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My Glorious Food Revolution- Day 3 and 4 in N. Korea

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Hello to everyone out there in cyberspace!  I can tell that you have been enjoying my posts that have been offering you a brief glimpse into the mysterious land that is North Korea.  Today’s post is going to be a double feature since Day 3 really didn’t offer anything that spectacular in terms of food and drink yet my last day was filled with memorable meals.  So, I’ll begin with January 2nd (our third day).

Breakfast started off like any other even though they also had some delicious donkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) that actually had more of the texture of breaded sawdust along with the taste.  After hitting up some memorable sites like the Party Foundation Monument and took a ride on the Pyongyang metro, we ended up at another hokey foreigners-only restaurant in another anonymous building in the city.  The only highlights of lunch were plates of fried food along with a rather bland bibimbap with limp vegetables.

A lot of meh

A lot of meh

IMG_1681Weak sauce, North Korea (they didn’t even have enough gochujang or chili sauce for everyone).  However, I tried a new beer called Bonghak or 봉학멕주.  It was a little worse than the Taedonggang or perhaps on par with the common South Korean beers, i.e. an extremely watered-down lager.IMG_3049That was about it for day 3 which was kind of depressing from a culinary perspective, but day 4 more than made up for it.

Day 4 was the same old song and dance with breakfast, but it was going to be a unique day as we would head to the North Korean side of the DMZ along with visiting the city of Kaesong.  After a long bumpy ride through breathtaking mountain passes, we were introduced to the Korean soldier-guides at Panmumjeon, and we saw South Korea from the Joint Security Area.  Their armistice museums were quite eye-opening as well, but I’ll save that for my travel blog.  We rolled into Kaesong after the DMZ, and it was more like what I was expecting from North Korea in terms of a gloomy atmosphere.  However, this wouldn’t translate to the food as we were served a royal meal in a gaggle of small golden bowls with each container containing a new nugget of nom.  IMG_3137I didn’t know where to start once I un-capped all of the tiny basins.IMG_3140

However, most of the elements were not new to me since they have the same dishes in South Korean cuisine.  Go figure.  I’ll break down the picture above for those not in the know.  In the upper left hand corner, we have the dark green strips of dried and salted seaweed paper with a hint of sesame which makes the perfect encasement for making sushi rolls.  To the right in the white bowl are balls of tteok or sticky rice cake in a sweet red bean sauce.  I’m not the biggest fan of either red bean or rice cake due to the savory flavor and lack of flavor, respectively, but these two together somehow managed to pass my taste test.  Moving to the upper right hand corner is a simple piece of fried tofu.  No fuss no muss.  In the second row starting on the left, there is a bowl of random gelatinized eggs that were pedestrian in terms of taste, but the greens to the right of them were delectable and can be found in any bibimbap.  The same goes for the bean sprouts right next to them.  The last bowl in the second row is a bit different.  It’s filled with green bean cake which was kind of disgusting.  I don’t know why they feel the need to make regular and jelly versions of every food.  The last three bowls were a bit more normal with the stewed potato strands on the left and salted baby fish in the middle.  They’re very chewy and salty.  The last bowl is a meat and potato melange.  All of this was the backdrop to the star of the show:  bosingtang or dog soup.  IMG_3142I’ve had dog soup before in South Korea, so I wanted to see who could do it better.  In the end, the North won this battle because not only did they have more meat in the soup, but it was spicier which is a key element for me when it comes to savoring a great dish.  It definitely beat the cold that pervaded almost everywhere we went since effective indoor heating doesn’t really exist in either of the Koreas.  After leaving Kaesong, we ended up at the Taedonggang brewery bar which was extremely modern in decor, and could have been found in any major Western metropolis minus the wonderful Eastern European pop videos on the tvs from the 1990s. IMG_3168 They offered seven varieties of beer from 1 to 7.IMG_3169  1 being the most like an English bitter and 6 and 7 being like Guiness.  Everything between that was a terrible mix of rice and barley.  I decided to go with a 6 since they were out of 7, and I did not regret my choice.IMG_3172  For only two bucks I got a legitimate brew that would cost six times as much back in Seoul.  There were other North Koreans coming in to drink with us, and I could tell that they were higher-ups in the party based off their nicer clothes and shiny new Juche pins.  After downing our pints, we headed to our final dinner together.  They sent us off in style with duck bbq Korean style.IMG_1686  As with most other Korean barbecue, there was not much to it in terms of seasonings or anything like that.  Just throw meat on a grill and eat along with the usual pickled side dishes. IMG_1687 I did like their duck donkatsu which was a welcome change from the typical pork cutlet. IMG_1688 Their dumpling soup was pretty scrumptious as well. IMG_1689 ‘Twas a fitting meal and an excellent end to a wonderful trip to the most magical police state on earth.  Stay tuned for my Beijing eating adventures that involve me consuming some interesting animals and parts of animals.

From Snoop Dogg to Soup Dog

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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.

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