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Woosah at Yeowoosai

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Fried chicken.  Is there any other food that is more quintessentially ‘Murikan?  Actually, I’ll have to stop you right there.  Fried chicken actually has its roots in Scotland where they coated their chicken and made it so much tastier than the boiled and baked versions of the poultry dish down south in England.  They carry on the tradition even today of consuming everything fried including Mars bars and cookies.  There is also evidence that West African cuisine utilized fried chicken for ceremonial meals.  Ergo, when both European immigrants from Scotland and African slaves arrived in the American South, the culinary traditions of both groups became woven into the fabric of the multi-colored patchwork that is our country’s food history.  However, what many people wouldn’t associate with fried chicken is Korea.  In fact, during my time in the Land of the Morning Calm, I sampled some of their fried delights that were an extra-greazy reminder of home in an otherwise kimchi-laden environment.  However, Yeowoosai in Chicago’s Koreatown manages to combine both American and Korean cuisine with a sports bar atmosphere that conveniently has a noraebang (or karaoke) attached.

It’s located in a small strip mall, but little did I know that my tastebuds and my world were about to be rocked into submission.IMG_4333  It was quite empty when we went, but I’m sure it gets quite bumping on the weekend.  IMG_4334We didn’t look at the menu since Janice ordered for me since she gets the same thing every time she goes there:  the 닭디겜 (daktigem or popcorn chicken).  We also got  김치볶음밥 (kimchi bokkeumbap or kimchi fried rice).  However, they do offer plenty of Korean classics like 비빔밥 (bibimbap or a rice bowl with meat and veggies), 김치찌개 (kimchi jjigae or kimchi soup), and  갈비 and 불고기 (galbi or grilled ribs and bulgogi or marinated beef).  The entire time we were waiting, Janice was building up this food, but I didn’t believe how good it really was going to be.  It’s not like I haven’t seen popcorn chicken or fried rice before.  How severely mistaken I was.  First the popcorn chicken came out.  It was literally the size of a wash basin and my potential food baby was lying in it.  It was served with a side of “yellow sauce” and a pickled jalapeno and radish mix.  IMG_4339This was hands-down the best popcorn chicken I’ve ever tried in my life.  From the smooth, buttery, yet light breading to the juicy all white meat nuggets that were quickly filling my stomach, I couldn’t get enough.  Then when I dipped them into the yellow sauce which I figured must be some type of mayonnaise and horseradish concoction with a hint of pepper, a dash of crack, and a soupçon of meth mixed in (seriously though, no drugs were involved in the making of this delicious meal), it finally happened.  I was and still am addicted to Yeowoosai’s popcorn chicken and yellow sauce complete with meat sweats and shakes.  As for the jalapeno and radish salad, I thought it was a refreshing, cool, tangy, and slightly spicy way to cleanse your palate between mouthfuls of chicken.  Then there was the kimchi fried rice.  We just got the original with Spam and eggs.  Why put Spam in a meal when you have a choice not to?  Why not use beef, chicken, or pork?  Well, Spam in Korean cuisine is actually a carry over from the Korean War period where food was scarce, but the American military ate Spam.  So, that’s what the local populace scavenged from the GI army bases to make meals.  While South Korea has made great advances since then, Spam still is seen as a luxury gift.  This often bewilders Americans and other Westerners when Korean shoppers are clamoring to buy Spam giftsets for loved ones at Christmas and Chuseok or Thanksgiving Day.   The American armed forces has also made Spam popular in other places like the Philippines and Hawaii.  Hooray for spreading terrible quasi-meat around the world!  Anyway, the fried rice.  IMG_4340Once again, portion-wise it was gigantic like the popcorn chicken and for a great price.  It was also a quality choice.IMG_4341  Compared to the kimchi fried rice back in the Motherland, it was even better.  It was rich, spicy, but not too spicy.  The pieces of kimchi thrown in provided a texture contrast that popped up now and then between spoonfuls.  I was having multiple moments of being overwhelmed by the large amount of mind-blowingly amazing food in front of me, but eventually my wild ride came to an end as I threw in the towel..er napkin and woosahed .

Long story short, go to Yeowoosai if you want to try a Korean sports bar with plenty of dishes your average ajumma (Korean old woman) would recognize.  Plus, these huge and reasonably priced portions of food will leave both your wallet and stomach stuffed.  Not a bad deal at all.

Yeowoosai on Urbanspoon
 

Heavenly Wings

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Hello and welcome to another wonderful edition of Mastication Monologues!  After a very long weekend of wild adventures with Janice, I bring you another series of food reviews in Chicago.  Today’s post involves Crisp, a Korean fried chicken establishment that made me think of my time in the Land of the Morning Calm.

While Janice and I were trying to figure out where to grab lunch, we settled on Crisp since her friend gave it rave reviews.  I met him once, and he seemed like a trustworthy guy aside from his crazy moves he was busting out on the dance floor.  I heard that it was Korean fried chicken, and I realized that this was the second time I’d be getting fried chicken with Janice (the first was a sweet memory)  I crossed my fingers that it would be just as scrumptious.  My hopes were completely fulfilled and then some. IMG_3235 Upon walking in, we had to shimmy our way past the overflowing tables and dining counters that were filled to the gills just to put in our order.IMG_3227  While looking at the menu, I could see some of the Korean influences like the focus on fried chicken, bibimbap (or the more Americanized moniker “Buddha bowls”), and different types of kimchi or pickled vegetables.  However, they also have burritos, sandwiches, and sides.  Now, you might be wondering, ‘Fried chicken is pure Amurika.  What makes Korean fried chicken different from the Dirty South classic?’  Well, the contrast lies in the sauce they slather on the crunchy chicken pieces.  They have four different flavors you can slap on bone in/bone out wings and whole/half chickens.  I always love my chicken wings, so I went with the ten wing option.  The cashier chuckled, gave me a look, and asked me if it was my first time there.  I replied in the affirmative, and he said that I wouldn’t be able to finish ten wings since they’re huge.  So, I took his word for it and dropped down to five wings ($8.95), three Seoul Sassy sauce and two Crisp BBQ sauce.  I naturally had to try their kimchi, so I didn’t get the typical cabbage but rather the 총각 (chonggak, literally “bachelor” since it was considered a kimchi so simple even single men could make for themselves) radish kimchi ($3.95).  While waiting I saw a lot of different Korean drinks like Milkis stacked up above the bibimbap display or the Bacchus-D energy drink box on our table. IMG_3225 It’s a popular on-the-go beverage for the 빨리 빨리 (bbali bbali; fast fast) Korean lifestyle, and it tastes like drinking liquid Sweet Tarts.IMG_3229  They called my name, and I snapped out of my memories to pick up my grub.  I’m so glad the cashier was honest with me about the size of the wings because these were gargantuan compared to their Buffalo Wild Wing or Hooter counterparts.IMG_3231  I think Janice put it best that they chopped them off pterodactyls.  If that’s what they did, the prices certainly didn’t reflect the costly nature of the undertaking.

Slightly intimidated

Slightly intimidated

 It was a lot of food for a reasonable price.  I started with the Seoul Sassy sauce, and it definitely lived up to its name.  It was a sophisticated blend of garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and a bit of molasses for a flavor profile that left my mouth watering.  The chicken itself was great with plenty of white meat, and the skin was incredible.  It wasn’t greasy or soggy and was a perfect representative of the restaurant’s name.  As for the Crisp BBQ sauce, it reflected a meeting of East and West with the smokiness of a North Carolina pig roast, and the spice of Korean gochujang that let you know you were consuming something spicy but not in a mouth-numbing manner.  I couldn’t pick between the two sauces, but there was a game-changer that was on every table:  Allison’s atomic sauce.  Like the A-bomb, it blew me away. IMG_3233 It was a mild, chipotle ranch/mayo mixture that had a cooling effect on the wings yet provided a very subtle peppery zing with each bite.IMG_3234  By my third wing, I was slathering this weapon of mass consumption over every square inch of my chicken.  After finishing my five wings, I had two of Janice’s and still could have eaten more.  Alas, I just focused on my kimchi.IMG_3232  It was cubed and soaking in chili water, and it was just as good as back in Korea.  The radish cubes were crispy, slightly sour, and spicy.  I couldn’t even finish the tub because it was so much for so little money.  By the end, I was ready to literally roll out of there a happy diner.

So if you want to try a Korean twist on an American classic with American sized portions and reasonable prices, check out Crisp in Chicago.  빨리 빨리!!

Crisp on Urbanspoon

Last K-Days (Part 3/Finale)- The Long and Delicious Road

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So this is my final post relating to my food adventures in Korea on Mastication Monologues.  It  with some snacks in the form of special kimbap. IMG_2131 What makes them so special?  These kimbap actually contained pieces of donkatsu (breaded pork cutlet), fried shrimp, and spicy peppers.  The restaurant we went to was quite popular in Ulsan, and they said they’d make the pepper kimbap extra spicy for me.  Now that’s service!IMG_2130  They were eventually ready to go as we hit the road back to Incheon.  After jamming out to some R. Kelly and Usher, we were hungry enough to stop and try the kimbap at one of the road stops along the way.

Pepper kimbap

Pepper kimbap

I decided to first try the “special” spicy pepper kimbap, and I don’t know what made them so special.  True, it did have small pieces of the fiery Korean peppers inside that are signature side dishes for meat meals, but it wasn’t any spicier than a jalapeno.  However, the donkatsu and fried shrimp kimbap were crazy delicious.  The crunchy, fried pieces of meat were fresh and were an exquisite contrast to the cold but plentiful vegetables.

Fried shrimp kimbap

Fried shrimp kimbap

Fried pork kimbap

Fried pork kimbap

Some of the slices fell apart while I was trying to grab it with my chopsticks unfortunately.

Getting down and dirty with the kimbap.

Getting down and dirty with the kimbap.

We quickly downed them and were back on the road.  After a bit more traveling, we found a larger rest stop that served potatoes with sugar and salt.IMG_2145  It was pretty straight forward as they were just chunks of steamed potatoes with a bottle of salt and a tin of sugar on the side for your own discretion.  We shook and scooped a generous helping of each on the cup and made our way to a table. IMG_2146 I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sugar and salt worked their own culinary yin and yang for me as I greatly savored this starchy treat. IMG_2147  However, my delight soon turned to disaster as I liberally dabbed a potato piece in a white pile of what I thought was sugar, but it was salt…I ran to the nearest water cooler and washed the taste of the Dead Sea out of my mouth.  I finished the last couple nuggets, and we survived the rest of our long sojourn northward.

My last full day in Korea finished with a gift of food from my friend Bora in the form of chocopies and moju.IMG_2171  The former were what their name suggests.  They consisted of two moist pieces of chocolate cake with white cream in the middle, and the whole dessert is covered in dark chocolate.  I’m kind of a chocoholic, so I loved them regardless of Bora saying that they tasted weird to her.  As for the moju, it was a type of rice wine filled with different ingredients like cinnamon, jujube, and ginger.  I could only liken it to a slightly different egg nog with a low alcohol content.  

Last K-Days (Part 1)- Something’s Fishy in Ulsan

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Well, I’m finally back home in Chicagoland after a journey around the world from my teaching gig in Korea.  I’ve finally found some time to sit down and pound out some classic Mastication Monologues posts that all of you have been missing.  This post is the beginning of a small chronicle of my last weekend in Korea.  n.  It was a wonderful way to wrap up my time in the country, and I managed to try plenty of new foods and drinks along the way.  So, let me start at the beginning with my first full day in Ulsan.

Supposedly the best place to go for lunchtime would be around Daegwangam beach since they had women divers who ventured out into the water, brought their  still wriggling catch to their cooking shack, and prepared it with sushi chef like precision.IMG_3576  Unfortunately, they seemed to be closed and too busy bobbing about in the sea.  Nevertheless, I had a great time just walking around the area and taking in some breathtaking views. IMG_3572 After having a brief constitutional on the beach, we made our way to Ulsan city proper to a fish restaurant that specialized in whale.  Given that I had already tried whale in Japan, I wanted to have something else that the restaurant did well.  The waitress recommended the maeuntang and mulhwoe which I naturally agreed with since she’s the native, and I’m just the waygookin (foreigner) along for the ride.  Before the main entrees came out, they supplied us with typical side dishes, but a couple were different like a plate of peanuts.IMG_2080IMG_2082IMG_2081  I didn’t think Koreans ate peanuts since I’ve never seen them being sold in the grocery store, but these were different from what I was used to since they were boiled.  I knew other cuisines like some African recipes and even some parts of the American South eat boiled peanuts, but this was a first for me.  IMG_2083They were oddly purple and slightly soft.  I think I’ll stick to the traditional crunchy ones.  The dishes eventually came out which didn’t scare me as much as her description of the main dish as sushi mixed with bibimbap.  I’m not a huge fish fan, so I was surprised when I found I really enjoyed both choices.IMG_2084  My mulhwoe consisted of a big bowl filled with pink, tender slices of fish, sesame seeds, an avalanche of radishes or some sort of root vegetable, and a hefty helping of green onions.  Similar to bibimbap, it came with a side of gochujang or chili sauce that I slathered on my fish molehill, but this one was a bit different compared to the sauce served with warm bibimbap in the sense that it was thinner in consistency and sweeter.IMG_2087  As for the maeuntang, it lived up to its name in Korean as a spicy soup that was filled with large chunks of flaky white fish pieces with the bones still in per usual in Korean cooking and lots of onions and peppers.IMG_2085  It warmed my mouth and my stomach in the best way possible, and the broth was thankfully not too salty.

Dinner was at a small, unassuming place off the main avenue by our apartment, but I would soon find out it was a hidden gem.  They’re famous for the soju promotion where if each person in the group drinks a bottle, you only have to pay 500 Won or roughly 50 cents for the drinks.  Now, I don’t care too much for soju since it’s like a weak version of vodka with a sweet aftertaste, but I wouldn’t mind getting lots of drinks at dinner for less than a dollar.  As for the food, we ordered kamjatang (pork spine soup) and possam (sliced, boiled pork).  This was definitely more my kind of meal since I prefer all other types of meats over fish, and I was not disappointed.  The liquor was flowing, food was going fast, and we were having a great conversations.  The soup consisted of a similar spicy stock to the maeuntang, but there were different vegetables waiting to be enjoyed like spinach and hot red peppers.IMG_2094  I felt like the guest of honor when I got the biggest bone with the most pork on it.

I had a bone to pick with this meal.

I had a bone to pick with this meal.

The meat was succulent and spicy, but it was semi-difficult to get the meat off the bone sans knife.  As for the possam, it was a superb side to the soup since the pork pieces were firm and succulent with a perfect meat to fat ratio.IMG_2095  The side vegetables were steamed or slathered in chili sauce and were average in taste, but I took all of it and put it in a lettuce leaf to make a mini-package to deliver the food from the plate to my mouth.  It was a similar experience to my ssambap dinner.   Overall, I would highly recommend trying kamjatang and possam if you have the chance and want a hearty meal that is healthy as well.

May the Odds (and Ends) Be Ever In Your Favor

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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.  IMG_1973

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. IMG_1974 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.IMG_2021  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.

It shall forever haunt me.

It shall forever haunt me.

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.

Hog heaven

Hog heaven

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.IMG_2035  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”!1904234_3177324309091_1094229150_n

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!

Sundae Bloody Sundae/Jjampong All Night Long

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Hey hey, everybody!  Welcome to another masterful Mastication Monologues which is just getting better and better as my time in South Korea winds down.  Today I’ll be bringing you two Korean specialties that I had been hearing about for ages but never tried until now.  First, there is sundae (soon-day) which is not the ice cream treat everyone loves, but rather a sausage made with blood.  There is a similar type of sausage in other cuisines like black pudding in England, morcilla in Spain, or kiszka in Poland.  However, it’s not for everyone.  Naturally, I like going off the beaten path when it comes to food, so my friend Bora took me to a specialty sundae restaurant near Sillim station where we’d meet up with her other friend.  I didn’t know what exactly to expect as we walked up the stairs of a pretty dilapidated building, but I was surprised to see how big and popular the place was.IMG_1982  People seemed genuinely surprised to see me there as I walked past tables of soju drinkers inhaling the savory scents coming from the large grills in front of them.  I couldn’t get a good look at the food since the old woman server was gruffly dragging us to her table.  Once seated, we got some sweet aprons that were totally my style…I would be thankful for mine later on in the meal.

My fellow diners

My fellow diners

IMG_1976They supplied us with a complimentary bowl of grilled liver chunks doused with a sesame sauce and seeds.IMG_1979  It was a great antipasto since each piece was firm and packed with rich, meaty tones with shades of the sesame seeds mixed in.  Our brusque server proceeded to bring a large grill similar to the aforementioned ones and piled slices of burgundy sundae, chopped and oiled vegetables, and noodles on the hot surface.  After about ten minutes of waiting, it was deemed ready to eat.  IMG_1981They also provided some sort of chili sauce (center of the grill in the picture) with that seemed like chopped nuts on top which ended up tasting like spicy peanuts.  As for the melange of ingredients on the grill, they were fantastic on the whole.  The eatery’s specialty, the sundae, was slightly chewy but bursting with a slightly iron-rich tang.  My favorite part was the noodles when they fried to a crispy layer that added a welcomed crunch to a mostly chewy meal.  I started to slow down eating when my dining companions apparently ordered fried rice, but the restaurant supposedly didn’t have any more rice which was shocking.  So the server managed to get some out of her own secret stash in her bag (Why she was carrying rice in her bag in the first place is beyond me) along with some cut-up parsley.  It was nothing special.  However, what I had next was unique as being touted as the spiciest and most popular soup in Korea.

As if I thought I couldn’t eat anymore, Bora and Youngmi brought me to Shingildong Spicy Jjambbong located at 165-5 Shingil-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul   (신길동 매운짬뽕, 서울특별시 영등포구 신길동 165-5) for the spicy jjampong (seafood noodle soup) challenge.IMG_1983 It’s so popular in Korea that their main sign has all of the tv channels it has been featured on, and the actual name of the place is only a small name plaque hanging next to the building off a traditional Korean statue.

Black:  Singil-dong (neighborhood) Red- May Oon Jjampong or "spicy jjampong"

Black: Singil-dong (neighborhood)
Red:  May Oon Jjampong or “spicy jjampong”

For months, Bora and Youngmi had also prepped me for what to expect with the spicy jjampong including:  swollen lips, seared nostrils, and a scorched gastro-intestinal tract.  There have been cases of people passing out from the heat, and they have plastic bags in the bathroom for people throwing up.  The official policy is that you have to puke in the bag and throw it out elsewhere because the proprietors were tired of cleaning up the patrons’ stomach contents constantly.  How could I say no?  We first purchased plenty of dairy products to fight the inferno I was about to ingest and then walked in.IMG_1998  The owner was extremely gregarious and excited that a waygookin (foreigner) was going to take on the challenge.  Bora informed him I had tried the Drop Dead Donkatsu challenge before, and he said (in Korean), “The donkatsu is just spice with no flavor.  My jjampong is spicy and tasty.  In my kitchen, it’s pure science.”IMG_1987  After a couple snapshots, I sat down like a man condemned to his last meal as I looked around at all of the warning signs I was walking into a disaster.  Most of it was in Korean with warnings like “out of body experience”, “I shit fire”, or this lovely one.IMG_1994

Just slightly afraid.

Just slightly afraid.

Right before the soup came out, they gave me a mountain of pickled yellow radish slices which was another ominous omen. IMG_1985 Before I knew it, I was face to face with the infamous cauldron of doom. IMG_1988 My fear must have gotten the best of me as I was trying to find the right way to eat it and even forgot how to use chopsticks as shown in my video.  Skip ahead to 1:30 if you want to see me actually eating the noodles and skip all of my fumbling and commentary.

The fear is gripping me.

The fear is gripping me.

When the noodles finally got cool enough to eat, I slurped them up much to the horror of the spectators watching this exercise in pain.  I found the spicy kick to have an immediate effect, but it was mainly focused on my tongue as it was enveloped in a blanket of spice.

The spice has made me crazy!

The spice made me crazy!

It was like eating a mouthful of habaneros, but it wasn’t terrible.  The fumes were actually noxious and bothered my nose now and then, but Youngmi and Bora were actually coughing.  I picked out the mussels and focused on the noodles.  The owner came out to check how I was doing, and I was coping with it like a champ to his dismay.  So he then proceeded to feed me the broth on the spoon with a “here comes the airplane” baby technique which was pretty funny.  However, I realized that the broth was a million times spicier than the soaked noodles, and the vegetables were the worst part since they were like little sponges soaking up the devil’s potion.  Bora told me the radish slices are traditionally put on the tongue to alleviate the diner’s suffering, so I gave it a shot.  I think she just wanted me to look silly, but it did help a little bit.

Just playin' with my food

Just playin’ with my food

Overall, I came through with flying colors for my final spice challenge in Korea, and the owner was right; his soup was extremely flavorful with a spice that was the equivalent of a raging forest fire in my mouth.  So if you’re feeling like you’re up for a challenge or want to get a good laugh while watching your friends eat it/suffer through it, go to Spicy Jjampong.

I don't clown around when it comes to spicy food

I don’t clown around when it comes to spicy food.

My Glorious Food Revolution- Day 2 in N. Korea

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Wow, I can’t believe I’ve made it past the 125 post mark, but what better way to push on than with my second day of traveling and eating through North Korea.  New Years Day was godawful since we had to wake up at 7 am to get breakfast and then get out of the hotel to start touring at 8 am.  The actual breakfast was quite run-of-the-mill in terms of what was offered for both Korean and Western tastes.IMG_1619  There were random breads and cakes for Western palates along with the stewed shoestring potatoes and some pickled radish soup.  I did enjoy the unnaturally verdant green apple soda they were serving though.

The leaders are also there to make sure you're still on a diet.

The leaders are also there to make sure you’re still on a diet.

We eventually made our way to the mausoleum of both Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung.  It was quite impressive as waves of soldiers filed passed us with their chests gleaming with medals.  Very Soviet Union a la Brezhnev.

For lunch, we were going to a restaurant that specialized in 냉면 a.k.a. naengmyeon or cold noodles.

Not set up for foreigners at all...

Not set up for foreigners at all…

IMG_1642They brought out other side dishes that are also common to South Korea like pork mandu or dumplings along with spicy kimchi.

Donkatsu or pork cutlet

Donkatsu or pork cutlet

IMG_1644The cold noodles were pretty tasty even though none of us were feeling too hot.  I liked that the waitresses also provided us with spicy mustard and vinegar to really liven up the dish with a little sour and sinus scorching kick.

The famous Pyongyang cold noodles.

The famous Pyongyang cold noodles.

However, the oddest part of the meal was the one I was the most familiar with…or so I thought.  They provided us with plates of hotdogs alongside our Korean food, but when I took a bite of one, I was in another dimension of gastronomy.

Nothing like some oddly plastic hotdogs.

Nothing like some oddly plastic hotdogs.

Texture-wise it was like any other tube steak, but the taste was unnerving because it literally tasted like cotton candy.  I don’t know if that is because they share the same love for sweet things like their Southern brethren, or if it was made from people.  Either way, it redefined the idea of sweet meats.  I left lunch with a very satisfied stomach after the naengmyeon but with the most peculiar taste in my mouth after those hot dogs.  For dinner, we had a version of hot pot that I never had before.  Normally, a hot pot dinner involves literally a large heated pot in the middle of the table that everyone shares while their food cooks within the smoldering cauldron as show in a few of my other posts (1, 2, Taiwan).  In North Korea, they put aside the collectivism for once and gave us our own pots.IMG_1665IMG_1666  They ignited the gas underneath each pot, and then we could throw our ingredients (pork, bean sprouts, peppers, lettuce, etc.) into the boiling water.IMG_1670IMG_1668

There were also various spices and seasonings we could use like chili pepper, black pepper, salt, and even MSG.  Naturally, I decimated the chili powder cask which gave me just the right spice level that I enjoy while still savoring the stewed meat and vegetables.

Just a little spice with a raw egg to cook at the very end.

Just a little spice with a raw egg to cook at the very end.

There was also a raw egg on the side that you plopped in right before you were about to eat it in order to fry it instantly.

That's one fine lookin' jjigae.

That’s one fine lookin’ jjigae.

Day 2 was a day of more traditional Korean food that I really enjoyed along with the occasional bizarre element like the hot dogs.  They left me wondering what they were going to throw at me for day 3.

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