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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.

On a Spicy Wing and a Prayer

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Hey everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Things have been trying as of late at school with the crazy work schedules due to the Fall festival that is coming up, but that doesn’t mean that my appetite has been affected.  Today I will be talking about a Korean place that I have passed on my way to Geomam station probably 1 billion times already (rough guesstimation right there).  The reason why it stood out from the other Korean restaurants surrounding it was the fact that it specifically advertised spicy food.  It’s called 땅초 or Ttangcho Hot Food which are all over Korea, but the one I went to is located at 인천시 서구 검암동 606-7번지 네오프라자 106호  or Seo-gu, Incheon City Plaza 106 West geomamdong 606-7.  Here is their website (sorry, it’s all in Korean):  http://yupdduk.com/.  On the right hand side of the page, click on “매장정보” to find store locations.IMG_0681

Moving on from logistics, let’s talk about the food.  Now, where I live is a lot less cosmopolitan than Seoul or even other parts of Incheon.  Naturally, when I walked in I was greeted with a lot of curious stares.  Not only because I was a foreigner, but also because I was eating alone.  Group mentality runs deep in all aspects of Korean life even when it comes to eating, and I could see the server/staff become somewhat wary of serving me since I was alone.  In contrast, all the other tables were filled with Korean students digging into their tteokbokki while occasionally staring or offering a giggle/wave coupled with a “Hi!”.  Their most popular items like the 엽기떡복이 tteokbokki (sticky rice cakes in spicy sauce) or the 닭볶음탕 dakbokeumtang (a fried chicken stew) were in the 20,000 W price range since they were family-sized bowls.  Instead, I went for the more manageable 참숯 닭날개 (14,000 W) which I found out were spicy chicken wings.  When they came out, I not only got a small mound of wings, but also an egg soup ( 계란찜) that looked similar to the one I had when I ate the live octopus. IMG_0679 I was expecting the wings to be drenched in some sort of red gochujang sauce that Koreans are so fond of, but these wings looked to be treated with a dry rub that had sesame seeds mixed in with the spices.IMG_0680  Even though the wings looked diminutive, the bone to meat ratio was favorable, and the chicken was sufficiently succulent.  As for the aforementioned seasoning, I could definitely taste some cayenne pepper working hard for its money as I took each bite.  Mid-way through the plate, the guy who looked like the owner came over and said, “Too spicy?”, and I just responded with a smile and an “아니요” (“no”).  He found all of it amusing either because I used Korean, and/or that I could eat food that Koreans had trouble eating.  I’d probably rate the spice level between a jalapeno and a habanero.  I took a couple spoonfuls of the egg soup, but it was quite bland after eating the fire-kissed wings.

On the way back to the bus stop, I passed two old ladies in an open air stall selling these curious snack treats that I had passed by all over Korea but never tried one.  They are called 붕어빵 or bungeoppang which means “fish bread” (“Bungeo” is a type of carp, and “Ppang” means bread).  Based off my picture, they are quite obviously named.

The one that didn't get away.

The one that didn’t get away.

I saw that they were making two varieties of this baked good, the traditional red-bean filled type and a custard filled type.  Never forgetting my dislike for red bean flavored products, (See Ice Cream), I went for two custard filled carp (1,000 W).  I definitely made the right choice.  The outside was like a freshly made waffle with a sugary peck on the lips with every nibble while the inside was gooey and infused with a very delicate vanilla pudding similar to the filling of another Korean pastry, Manjoo Hana.

It's all about the creamy center.

It’s all about the creamy center.

It definitely supplied me with a sweet reprieve after my savory meal.

So if you’re looking for some quality spicy Korean food, check out Ttangcho Hot Food.  Speaking of spicy food, I will be attempting to eat the Drop Dead Donkatsu this weekend.  If I survive, expect a classic recounting of my adventure.  Until then, foodies!

Red Bi Bim Bap, I Eat You Up

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Hello or should I say, Annyeong haseyo to everyone out there!  I have officially moved to South Korea, and I have already tried one of their signature dishes:  dol sot bi bim bap.  This blog post is going to be a bit different since you can basically get this dish anywhere in Korea, so instead I’m just going to provide my general impressions of the dish.

My precious

My precious

We just went to a really small place right by the hotel we’re staying in by the Incheon airport, but it was very welcoming.  I decided to get the dol sot bi bim bap because I’ve had it before stateside, so I wanted to see how it would taste in the heart of the motherland (preview:  delicious).  If you’ve never heard of this meal before, it is a hot bowl that is filled with rice, carrots, bean sprouts, assorted greens, zucchini  and cucumber to name a few ingredients.  Plus, it had a raw egg on top that I had to stir along the sides of the pot in order for it to completely cook and mix among the veggies.  I even gave it a healthy dose of gojuchang or red chili pepper sauce which supposedly was supposed to be spicy.  Overall, I greatly enjoyed the bi bim bap since the vegetables like the cucumbers were fresh and flavorful.  The rice was cooked to perfection with a slight crispiness thanks to the sesame oil used in the bottom of the stone dish, and the red chili pepper sauce had a slight kick to it but nothing too crazy for yours truly.  I would liken it to maybe a Tapatio or Yucateco hot sauce level of spiciness.  It was also accompanied with this very thin and flavorless broth that was filled with what seemed like green onions, but it was so bland that it was like drinking water.  Oh well, at least I filled up on delicious rice and vegetables.  I had my first Korean beer, Cass, which was not as terrible as I thought it was going to be after trying other Asian beers.  I would liken it to a more flavorful Coors Light.  So yeah, if you’re afraid of Korean cuisine, bi bim bap is a great starter dish.

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