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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!

Tibet You’ll Love It

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Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today’s post comes on the back of a very long night with some fun company and noraebang (Korean karaoke) action.  The night started out at a restaurant serving a type of cuisine from a country that I more associated with being the whipping boy for a much larger nation, a center of spiritual enlightenment, and a paradise for yaks.  Give up on the international guessing game?  I’m talking about Tibet; the pseudo-nation/kingdom that has been the focus of many international groups who argue that China brutalizes its inhabitants.  While China puts forth the stance that they liberated Tibet’s citizens from the backward and despotic rule of the now displaced Dalai Lama.  Geopolitical happenings aside, Potala Restaurant in Seoul brings you a small taste of what the mystical kingdom can offer in terms of food.  It’s located at 서울시 종로구 관철동  35-2 수표교빌딩 지하1층 (GwanCheol-Dong 35-2 SuPyoKyo Building B1 Jongno-gu, Seoul).  Here’s their menu.IMG_0668

To begin, the decoration inside and outside the restaurant was sumptuous and in good taste while reflecting the richness of Tibetan culture through numerous Buddhist symbols like prayer flags and prayer wheels.  One of the highlights of the dining experiences was the giant prayer wheel in the middle of the restaurant which actually spun which the owner showed us how to do it with great gusto.IMG_0676  While we were initially taken in by the colorful surroundings, we slowly but surely made up our mind on what we wanted to order.  Since we all have been living in Korea, we decided to do like the locals and share all of our food.  It was a great decision.

The first thing that came out were the fried momos or Tibetan dumplings (8,000 W).

Gimme Mo,mo, mo!

Gimme mo,mo, mo!

They looked like your classic Chinese dim sum dumplings but deep fried to a light yellow hue.  They were also served with a chutney that seemed unnaturally green.  However, my fears were soon allayed once I bit into one of these small cocoons of deliciousness (side note:  they took a long time to cool off, so wait a bit before taking a big chomp).  The fried dough was slightly flaky and crunchy while the interior was filled with potatoes, peas, and curry which all went well with the green chutney.  Then the Thali set (20,000 W) came out which was a sampler of various mostly Indian and some Nepali specialties. IMG_0670 I personally didn’t think it was anything special in terms of the foods offered like the curried vegetables, kerala, or butter chicken, but I did enjoy the crispy papadum cracker infused with black pepper in the middle.  It also came with a side of tandoori chicken which was uninspiring to say the least.  It was quite bland, and the meat was a bit too dry for my liking.  While we were in the middle of that five ring circus, two more Tibetan dishes came out.  First, there was the than thuk fry with veggies (10,000 W).

Not red hot at all (Thuk on left, Bhakle on right with parathas)

Not red hot at all (Thuk on left, Bhakle on right with parathas)

It was a noodle dish that was just ok.  The red sauce had a minor spicy zing to each bite, and the vegetables were cooked nicely.  Overall, it was a bit too bland for me.  However, I was really excited to see the second Tibetan plate come to the table which was loaded with shoko bhakle (8,000 W).  I was excited because it was promoted as being really spicy on the menu, but I think we might have been the victims of false advertising.  Now, I can eat some really spicy food, and I found these potatoes in red sauce to be quite tame since I was preparing for a vindaloo level of spice.  Others at the table who don’t normally eat spicy food also thought that it wasn’t anything dangerous to eat.   Perhaps the cooks toned it down since Koreans believe that all foreigners can’t handle a little spice.  Either that, or I’ve found that Koreans think they can eat really spicy food, but they’ve never tried anything past maybe a jalapeno level of heat.  However, the tubers did have an interesting flavor profile that reminded me strangely of patatas bravas, and they did go very well with the well made parathas.  The last thing we had for dinner was a bowl of palak paneer (Indian cheese with spinach; 12,000 W).

Awww, I heart you too, paneer.

Awww, I heart you too, paneer.

It was made even greater with the introduction of some great, piping hot pieces of regular and garlic naan that were anything but simple.  The garlic in the garlic naan was understated which really let the spinach and cheese shine.  Once we demolished all of that food, we were quite satisfied, but there was still the issue of dessert.  We ended up sharing some fried bananas (7,000 W) which were amazing.  While the buttery dough brought you in, the fresh banana along with the bittersweet honey made your tastebuds feel right at home with a warm embrace that wasn’t too sweet thankfully.

Then there were the drinks people had.  Some ordered rice beer or chang (12,000 W) which looked like Korean makkeoli, but it had a very sour flavor profile that apparently grew less apparent the more you drank it (perhaps that was the alcohol working on my friends too haha).  I, however, plumped (literally) for the butter tea (4,000 W). It’s a signature drink of Tibet since most of their food, clothes, and everything else comes from the almighty yak.

The ultimate fatty drink

The ultimate fatty drink

The tea looked like a slightly foamy milk when it came out in its humble wooden bowl.  I could only describe it as drinking a cup of tea mixed with Land O’Lakes but not really salty.  It was a strange, smooth brew, and I’m sure it would hit the spot after a long day of expending calories while hiking through the Himalayas.  I worked out in the morning, and I was drinking butter at night.  I guess you could say I’m even.  By the end of the meal, we were thoroughly stuffed with some great and interesting food and beverages.

So if you looking for a good time with great food, check out Potala Restaurant in Seoul.  It’s quite enlightening.

Pigging Out In Hongdae

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Hello and bonjour everybody!  The summer is slowly but surely floating along as I’m struggling to cope with this unbearable heatwave that has struck Korea.  Energy-draining and lung-flattening humidity aside, I finally managed to make it out to a new restaurant in Hongdae in Seoul.  Now, I’ve been perusing a food blog or two trying to find newly opened places or niche cuisine eateries, but my friend’s birthday party turned me on to a pretty standard restaurant with some offbeat choices.  I’m talking about Beale St.  located at 363-28 Seokyo Dong Mapo Gu.  It’s right next to Burger B, the original establishment we were going to check out.

Their sign is like the sun.  If you look directly at it, you will go blind.

Their sign is like the sun. If you look directly at it, you will go blind.

When I saw the name of the restaurant, Beale St., I was brought back to one of my most enjoyable vacations to Memphis, Tennessee.  I went with my family to Memphis to see Elvis’ Graceland and of course, taste that delicious barbecue.  Beale St. is the main thoroughfare in downtown Memphis.  Check out my other post that I wrote about another burger joint in Memphis with absolutely mammoth, mouth-watering onion rings (Click Here For The Post).   Naturally, I saw that the walls in Beale St. were festooned with various types of American kitsch like old gas advertisements, instruments, and even a Graceland sign.IMG_0651  Anyway, to the food.  Looking over the menu, I saw that they were staying true to Memphis’ barbecue legacy with a laundry list of classics like a half/full rack of ribs (23,000 W/43,000 W, respectively), burnt ends (16,000 W), and their chicken “boobs” (10,000 W) that apparently are bbq chicken breasts (tee hee, you so funny, Beale St.). They have a great beer and liquor selection that would be rare to find in other restaurants in Korea.  They also have the menu from Burger B next door, so you can order a burger like almost everyone else in my party group did.  I heard they were pretty good based off their reactions, but I went for two off-beat choices from Beale St.:  chicharron popcorn (4,000 W) and boudin (pronounced “boo-dahn”) ball (5,000 W).  They were both washed down with a heavenly vanilla-caramel milkshake (7,000 W).

First, there was the chicharron popcorn.  Most people know what popcorn is, but I’m pretty sure no one at my table knew what the slightly bizarre items were on top of the popcorn.  Growing up in the Chicago area where we have the 4th highest population of Mexicans in the USA, I was exposed at an early age to the different foods of that culture like chicharrones.  While the chicharrones may look like some sort of puffy rice cake, they are actually pieces of pork skin that are seasoned and deep fried in order to make a tough, inedible piece of the pig edible.  So when they came out, it was a basket of popcorn loaded to the top with chicharrones.

Porky popcorn pleasure

Porky popcorn pleasure

Normally when eating chicharrones, you’d like to put some hot chili sauce on them to give them a bit of a flaming zing, but Beale St. thought of that for me.  They managed to put a semi-sweet glaze over each curled piece, and then doused them with a perfect amount of dry chili rub.  The popcorn was prepared in the same fashion that really was a change of pace from your typical butter laden bucket you’d find at your local movie theatre or at home.  As for my other mini-entree, I was intrigued to see how they interpreted the Cajun boudin balls.  For those who don’t really know that much or anything about Cajun cooking, let me explain.  The Cajun culture arose from French-speaking Acadians who immigrated from Canada to what is modern day Louisiana in the USA back in the 1700s during French and British hostilities in the Seven Years War.  The Acadians created their own ethnic and cultural enclave that has left an indelible mark on Louisiana especially on the music scene with zydeco, their own variety of French still spoken today, and especially the food realm with their rustic French inspired dishes.  This leads me to what boudin is.  It’s a pork sausage that can be made with blood (boudin rouge) or without (boudin blanc) and stuffed with ground pork, Cajun spices, and dirty rice (Cajun rice cooked with pieces of liver and gizzards).  The balls, however, were made by rolling this filling into small spheres and deep frying them.  Given this explanation, I was a bit confused that they had Cajun food like gumbo, jambalaya, and boudin in a restaurant focused on cuisine from Tennessee.  Maybe they mixed up Memphis’ Beale St. with New Orleans’ Bourbon St..  Either way, I was satisfied even though the balls really could have been bigger for the price.IMG_0655  The bread crumb shell was a beautiful golden brown while the inside was a bit too mildly seasoned for proper Cajun cuisine, but they tried to make up for it by using a spicy Korean gochujang-based sauce that was drizzled over these tasty nuggets.  The overall quality of the rice and pork melange was superb though.  I assumed the Korean owners would get right these parts of the boudin right since they’re two staples of the Korean diet. IMG_0656 On the side, there was a lovely clover salad that was gingerly dressed in a sweet vinaigrette that provided a light balance to the dense, meaty richness of the boudin.  Finally, there was the milkshake…lord, the milkshake. IMG_0652 It was simple in presentation, but flavor-wise it was quite elaborate.  Whilst the buttercream element of the vanilla started off each sip, there would be a lightning bolt of sugary caramel that would flash across my palate and hit my pleasure zone every time. I would recommend this twist on an ice cream shop classic to anyone.

Overall, Beale St. has a slight identity crisis with the items on their menu, and they are a bit on the expensive side.  Regardless of the price, if you want well made burgers, barbecue, and Cajun cuisine, you will not be disappointed.  To quote the immortal Cookin’ Cajun, Justin Wilson, “I guarantee!“.

Where Everyone Should Bee

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Hey everyone!  So today I am going to be bringing you quite the intriguing post where not only did I have a sumptuous brunch, but I also hit up what might be my new favorite summer hangout.  Definitely worthy of my 90th post! First, there is the Honey Bowl.  You can get to it by going to Hapjeong station and leaving exit 4.  Head straight and take the first left by the bike shop.  The street will split, so take the left path.  Walk for about 10 minutes, and you will see it on your right hand side.  You will pass a CU and a 7-11 on your way there in that order.  Here is their Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Honey-Bowl/263651367034499.IMG_0631

So when I got there to meet up with two friends, we thankfully didn’t have to wait too long in the blazing sun, but once we got inside, we saw that the small eatery was tastefully decorated like the inside of a beehive minus the gross beeswax and scary killer bees.IMG_0628  Their menu is quite comprehensive for a country that doesn’t really believe in the idea of breakfast, and it has all of your Western favorites like eggs and bacon, hash browns, sausage, and french toast.  However, I was really craving some pancakes, so I went with the chocolate fudge pancakes (7,000 W).  One of my main complaints with the restaurant was their water service.  They gave us very small cups, and it was very hot out.  Ergo, we were going to need a lot of water to stay hydrated.  In other places operated by Koreans, like in my other post about Taco Cielo, they gave the table a large pitcher of water to save themselves the trip of constantly giving out refills.  Not in the Honey Bowl.  This key error negatively impacted the flow of the restaurant since the wait staff spent so much time filling water which then made orders come in slower for the cooks which then made the wait time longer for your food.  However, I was glad I waited because these pancakes were light, fluffy flapjacks sent down from Paul Bunyan Jesus. IMG_0629 He crafted them in his divine skillet in the sky, and then baptized them in the name of deliciousness by submerging them in the holy chocolate sauce that was just the right viscosity, i.e. not too runny and not too thick like cake frosting.   The whip cream with chocolate chips on top were just gilding the rose, but at that point, I didn’t care.  They sadly weren’t gigantic pancakes for someone like me with a Paul Bunyan appetite, so I also tried the Honey Bowl’s single plate of cheese potato (6,500 W). IMG_0630 It was a very simple dish of potato wedges smothered in cheddar and mozzarella cheese along with pieces of American bacon.  Surprisingly, it was not greasy at all, and the potatoes were neither soggy nor drowned out by the suffocating richness of the salty bacon and cheese.  It also came with a side of sweet and sour sauce that had a chili pepper base that gave this mound of carbs and fat a bit of a spicy kick.  After those two small items, it was time to hit up Fell and Cole again for some funkier ice cream flavors.

Today they had the type of ice cream that I was expecting from the Cali transplant.  I got a double with a scoop of perilla or sesame leaf ( 깻잎) leaf ice cream and then a scoop of All Black which was a mix of Guinness and chocolate.

Why is mediocrity always on top of greatness?

Why is mediocrity always on top of greatness?

The perilla leaf came first, and I can definitely say I prefer them deep fried instead of in ice cream form.  If they’re eaten deep fried or in ssam bap form (raw), they have a strong, almost peppery flavor, but this dairy version made it taste like I was eating frozen sharp cheddar.  I do love my cheese, but it is a bit unexpected and almost unwanted when you’re eating it as ice cream.  Once I soldiered my way through that pastel green semi-abomination, I once again stumbled on buried treasure.  Just like in my last post, Nosh Pit, the alcohol infused ice cream was better not just because it had a bit of alcohol in it.  I love Guinness beer to begin with, so I might be biased.  Nevertheless, the bold, black coffee cloak of the Irish classic enveloped the milk chocolate which somehow made my tastebuds do a Riverdance of joy.  It was like a run-of-the mill chocolate ice cream that had a boosting agent that both complimented and intensified the cocoa element of the creation.  If they ever have the All Black flavor, get it and you will thank your Lucky Charms you tried it.  Well, that’s all for me on my end, so try Honey Bowl if you’re missing some delicious Western breakfast food.  You won’t bee sorry.

Heaven’s A Place On Earth

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Hola a todos y bienvenidos a mi blog Mastication Monologues!  Today I finally managed to go to a restaurant that has been three different visits in the making.  Now, living in Korea has made me miss a lot of things back home, but none more than the variety of food that we have back in the USA, especially any type of Latin American/Spanish cuisine.  So, I was determined to try Taco Cielo in Incheon since I heard it had the best Mexican food around.  The first three times I went there (Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, and a Wednesday evening) they were closed which left me absolutely flabbergasted that they would be closed during times that people would want to eat.  However, today was no ordinary day since I managed to survive a huge Korean deluge and a killer workout in the gym.  So I was hoping that my luck would change with this taqueria.  I eventually made my way to Taco Cielo on the Incheon 1 Line all the way to Incheon Bus Terminal.  I then left exit two, crossed the main street in front of the bus terminal, and turned right and then left when I reached the KEB.  I walked about 100 feet, and I was in front of the building where it was nestled on the sixth floor.  Here is their website.

It's up on the sixth floor.

It’s up on the sixth floor.

When I entered the elevator, I was praying that I wasn’t going to be greeted with another, “Sorry, closed” sign on the dark glass door, and it seems that it was open…sort of.  I got there at 4:45 pm on a Tuesday, and they didn’t open until 5 pm.  I have no idea what is up with their operating hours, but they were quite hospitable.  I was able to sit at a table and drink water until their kitchen opened.  Plus, they had plenty of A/C, so that was muy bueno para mi.  It had a good ambiance even though I was the only person in there, and I eventually chose two items that really caught my fancy on the menu.IMG_0613  I plumped for the beef burrito with cheese gravy (9,600 W) since it was discount Burrito Tuesday (I saved 4,000 Won), and then I picked the beef fried Mexican rice (7,000 W) to get a little Korean/Asian flavor up in my meal.  The main cook came back because he was astounded that I would order two things since he insinuated that I ordered enough food for three people.  I’m surprised he never met hungrier waygooks than me.

Anyway, the burrito came out first, and it looked like Mount Popocatepetl just erupted all over a pueblo below its mighty cumbre (summit).IMG_0607  They did not skimp on the queso fundido salsa which made me very excited since real cheese is quite rare in a land that considers quality cheese to come in tube form.  I quickly got up in its guts to find plenty of beef, lettuce, cilantro, onions, and tomatoes beneath a fresh flour tortilla.IMG_0608  It was like everything from back home managed to make the 13 hour plane ride to join me for the meal.  The beef was juicy and seasoned with a bit of cumin while the lettuce and cilantro were both freshly chopped.  The cook also double checked to see if I wanted cilantro in the first place which I found interesting because he was Korean, and most Koreans seem adverse to cilantro in dishes.  Yet I know I definitely don’t look Korean, so perhaps it was just a force of habit for him to ask me if I wanted any.  Portion-wise, the burrito was about six inches long tops, but the savory cheddar sauce definitely stole the show for the first part of my dinner.  The second act of this food telenovela was somewhat odd.

Now back home in Chicago, almost every Mexican restaurant pairs entrees with a side of beans and rice, but I knew I wanted to try the Asian twist on a Mexican classic where they combined Korean fried rice with Mexican ingredients.  What I ended up eating was certainly better than what I was expecting.

That's some funky arroz frito, tio.

That’s some funky arroz frito, tio.

When the waitress brought it out, it was a mini-mound of rice on what seemed like a Nacho Libre sized tortilla along with a square, tostada- looking tortilla.  She then recommended that I keep the fork to cut the crunchy tortilla, but I found that the tortillas were superfluous to the actual meal unless you planned on eating the rice with your hands Indian-style.  I wouldn’t recommend it though.  The actual rice was found underneath the center flaps of the larger tortilla which was drizzled with soy sauce, gochujang, and sour cream.  All of that combined with the fried Mexican rice and cilantro to create a cool, spicy, and tangy creature that can only be likened to a culinary Chupacabra.  I’ve only heard rumors about it in its natural habitat, but I’ll never forget this tortilla to mouth encounter which left me full and muy satisfecho.

So if you’re craving some Mexican food while visiting Incheon, definitely go to Taco Cielo.  It seems to be a better bargain than Vato’s Tacos in Itaewon in Seoul, but I still have to check that establishment out.  While it’s no Taco Grill like back home in my other post or Los Nopales, you definitely will feel like you died and went al cielo!

Food Porn and Cheating Death

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Hello and welcome to a summer edition of Mastication Monologues!  I just got back from a short weekend jaunt to Busan in the southeast corner of the Korean peninsula.  I definitely enjoyed my time there as it was filled with plenty of sun, surf, and super people we met along the way.  However, the main point of this post is that I crossed off two more of my Korean food challenges while seeing a new place.  One of the biggest tourist attractions in Busan is the Jagalchi Fish Market, and it was the first thing we visited since it was right next to our hostel.

The biggest fish market in Korea.

The biggest fish market in Korea.

Not only is it the biggest fish market in Korea, but it was probably one of the least smelliest fish markets I’ve ever been in.  I was quickly face to face with one of the more notorious types of “fish” in Korea:   개불 or gaebul or penis fish.  It’s quite an apt name when you see them in person.

Anyway, so I was looking at them in the basket just chilling out there, and very quickly one of the fishmongers asked me if I wanted to look at one.

It's like a nude beach.

It’s like a nude beach.

I replied in the affirmative, and she quickly pulled one out and almost shoved it in my face.  However, she then proceeded to squeeze it, and the “fish” literally began to start peeing out water.

Yep, it's really peeing.

Someone needs to get their prostate checked.

This was getting a bit too real for me, and she proceeded to throw it back in with the other members in the basket.  However, I signaled that I wanted to eat it, and she smiled and yelled out, “Sashimi!” to her friends.  What that meant for those not familiar with sushi terms or the Korean version, “Hoe“, it meant that I was going to eat it raw.  It was only 2,000 Won for one gaebul.  I saw that the fish quickly shrunk, and it was full of blood while she was slicing through the flesh.  She brought it out to me awash in a devilishly red gojuchang chili sauce, and I found the taste to be surprisingly delightful.IMG_1940  I never thought I would be saying that after eating something named after a male sexual organ.  Texture-wise it was quite firm yet slightly rubbery, and taste-wise it kind of had a neutral taste even though I was expecting some sort of briny wave of flavor.

No homo, bro.

No homo, bro.

Overall, it was better than the second fish dish I had that didn’t quite live up to the hype.

Now if you know me, I’m one of the biggest Simpsons fans, so I was naturally intrigued by the episode where Homer eats fugu (literally meaning “river pig”) or poisonous blowfish.  The danger lies in the organs like the liver and eyes, and if not prepared correctly, a diner will slowly become paralyzed while still conscious.  Eventually the person will die of asphyxiation, and there is no antidote for the poison once ingested.  Sounds like a tasty meal, right?

No sweat for kitchen prep.

No sweat for kitchen prep.

After taking down my sexually suggestive snack, we wandered about the Jagalchi area and ended up finding a restaurant that specialized in 복국 or bokguk  which is a blowfish soup. IMG_1991 When I walked in there was only one man going to town on a bowl of fish soup, but the owners were surprised when I asked him for a bowl of pufferfish soup (10,000 won).  While I was waiting at the table, the ladies in the back were just staring at me like I was a madman.  While they set out the side dishes, they warily approached me like I was some sort of superhuman being.  Eventually they set it out for me, and I just saw a clear broth filled with bean sprouts.

Below the surface lurks the poison

Below the surface lurks the poison

I slowly began to eat the crispy veggies along with the occasional peppery perilla leaf, but the clear broth was quite bland.  Once diving beneath the layer of semi-mediocrity, I was face to face with three big pieces of pufferfish.  Most of the pieces were bones unfortunately.  I was somewhat freaked out since I could see the black and white skin along with the eye sockets (one of most poisonous areas), but thankfully the skin is safe.  I took a couple bites of the tender white flesh that was hanging off the bones, and in the back of my head I was somewhat freaking out thinking whether or not it was going to be my last.

Going in for the kill (hopefully not me).

Going in for the kill (hopefully not me).

The flesh of the pufferfish was actually disappointing.  Although the flesh was quite delicate in terms of texture, it was devoid of any sort of flavor.  So if this was going to be my last meal, I’d definitely ask for a refund.  However, in the end, I could proudly say that I survived eating a potentially life-threatening animal regardless of my crestfallen state after consuming it.  Plus, it was just another highlight of a great weekend trip to my new favorite city in Korea.

In the end, if you were to try one of the two, I would suggest trying the penis fish over the blowfish soup.  It’s more than a mouthful of culinary pleasure ;).

Freude Durch Essen (Joy Through Food)

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Hello and welcome to another chapter in Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be telling you about two very different types of food.  One is a traditional Korean dinner dish while the other is a German dessert that has been transplanted to Korea (with smashing results).  First, there is the chicken restaurant that I went to in Incheon located by Bupyeong Station.  Here is how to get there:  Go to exit 12 at the Bupyeong metro station.  Go out and head straight and take the first left at the alley on your left hand side.  Walk down to the 7-11 and then make a left and it will be on your left hand side across the street from the bar Woodstock.IMG_0557

Anyway, it seemed like a pretty popular place when we walked in since every four to five person booth was filled with people chowing down on giant bowls of chicken stewing in a dark sauce with assorted vegetables.  The bday boy, Ryan, informed me that we were going to get Andong Jjimdak (안동찜닭)  with ganjang (35,000 Won).  For those who don’t know Korean cuisine, we ordered a heaping bowl of steamed chicken that was marinated in soy sauce and stewed with glass noodles and vegetables like sweet potatoes, onions, and chili peppers.  We wisely signaled to our waitress that we wanted the chicken without bones, and she understood us.  This made eating it a whole lot easier.  Before the meal, they supplied us with typical side dishes like pickled cucumbers and kimchi, but a nice twist was a cold vinegar soup with radish.  I was the only one who finished it at our table since I really enjoyed its cool yet briny flavor profile.  When the jjimdak finally came out, it was a plate that took up probably a quarter of the table.

Needs more carbs

Needs more carbs

Then again, there were five of us there, so we were each going to get a fair share of the chicken stew.  I helped myself to a couple pieces of chicken, some fiery red chili peppers, and a few large onion slices. IMG_0556 The meat was mouth-wateringly tender and fell apart in my mouth, and the soy sauce was on the sweeter end which really let the savory elements shine.  I obviously left the tteokbokki (rice cakes) for those who enjoy them more than I, but I did try to eat a lot of the noodles and chili peppers.  Once the chicken was gone, I tucked into the of dark brown, Sargasso Sea of noodles.  I found that it was quite difficult to eat them with just metal chopsticks.  Eventually I got my fill after some struggle, but they were not anything special.  I do have doff my cap to the chili peppers though.  Even when Koreans have bragged about their food being spicy, I have been left wanting.  So I was delighted to just go right to the source and snack on some Tabasco-level spicy chiles.  I normally eat more than the average bear, probably more akin to a grizzly, so I was still hungry afterward.  However, for two or even three people, it would be plenty of quality food for the price.  I highly recommend this restaurant if you’re looking for a traditional Korean dish that comes in an American-sized portion:  gargantuan.  The second part of the post involves a dessert I tried in Bupyeong Station called Schnee Pang.

I have seen numerous food stalls in the underground market of Bupyeong Station, but right by Exit 13 there is a German inspired, confectionery stand called Schnee Pang.IMG_0527  I finally took the plunge and tried one of their bizarre looking cookie balls.  After doing a bit of research on these addicting, diabetes-inducing balls of sugar, I found that they are  called Schneeballen or “Snowballs” in German.  They are over 300 years old and hail from Rothenburg, Germany.  They’re made with strips of dough that are then wrapped around a handle, and then said handle is removed.  These dough balls are then put in a special holder called a Schneeballeneisen (hooray for compounds!) and deep fried.  What you end up with is a large cookie ball that is coated in various types of chocolate and powdered sugar like my Snow Sugar Chocolate Schneeball (2,900 W).

You You You Ball of Chocolate! (I don't know why it's in French at a German place)

You You You Ball of Chocolate! (I don’t know why it’s in French at a German place)

It’s even fun to buy as you get the option of smashing the softball sized ball with a wooden hammer for no extra charge.  I went for the gusto and smashed it like the Soviets did Berlin in 1945.

Smashee Smashee Teacha!

Smashee Smashee Teacha!

When I finally tried my German pastry, it was kind of like eating buttery, thicker fortune cookie shards smothered in milk chocolate and powdered sugar.IMG_0530  Long story short, it was amazing and interactive.  What’s not to like?IMG_0532

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Red Beans!

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So I don’t know if this post could really hold a candle to my previous post (See Crazy Karate) where I ate a live octopus, but it’s about food that almost everyone around the world loves:  ice cream.  Whenever I’m traveling to different countries/regions of the USA, I like to see what sort of twists the locals can put on foods that I recognize in order to accommodate local palates.  With ice cream in South Korea, it’s no different even when it comes to an American chain that most people would recognize:  Baskin Robbins.  Before I get to some good old-fashioned American ice cream that has been Koreanized, let me quickly mention a purely Korean treat that I tried after going to Jongmyo temple with my friends.

I had kept on hearing about the different types of traditional Korean desserts like the ubiquitous rice cake or even 팥빙수 patbingsu which is shaved ice traditionally topped with azuki beans, fruit, and yogurt.  I’ve never tried it, but while rummaging through the ice cream bin at the CU convenience store, I stumbled upon a red bean popsicle.IMG_0468  Thankfully, it was a 2+1 deal, so I got other flavors as chasers to this red bean one if it was really terrible.  I was glad I did that because this bean-laden ice pop did not beat the unbearable heat and humidity.

That ain't right

That ain’t right

When I bit into it, I was immediately immersed in a world of whole red beans.  The medium in which the beans were suspended didn’t have much flavor, but I was overwhelmed by the savory sweet sensation.  It definitely wasn’t a good choice.  However, Baskin Robbins didn’t disappoint in terms of trying strange new foods.

My friend Carolyn and I decided to get dessert after a small dinner, and that naturally led us to Baskin Robbins since she has a major sweet tooth while I’ve never been to one in Korea.  I scanned the menu for something beyond the typical cone and cup binary, and my eyes wandered over to the “frozen desserts” section.  They were cheaper than ice cream, but the names sounded so odd like “Apogato” and “Honeybread”.  Definitely not like the ice cream shops back home.  I eventually settled on a snow mochi (2,000 won) and a biscuit choux (2,000 won).IMG_0495

Koreans love their French

Koreans love their French

I started with the snow mochi since I had already had mochi before.  For those who don’t know what mochi is, it’s a type of rice dough similar to Korea’s tteok where it’s quite pliable and has a neutral flavor.  I picked up the little pink ice ball and bit into it.

Phase 1:  face to face

Phase 1: face to face

I don’t know what it was, perhaps my love for gummi candy, but the mochi’s rubbery texture combined with the hard, cold ice cream really made me love this small treat.  Plus, the mochi was strawberry flavored which resulted in a fruity vanilla swirl that would be hard to beat.

Phase 2:  Entry

Phase 2: Entry

In the center, there was some sort of gelatinous fruit that I assumed was more strawberry paste, but overall, I was quite satisfied with the snow mochi.

Phase 3:  Sweet victory

Phase 3: Sweet victory

With the bar set high by the snow mochi, the biscuit choux was bound to not live up to the same expectations.  While the outside had the same appearance as some sort of dry pastry (choux is the same dough used in eclairs), when I bit into it I was greeted with some chocolate hidden treasure. IMG_0500 This was the only bright point of the biscuit choux.

Chocotastic

Chocotastic

The ice cream was great with a rich milk chocolate flavor and high butterfat content, but the pastry was a mere spectator to the show that was our dessert.  Alas, it was flaky and flavorless.  While the mochi was exotic and entertaining like a Cirque du Soleil show, the biscuit felt like this, entertaining but falling a bit flat.

Either way, I highly recommend that you try some Baskin Robbins while you’re in Korea if you’re looking for some delicious ice cream.  As for the red bean popsicles, I’m going to give them the cold shoulder in the future.

I Don’t Know Karate, But I Do Know Crazy

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Well, I managed to take down another culinary milestone in my life:  I ate something that was still alive.  Naturally, I would only be able to do this sort of thing outside of America where we prefer our animals dead and processed into slabs, tubes, or patties.  Now that’s some “fresh food”, but nothing comparable to 산낙지 or sannakji or live octopus.

While everyone around the world has heard of Japanese sushi, Korea has its own version of it called 회 or Hoe.  I’m not the biggest sushi fan, but when I heard that you could order and eat an octopus that is still alive made me want to try it even more.  I began researching eating live octopus in Korea, and I found out that people have died from it due to the suction cups sticking to their inside of their throats while swallowing.  This element of danger lingered in the back of my head as I made my way to the restaurant (Sinjung-dong metro stop, exit three.  Take a left, then take a left on the first street on your left.  Take a right on the first street on your right).  Simple, right?

Bucheon's finest

Bucheon’s finest

When we sat down, I quickly ordered sannakji for 15,000 won.  I got a Cass beer on the side just in case the octopus wanted to get frisky.  Nothing stops an octopus from killing you faster than being doused in terrible Korean beer.

Eventually my meal came out with a mystery omelet that resided within a small cauldron.

Mystery egg dish to the left, silk worm larvae to the left of the seaweed soup

Mystery egg dish to the left, silk worm larvae to the left of the seaweed soup

It seemed that the eggs were whipped somehow into a fluffy foam that spread out and filled the bowl almost to the top.  Plus, they brought out a small dish of bondegi or silkworm larvae.  As if eating live octopus wasn’t enough, they thought I needed some bug babies to munch on.  I had already tried them though (See Ssam bam a loo bop), so I waited until they brought out the beast on a large plate.

Still squirmin'

Still squirmin’

Unfortunately, they didn’t sell whole octopodes, but this plate was still writhing about without poking it too much.  I could see the head and the tentacles all chopped up in one, big goopy mass.  I found the flavor to be not as briny/fishy as I was anticipating, but it was more earthy in nature than anything.  It went went well with the savory soy paste a.k.a. chogochujang (초고추장).  However, the rubbery texture combined with the suction cups grabbing my teeth and roof of my mouth were a bit unnerving.  It was also hard to pick pieces up because they were suction-cupped to the plate , squirming out of my reach, and had the consistency of slimy pudding.  Mission impossible for someone with metal chopsticks.  I decided to take one last bite with my spoon to cap off this monumental moment in Mastication Monologues history.  I will try and seek out a place that sells whole octopus and will follow up this post in the near future.  Kudos to Carolyn for being a brave camerawoman even though she was quite nauseated for a majority of my dining experience.  Click here for the video of me struggling against live tentacles and eventually eating the octopus’ head!

One last spoonful

One last spoonful

Bits and Bobs

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Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today’s post is in the same vein as some previous posts where instead of offering reviews on local restaurants, I comment on some random, small snack foods that I have tried while living in Korea (See:  Got The Munchies?).  I’ll begin with probably the healthiest snack my coteachers have given me.  One day I was in my cubicle after lunch, and I noticed that my coteachers and other teachers were crowding around the table in our office.  I could tell they were eating something with their hands, but I couldn’t see what.  I approached, and they offered me a plate covered in small, bright red fruit.  They looked kind of like cranberries but tinier.

I eated the red berries

I eated the red berries

I popped one in my mouth, and I was greeted with a complex rush of sweet, bitter, and sour flavors.  Plus, I quickly found out that they have a pit.  One of my coteachers told me that these were Korean cherries which made sense with the pit.  When the teachers saw my approval, they insisted that I eat the rest of the plate.  I naturally obliged as they were saying I wasn’t eating them fast enough, so I went from teacher to chipmunk in 1 minute flat.  I didn’t feel that bad because fruit is insanely expensive in Korea, and I can’t say that stuffing my cheeks with fruit is bad for my health.  Now that I’ve described the healthy food, let’s get to the good stuff.  First there are the spicy Pringles.

Now, I’ve had my fair share of Pringles since I love their flavors, texture, and I’m from Amurika, so I wanted to see what kind of flavors they would have in Korea.  I needed something to go with my kimbap lunch for my hiking trip, and I settled on the Wild Spice Pringles.

Tube of disappointment

Tube of disappointment

I read the can, and I saw that they were Thai in origin.   This made me really excited since some Thai food is spicy enough to leave you using a colostomy bag.  However, they were a very big let down.  They looked like normal Pringles chips seasoned with a light brown powder, but this supposed firework show of spicy hellfire was more like a damp sparkler, unimpressive at best.  It just tasted like a potato chip with some soy sauce.  However, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom.  I found some Korean bakery that was quite nice.

While I was waiting for my friend, who is currently visiting me, at Bupyeong station on the platform going towards International Business District, I managed to be lured to a small food stall by an enchantingly sweet aroma.  The board on the top of the mini establishment said, “Manjoo Hana”, and I could see that they were selling different types of waffles.20130105-235347[1]  However, I was intrigued by the conveyor belt that consisted of small metal moulds being filled with batter and custard and then being baked in an oven.  I went for a 3,000 W bag which got me about 15 of these small pastries.  They were fresh out of the oven, so I had to take care not to bite in too soon and have my fingers/mouth coated in the napalm-esque custard inside each pastry.  When they finally cooled down, I found them to be great finger food since I was starving after a long day of work.

A litter of newly born Manjoo

A litter of newly born Manjoo

The dough was soft and buttery like a cake donut while the custard on the inside was creamy and had understated vanilla notes.  It would go nicely with this 19 grain cereal milk my coteacher gave me this week in honor of finally finishing recording our final exams.

It does a waygook body good

It does a waygook body good

It tasted like a less decadent vanilla milk shake which was surprising since it allegedly contained wheat, kefir, buckwheat, and sorghum to name a few grains.  Oh, Korea.  You do surprise me sometimes.  Especially with the last treat that tasted a lot better than it looked.

Since Korean summer is starting to get into full swing with sunlight that can make you feel like a roasting pot roast and humidity that can make you feel like you’re walking in a steam bath, all of the teachers in my office got ice cream.  I picked one that looked like chocolate, but when I opened it up it looked like something a bit more unsavory.

Before...

Before…

What I was staring at was a chocolate popsicle that looked suspiciously like a log of stool.

After: A real poopsicle

After: A real poopsicle

I bring up this association due to the fact that Korean culture seems to celebrate poop and don’t see it as something that is an object of revulsion in the West.  So I eventually managed to open this tube after what seemed like an eternal struggle to find what was the equivalent of a fudgesicle inside.  It was a treat that managed to cut through this crappy summer heat.

So here is another small glimpse at the vast variety of snack foods that Korea has to offer.  Some may seem more appetizing than others, but the main thing is that I ventured out and tried something new.

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