What is going on everybody? Welcome to a slightly different Mastication Monologues where I will be bringing you a random smattering of unique foods that I have sampled in the past few weeks that you can’t get anywhere else and may have never seen before. I’ll begin with cactus chocolate from Jeju.
The last weeks of the Korean school year shouldn’t even exist since the kids essentially tune out from anything and everything educational since there are no tests to study for. This is something that all of those world education studies praising the Korean school system don’t mention. However, my students also became really respectful towards me suddenly since they found out I was leaving. Too bad they didn’t do it earlier in the year when we actually had to do work. With this newfound respect came lots of candy as well which I wasn’t complaining about. One of the trinkets that caught my eye was the brightly wrapped Jeju cactus chocolate.
Jeju is an island off the southern coast of Korea, and is considered to be the Hawaii of Korea due to its beautiful sandy beaches, mountain climbing, and outdoor sex museum (wait, that’s not right…but it’s true for Jeju!). Culinarily, they are known for their black pig barbecue and even horse meat, but throughout the year my kids would always give me Hallabong chocolate which was often in the shape of these mini-Easter Island-esque stone statues that dot the landscape around the island. The Hallabong chocolate would often be infused with fruit flavors especially Jeju orange and sometimes raspberry. However, I had never seen this crunch chocolate until last week, and what made it especially unique was the cactus element. I knew that Jeju’s climate was warmer than Seoul’s, but are there really are cactii on this volcanic island? When I unwrapped it, I was confronted with what seemed to be a naked Crunch bar with a moderate coating of pink chocolate. When I bit into it, my assumption was confirmed as the small, crunchy orbs gave way to creamy raspberry chocolate. Where the cactus element came into play was a mystery to me. It was a sweet little treat though that I enjoyed a bit more than the next “sweet” thing I tried: walnut cakes.
On the same day of my cactus chocolate adventure, I tried some interesting snacks that aren’t what they seem. Turns out they’re cakes made to look like walnuts, and they do do quite an impressive walnut impression. The exterior mimicked the deeply grooved facade of its namesake, but that’s where the similarities fade. Actually, fade doesn’t do justice to describe the shock I received after biting into it. Naturally, I was greeted with a big mouthful of my old nemesis: red bean paste.
Koreans love the stuff, and I can’t stand it for the most part. I’ve found that anything that you would assume would have chocolate in it in the West, i.e. pastries, rolls, buns, fudgsicles, instead has red bean paste in it in Korea. It’s considered a “sweet” delicacy to Korean palates, but I come from the land of rampant diabetes, so the sweet factor is lost on me. The dough itself is fine, and the crunch walnut in the center made up for the red bean paste that left me shaking my head once again. I thought I learned my lesson after the red bean popsicle incident but apparently not. I’ll close this semi-gross scene with a fun fact. These walnut cakes were made by a bakery called Cocohodo which is based in Korea but also has branches throughout California in the United States.
I also finally managed to try 족발 or jokbal or pig’s feet. I got a half spicy-half mild plate of pig feet which wasn’t what I expected since they carved all of the meat off the actual hooves even though some of the bones were still there.
The mild meat tasted like a cross between a glazed ham with the pork element, but the skin was carmelized which had a sweetness to it like Peking duck. As for the spicy half, I was in heaven. Some pieces were crispy like bacon while others had a more tender texture like pork chops, and the spiciness was around a jalapeno level with a sweet aftertaste which was probably due to the soy marinade. I would have eaten more if it wasn’t for our teachers’ farewell dinner beforehand where my table consumed this bad boy below. What a way to say “thank you” and “farewell”!
Also, I hadn’t mentioned this before, but check out my friend’s podcast I did a couple weeks ago. Not only do I talk about my trip to North Korea, but also I elaborate on some of my best food adventures which I have detailed in Mastication Monologues!