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Throwback Post: Haggis and Irn Bru in Scotland

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Hello and welcome to another throwback edition of Mastication Monologues!  I’ve finally made it out of the Eastern European leg of posts (Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary), and now time to focus on Western Europe.  Where better to start than the land that has given us Sean Connery, the Loch Ness Monster, and Groundskeeper Willie among many other great cultural exports:  mighty mighty Scotland!

Blending in with the locals.

Blending in with the locals.

My first and only visit to Scotland was during the summer following my graduation from undergrad in 2010.  It seems like forever ago, but it was an enchanting place to explore.  We started first in Edinburgh which is often mispronounced by Americans as “Eh din burg” instead of how the locals say it “Eh din burra”.  Luckily, I learned my best Scottish accent from the previously mentioned surly yet totally hilarious Groundskeeper Willie who we aren’t quite sure where he hails from.  Aberdeen?  North Kilt Town?  Who knows?  Either way, I at least didn’t get made fun of by any of the locals or when out on the town with my friend, Sandy, and his sister’s friends.  Linguistic differences aside, the Scots are wonderful people and very proud of their heritage, especially in Edinburgh.  My parents and I walked along the Royal Mile, the Edinburgh Castle, and gazed at Arthur’s Seat from afar among many other famous sights.

Royal Mile

Royal Mile

DSC01747DSC01757 DSC01767We also took a trip to Glasgow, the knife crime capital of Europe, but I found it to be the rougher, more realistic Scotland compared to the neat and shiny Edinburgh.  While there, we visited both Rangers and Celtic Football Clubs a.k.a. The Old Firm.  This is one of the fiercest sporting rivalries in the world which makes Bears vs. Packers look like a day in the Brady Bunch House.  What makes the relationship between these two clubs particularly tense is that they were traditionally divided along political and religious lines.  Rangers being pro-Union with England and Protestant while Celtic is pro-Scottish independence and Catholic.DSC01784DSC01792  The clashes of Protestant versus Catholic left the battlefields of Europe and were transferred to soccer rivalries.  Hundreds of people have died or been victims of violence caused by the tension between the warring tribes.  Even back in 2011, then manager and former Celtic player Neil Lennon received packages containing bullets and death threats from Protestant supporters.  Luckily, my visits were much more peaceful minus the fierce winds.  Along with the futbol, we sampled a bit of the local flavor in the form of haggis.  Now, if you’ve never heard of this quintessentially Scottish dish, brace yourself for this description.  It is a sheep’s stomach stuffed with hearts, lungs, liver, onions, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt.  It is all then boiled for around three hours and then sliced or minced.  This organ rich dish even has its own special dinner and poem dedicated to the memory of Scottish poet Robert Burns.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t any fanfare when this meat dish was placed in front of me along with the naughty sounding neeps and tatties on the side (those are turnips and potatoes, respectively, in Scottish English, pervs). DSC01774 I started with the haggis and was pleasantly surprised.

tatties, haggis in the middle, and orange neeps

tatties, haggis in the middle, and orange neeps

It was rich, beefy, yet slightly nutty, but it wasn’t heavy at all.  It was almost like a meat granola in texture which I could imagine was due to the oatmeal.  The oat crackers on the side didn’t help it at all since they tasted like eating cardboard coasters.  The neeps were ok.  They were lightly salted with more of a neutral flavor.  The tatties tasted like standard mashed potatoes.  After finishing off my haggis, I should have washed it down with a warm glass of Glenfiddich, but I found something that was both eye-catching and super Scottish.  It was a drink called Irn Bru or Iron Brew pronounced with a thick Scottish burr.DSC01817  Not only was this soda radioactive orange, but it was so sweet I could feel the enamel being stripped off my teeth with every sip. DSC01818 Totally worth it to cap off my visit to the North.

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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.

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