth, assorted greens, and enoki mushrooms, I was brought back to the Chinese/Taiwanese hot pot dinner at my friend David’s house (Part 1 and Part 2).  However, it was different because the broth was on the milder side instead of boasting bold Sichuan spices, and Yoree Shabu Shabu also allowed us to help ourselves to their buffet.  I’ll describe that later, but first, the shabu shabu.  Once I found some pieces of beef that were fully cooked, I gingerly took them out and placed them in the side dish of soy sauce, vinegar, and wasabi.

Yeah, I got a side of gummi bears with my shabu shabu.

Yeah…I got a side of gummi bears with my shabu shabu.

The meat was succulent and flavorful, but I personally wasn’t a fan of diluting the potent kick of the wasabi by putting it in the soy marinade.  I even noticed that there were a couple of pieces of orange squash that were bobbing about in the soup, but they didn’t have much flavor aside from the beef I was enjoying.  I did like the mushrooms and the greens though because they added some body to the meal, especially the kale leaves with their semi-bitter bite.   Shabu shabu aside, the buffet at Yoree was fantastic.  Not only did it have Western classics like bread that isn’t filled with sugar, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Caesar salads, but they even had pretzels filled with peanut butter and…gummi bears.  Yeah, I had to restrain myself from attacking the whole plate, but needless to say I was overjoyed at seeing gummi candy towards the end of the dessert table.  When I say “dessert” table, I just mean that there was fruit, not cake or anything like that.  They also had standard Korean dishes like different types of rice cake, apple salad, cucumber salad, and kimchi, per usual.

So overall, I had a great time at Yoree Shabu Shabu, and I recommend this place to anyone who wants to try a Korean twist on a Japanese classic or is missing some Western food but doesn’t want to go all the way to Itaewon to get some guilty pleasures.

From Snoop Dogg to Soup Dog

Posted on

DISCLAIMER:  If you are squeamish at the thought of eating dog meat, then stop reading here.  Now that I’ve warned you, I hope to not hear any sort of negative comments on how I’m a monster for eating pets or that the Korean people are cruel towards animals.

Hello and welcome to another very special edition of Mastication Monologues!  What makes it special?  Well, the food I tried this evening could be considered very controversial from a Western perspective.  After playing a couple of games of volleyball with my Korean co-workers, they remained faithful to indulge one of my wishes to try an element of Korean cuisine that Koreans nowadays are reluctant to acknowledge when in the presence of foreigners:  dog meat soup or bosintang.  While I have heard many people back home in the states make jokes that the Chinese and Koreans eat dogs regularly, this is no longer the case.  In the West, we see domesticated dogs as pets, and so do the Korean people.  The dogs that are bred for bosintang in Korea are different from domesticated dogs and are viewed as livestock like cows or chickens.  Where one draws the line at “pet” and food is completely arbitrary based on societal views.  Korean society most likely took the concept of eating dog from the Chinese centuries ago as there is an ancient Chinese manual that describes three types of dogs, “Ones for working, ones for living under the table, and ones to be eaten”.  One of the main reasons why dog meat was consumed was that it was considered to have medicinal properties that promote stamina and balance one’s qi (personal energy) during the hot days of Summer.  I also learned that Korean hospitals serve it to patients recovering from surgery because it encourages robust health.  However, just like in China, younger Korean generations are firmly against the consumption of dog but still respect the wishes of those who want to consume the “fragrant meat”.  All of this brings us to my meal.

First, the place that I went to, Oban Bosintang located at Gyeyang-gu Seoun-dong, was very secluded.

If you're looking for a doggone good time...

If you’re looking for a doggone good time…

We had to go down a small alley to actually find the place, and I definitely wouldn’t have known where to look if it wasn’t for my “uncle” teacher who is like my adopted father figure at work.  Hooray for Confucian values in the workplace!  Anyway, it was a very typical Korean restaurant inside with low tables and all of the side dishes laid out.  After taking in the ambiance, I was face to face with a small bubbling cauldron of copper-colored broth that seemed to be mostly filled with mixed greens like any normal jjigae.

Exhibit A:  Bosintang

Exhibit A: Bosintang

I then began to sift through the vegetables to find the dog, and I quickly muddled my way to hefty chunks of meat.  It looked like pieces of pot roast since I could see the tender, individual strands of meat.IMG_0056  As my Korean coworkers watched me, I popped a piece in my mouth and slowly savored the taste.  The verdict:  it was delicious.

Crazy waygook

Crazy waygook

It tasted like beef with a spicy chili background from the broth with slight gamey undertones in the aftertaste.  It also came with a chili and oil sauce on the side to “reduce the fragrance” according to my vice-principal, and it seemed to do away with the gaminess which resulted in an overall better taste.  The other parts of the meal like the buchu (garlic chive salad) and the green peppers with gochujang were okay, but the bosintang was the star of the show.

So I’ve finally eaten dog meat during my time living in Korea.  Would I go out of my way to eat it again?  Probably not.  Would I eat it again if someone served it to me?  Yeah since it was quite tasty.   Thus checks off one of my major bizarre foods that I have always wanted to eat in the world.  Watch out Andrew Zimmern, I’m coming for you.

It’s Easy Being Green

Posted on

Hello and welcome to part two of my Easter special on Mastication Monologues!  Today I am going to be talking about a classic Korean noodle shop that my friend introduced me to for Easter lunch.

Even though I’m far away from friends and family back home, I at least found a Catholic cathedral in Korea that I could go to to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  I was interested to see the Koreans’ take on mass since I have been to services in other foreign countries, and each nation has their own take on the Catholic rites.  I went to the Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul on a beautiful Sunday, and the Church was pretty impressive in size and design (Gothic, specifically).  After mass, I didn’t have anything planned for this lazy Sunday since there strangely wasn’t anything Easter themed to do in a country that has tons of fervent Christians yet not even one type of Easter candy or colorful egg.  So my friend, Steph, met up with me for lunch since we both were starving.  We ended up at Myeongdong Gyoja which is a Korean noodle house that has been open for over forty years in Seoul.gyo

They are known for their kalguksu or hand cut noodles, and only have four to five dishes on their menu.  Most of them are noodle broth meals, but they do offer steamed dumplings as well.  Steph told me that their specialty was the meat broth option, but I saw the spicy noodle option (bi bim guksu).  Obviously, I gave into my weakness for all things spicy and decided to give it a try.  The service was very prompt in the extremely busy and semi-cramped restaurant.  You also share tables with other diners if it’s just two of you, so just a heads up for those of you looking for a place to have an intimate conversation or want a bit more privacy while dining.  It was 8,000 won upfront for the noodles along with some kimchi banchan, a bowl of beef broth, rice, and gum for the ubiquitous after-dinner breath in Korea.IMG_1353  All of it looked very fresh and elegantly presented especially the noodles that were unlike any noodles I have seen before in Korea. They were a deep forest green!  It didn’t really deter me much as I tucked into the verdant jumble of deliciousness.  The noodles were very supple and thin and were thickly coated in red pepper powder and gochujang chili sauce.  Plus, bi bim guksu is a cold noodle dish, so I was kind of caught off guard with the first bite.  It wasn’t too spicy for yours truly, but every bite contained an undercurrent of cucumber notes that came from the cucumber slices that were hiding underneath the green tangle and the freshly julienned cukes on the side.  By the time I reached the end of the bowl, I was filling up fast on the glorious noodles, but I had room for finishing off the kimchi.  I’m going to say it now, but this was the first bowl of kimchi that actually was somewhat spicy.  For some reason, the chili sauce they doused the cabbage in had a strange numbing-spiciness I could only liken to a Sichuan chili sauce I had at my friend David’s hot-pot dinner (See Drop It Like It’s Hot Pot).  There was also a lot of garlic powder in it, hence the gum.  I had two helpings of this fiery side-dish much to the surprise of one of the waitresses who went along scooping more into other diners’ bowls.  So if you like spice, definitely check out the kimchi at Myeongdong Gyoja.  As for the beef broth, it was very simple but intensely flavorful.  I’m sure it was quite high in sodium like a lot of broths, but it tasted like I was biting into a succulent steak roasted by God on this holy day.

Anyway, I give Meyongdong Gyoja the waygookin (foreigner) seal of approval if you want to try a piece of Korean traditional cuisine in a famous place or at least try some kimchi that lives up to its spicy reputation.

Meat and Greet

Posted on

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.

A Slice of the East

Posted on

Hello everyone out there on the interwebz.  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues where I have been, as of late, exploring all the new foodstuffs that South Korea has to offer.  Today I will be talking about a Far Eastern twist on a Western favorite:  pizza.  As with many things in the world, pizza has an unusual history in the sense that most people associate the main staple of college students with one country (Italy) when it actually came from a different one (China).  Many historical scholars argue that Marco Polo allegedly brought it back from China and introduced it to the Italian peninsula which eventually led to the modern pie being invented in Napoli.  Where I come from, Chicago, we have a special affinity for this Italian/Chinese treat which has led us to bump heads with New Yorkers over who has better pizza.  Therefore, when I stepped into Pizza Maru in my neighborhood of Seo-gu, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of toppings.  I was greeted by different Korean combinations like sweet potatoes and bacon or thin cream shrimp pizza.  I went for the latter since it just seemed like a bizzare description, but I was pleasantly surprised.IMG_1277  It was made with very thin and crispy crust that supposedly has 12 types of grains, black rice, and green tea.  The toppings consisted of grape tomatoes, black olives, shrimp, cheese, oregano, and an alfredo-esque sauce.  However, it was different from a typical pizza because it didn’t have tomato sauce but rather some sort of clear sauce that really didn’t taste like anything.  It brought down the very flavorful pizza because it made the slices semi-soggy which is not a good attribute to have if your end pieces are nice and crispy.  Overall, it was an okay pizza, but I don’t really see it giving European/American pizza a run for its money anytime soon.  At least the presentation was a lot nicer than back at home.IMG_1276

I See A Bowl of Noodles, I Want To Paint It Black

Posted on

Hello to everyone out there in cyberspace.  Today on Mastication Monologues, I am going to tell you about a Korean dish that I heard about very briefly in reference to Black Day in Korea where single people come together to hangout (kind of like an antithesis to the much commercialized Valentine’s/White Day) and eat a meal called jajangmyeon.

I actually had it today for lunch with my coteachers at my new elementary school.  They initially told me they were going to be ordering “Korean Chinese” food.  I knew that Incheon had the largest Chinatown in Korea, but I didn’t know what exactly they meant by this fusion term.  I asked for clarification, and they said, “You can get fried rice or black noodles.”  Done.  I was going to get the bizzare sounding black noodles.  Originally I was thinking that they were going to be black due to the addition of squid’s ink, but what faced me was very different.Jajangmyeon_1_by_eggnara  It was a massive mound of wheat noodles staring back at me in a dark dark brown sauce.  I found out that it is nearly identical to the Chinese noodle dish zhajiangmian (fried sauce noodles) hence the teachers basically telling me it’s a Chinese dish that the Koreans adapted to claim it as their own. It wasn’t an ideal dish to eat with chopsticks, but I managed to eat it all.  It wasn’t the prettiest thing, but the savory taste of the noodles was spectacular.  It was semi-sweet in nature with a salty pork taste permeating every noodle laden mouthful.  There were also onions in the sauce that kind of gave it a nice zing on occasion.  On the side, there was the ever-present Kimchi, but I had some bright yellow, pickled radishes that I never had before.  It actually tasted like a pickled cucumber back home.  I didn’t touch the raw onion since I was at work, but the black fish sauce added a potent, semi-jarring element to the sweet noodle sauce.  I also sampled some Korean deep-fried dumplings that looked like Chinese pork empanadas.  They were fresh but semi-pedestrian.  Of course, I washed it all down with a cup of Coca Cola.  Hooray for globalization!  This was definitely a cool look into Chinese-Korean relations in regard to food, and I’d probably get these black noodles again.  Maybe I’ll do so during a trip to Incheon’s Chinatown.  To be continued…

Drop It Like It’s Hot Pot! Part 2

Posted on

Hello again to part two of my journey through a hot pot dinner.  Last post, I spoke about my very brief initiation to the hot pot experience with some fish roe and homemade soy milk, but it was merely a prelude to the symphony of flavors that I hope to fully convey through this amazing new post.

Behold the bounty

Behold the bounty

Before I even sat down at the table, I was advised to change out of my fancy new years eve clothes since hot pot could be messy.  I didn’t think that I would have to dress down in order to eat a simple meal.  When I sat down around the table, first I had to choose between a mild pot and a spicy pot which were on opposite ends of the table.

The more pleasant looking mild pot

The more pleasant looking mild pot

If you don’t know me/haven’t read my previous posts like with the XXX spicy wing challenge, I will have you know that I am quite the chili head.  When most people expect me to not be able to eat their spicy ethnic foods, I just smile and go about my business sampling their cuisine.  This has led to me making plenty of friends down the road during my dining experiences.  Therefore, I took my seat at the spicy end of the table where I quickly saw people throwing in strips of red marbled beef, healthy pink pork, large grey and pink shrimp, and striped bass into the ludicrously red broth.  Later, they added watercress, taro root, and mushrooms since they apparently soak up the spice like a sponge with water.  I found out that David’s family had brought back a packet of chili pepper native to the Szechuan region which is notorious for blazing hot dishes.  While these meats were bubbling in the pot, we passed around small cups of cilantro,  green onions, sesame oil, and soy sauce to put in our bowls.  However, David informed me that it is tradition in Taiwanese hot pot to use a dipping sauce made of raw egg, green onions, and prawn paste.  I wanted to do the real deal, so he made me my own bowl of dipping sauce for my first round of hot pot.  It also helped cool down the smoldering hot meats and vegetables.

Raw egg sauce that would make Rocky proud

Raw egg sauce that would make Rocky proud

In order to get the contents of the pot into your bowl, you are supplied with mini metal wire scoops that look like small butterfly nets.  Thankfully everyone was really helpful with supplying me with my food while I was attempting to get a hang of my chopsticks.  Since I’m moving to Korea soon, I made it my mission to eat the entire meal with chopsticks, and I finally managed to do it!  My first bowl consisted of fish balls, beef, green onions, cilantro, and prawn paste.  The fish balls were made with a semi-firm dough which was dotted with peas and encapsulated the savory fish inside.  The raw egg sauce provided a nice onion/soy flavor to the strong fish flavor.  The beef piece was tiny but succulent, and the prawn paste gave the bowl a nice surf and turf vibe.

Bowl 1

Bowl 1

The second helping I ate contained some striped bass, beef, pork, fish roll, watercress, and mushrooms.  The bass was stewed quite quickly, but it literally melted in my mouth like some sort of heavenly piece of fish butter.  As for the beef and pork, I was a bit flummoxed as to what to do with these large pieces of meat that were cooling off in my raw egg sauce since we didn’t have forks or knives.  Thankfully my friend David said it was cool for me to just go at it, and I wholeheartedly enjoyed each juicy and spicy slice.  The more elongated fish roll was not as satisfying as the ball dumplings, but it seemed to be stuffed with a stronger tasting type of fish.  Plus, I had thought that the mushrooms were initially noodles since they were so long and thin, but in reality they were winter mushrooms.  The cabbage was also delicious.  Even though it was put in last, it contained so much chili flavor that it was like a warm, non-fermented version of the popular Korean dish kimchee.

Bowl 2

Bowl 2

My third bowl (in hot pot, you eat a lot slower and savor the smaller portions) consisted of prawns, mushrooms, watercress, taro root, and pickled radishes.  The prawns were still in their shells and with legs, but I took a mighty bite into their pink bodies to be welcomed by a explosion of flavor.   The mushrooms were a non-factor, but the watercress and the pickled radishes had a similar chili infusion like the cabbage.  This bowl was a bit trickier because the radishes were quite slippery after swimming around in the hot pot, and the taro root kept on disintegrating when I would grab at it with my chopsticks.  I finally managed to get both into my mouth, and the taro was more interesting because texture-wise it was like a semi-mashed potato but possessed a more earthy flavor.  Once I finished that bowl, I was faced with something that reminded me of a type of pizza they serve at Sbarros.

Bowl 3

Bowl 3

It was basically green onions baked inside bread that was coated in sesame seeds and had a crust.  Perhaps this is what Marco Polo brought back to Italy from China.  Pizza origin theories aside, this was probably my favorite part of hot pot.  The bread was golden brown and crisp on the outside while soft and pliable on the inside.  I’m a huge onion and sesame seed fan, so I was in heaven biting into the verdant interior of this onion bread and experiencing the mellow sesame seeds combining with the strong green onion flavor.  It also went really well with the raw egg sauce as a sort of replacement for garlic butter or marinara sauce.

The original pizza?

The original pizza?

After eating a couple of slices, I limped to my fourth and final bowl which had some of the aforementioned ingredients along with a pink fish dumpling.  It was like the other fish dumplings but had a slightly sweeter, more tuna-esque taste.

Bowl 4

Bowl 4

However, the fourth bowl was unlike the others because I had asked David why we had spoons on the table.  He then proceeded to ladle in the devilishly red pepper broth  from our spicy hot pot into my bowl .  This lava in my bowl was pretty spicy but tolerable for me.  Once I finished eating this molten ambrosia, my mouth felt kind of funny, but it turns out that the Szechuan pepper causes slight numbness along with burning in the mouth.

The chili flavor is as big as the pot on the package

The chili flavor is as big as the pot on the package

Even though I couldn’t feel my mouth, it was a sign that I had just experienced an authentic piece of Chinese culture, and I am thankful that David and his family welcomed me into their home to take part in this very entertaining tradition.  Hope you and everyone else has a happy and healthy new year!

%d bloggers like this: