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Meat and Greet

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Hello everyone once again to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be talking about a few different types of food that I tried over the weekend.  The first was samgyeopsal which is part of the litany of things that Koreans love to barbecue.  They’re basically large strips of bacon minus the seasonings, but they taste so delicious no matter what.  While the bacon was sizzling on the grill, we had plenty of different types of banchan or side dishes to try.  I passed on the macaroni salad, but  I did enjoy the fresh tofu jjigae or tofu soup.  We also threw a couple cloves of garlic on the grill to give the bacon a bit more of a savory flavor.  After about ten minutes, we had our pieces of bacon cut up with the scissors they give you when you sit down.  You can take each piece and put some of the onion vinegar sauce on it or perhaps some of the red chili sauce depending on if you want it spicy or not.  Then you put it in a pepper leaf or a lettuce leaf and enjoy your delicious wrap.  They also gave us pieces of what we assumed were mushrooms to also grill since they had an almost meaty aftertaste mixed with earthy overtones when consumed.IMG_1290

Going from one type of meat to another, the following night I met up with friends in Gangnam to try Chinese lamb skewers at Gayang located at 강남구 역삼 1동 817-21 .IMG_1294  It was a very anonymous place that really didn’t have a line out the door like some of the other bbq places, but this grilling dinner was a bit different.  Instead of just doing the usual Fred Flintstone method of grilling with slapping big pieces of meat on  hot metal, we were doing more of a marshmallow method of grilling.  We got four total portions of skewers since we were quite hungry, but it’s not the cheapest meal out there at 10,000 won per serving.  However, you get roughly ten skewers, and the experience was worth it.  The lamb grilled up nicely with very little fat, and it came with a dry chili based rub that had clear cumin elements with a little garlic. The banchan was pretty typical, but I did enjoy the boiled peanuts and the sweet onions.  If you’re looking for something a bit different from Korean bbq, check out the Chinese lamb place in Gangnam.

The final part of this food trilogy entry deals with a spur of the moment food encounter.  After going to a couple bars in Gangnam, my friend Steph and I decided to try some street food at one of the stalls in the alley.  They were doing good business, so we just picked a mix of different fried foods.IMG_1304 (800x600)  We ended up having deep fried kimbap (rice rolls), deep fried plantains, and fried meat dumplings.  The kimbap were ok with small glass noodles, but the meat dumplings were decent since the meat had a great seasoning blend that made it taste like shepherd’s pie a little bit.  However, the flat pancake plantains were the best since they tasted like sweet potatoes but were almost too sweet.  We still aren’t sure what they were, but we were happy to experience an authentic part of Korean culture.

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Drop It Like It’s Hot Pot! Part 2

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Hello again to part two of my journey through a hot pot dinner.  Last post, I spoke about my very brief initiation to the hot pot experience with some fish roe and homemade soy milk, but it was merely a prelude to the symphony of flavors that I hope to fully convey through this amazing new post.

Behold the bounty

Behold the bounty

Before I even sat down at the table, I was advised to change out of my fancy new years eve clothes since hot pot could be messy.  I didn’t think that I would have to dress down in order to eat a simple meal.  When I sat down around the table, first I had to choose between a mild pot and a spicy pot which were on opposite ends of the table.

The more pleasant looking mild pot

The more pleasant looking mild pot

If you don’t know me/haven’t read my previous posts like with the XXX spicy wing challenge, I will have you know that I am quite the chili head.  When most people expect me to not be able to eat their spicy ethnic foods, I just smile and go about my business sampling their cuisine.  This has led to me making plenty of friends down the road during my dining experiences.  Therefore, I took my seat at the spicy end of the table where I quickly saw people throwing in strips of red marbled beef, healthy pink pork, large grey and pink shrimp, and striped bass into the ludicrously red broth.  Later, they added watercress, taro root, and mushrooms since they apparently soak up the spice like a sponge with water.  I found out that David’s family had brought back a packet of chili pepper native to the Szechuan region which is notorious for blazing hot dishes.  While these meats were bubbling in the pot, we passed around small cups of cilantro,  green onions, sesame oil, and soy sauce to put in our bowls.  However, David informed me that it is tradition in Taiwanese hot pot to use a dipping sauce made of raw egg, green onions, and prawn paste.  I wanted to do the real deal, so he made me my own bowl of dipping sauce for my first round of hot pot.  It also helped cool down the smoldering hot meats and vegetables.

Raw egg sauce that would make Rocky proud

Raw egg sauce that would make Rocky proud

In order to get the contents of the pot into your bowl, you are supplied with mini metal wire scoops that look like small butterfly nets.  Thankfully everyone was really helpful with supplying me with my food while I was attempting to get a hang of my chopsticks.  Since I’m moving to Korea soon, I made it my mission to eat the entire meal with chopsticks, and I finally managed to do it!  My first bowl consisted of fish balls, beef, green onions, cilantro, and prawn paste.  The fish balls were made with a semi-firm dough which was dotted with peas and encapsulated the savory fish inside.  The raw egg sauce provided a nice onion/soy flavor to the strong fish flavor.  The beef piece was tiny but succulent, and the prawn paste gave the bowl a nice surf and turf vibe.

Bowl 1

Bowl 1

The second helping I ate contained some striped bass, beef, pork, fish roll, watercress, and mushrooms.  The bass was stewed quite quickly, but it literally melted in my mouth like some sort of heavenly piece of fish butter.  As for the beef and pork, I was a bit flummoxed as to what to do with these large pieces of meat that were cooling off in my raw egg sauce since we didn’t have forks or knives.  Thankfully my friend David said it was cool for me to just go at it, and I wholeheartedly enjoyed each juicy and spicy slice.  The more elongated fish roll was not as satisfying as the ball dumplings, but it seemed to be stuffed with a stronger tasting type of fish.  Plus, I had thought that the mushrooms were initially noodles since they were so long and thin, but in reality they were winter mushrooms.  The cabbage was also delicious.  Even though it was put in last, it contained so much chili flavor that it was like a warm, non-fermented version of the popular Korean dish kimchee.

Bowl 2

Bowl 2

My third bowl (in hot pot, you eat a lot slower and savor the smaller portions) consisted of prawns, mushrooms, watercress, taro root, and pickled radishes.  The prawns were still in their shells and with legs, but I took a mighty bite into their pink bodies to be welcomed by a explosion of flavor.   The mushrooms were a non-factor, but the watercress and the pickled radishes had a similar chili infusion like the cabbage.  This bowl was a bit trickier because the radishes were quite slippery after swimming around in the hot pot, and the taro root kept on disintegrating when I would grab at it with my chopsticks.  I finally managed to get both into my mouth, and the taro was more interesting because texture-wise it was like a semi-mashed potato but possessed a more earthy flavor.  Once I finished that bowl, I was faced with something that reminded me of a type of pizza they serve at Sbarros.

Bowl 3

Bowl 3

It was basically green onions baked inside bread that was coated in sesame seeds and had a crust.  Perhaps this is what Marco Polo brought back to Italy from China.  Pizza origin theories aside, this was probably my favorite part of hot pot.  The bread was golden brown and crisp on the outside while soft and pliable on the inside.  I’m a huge onion and sesame seed fan, so I was in heaven biting into the verdant interior of this onion bread and experiencing the mellow sesame seeds combining with the strong green onion flavor.  It also went really well with the raw egg sauce as a sort of replacement for garlic butter or marinara sauce.

The original pizza?

The original pizza?

After eating a couple of slices, I limped to my fourth and final bowl which had some of the aforementioned ingredients along with a pink fish dumpling.  It was like the other fish dumplings but had a slightly sweeter, more tuna-esque taste.

Bowl 4

Bowl 4

However, the fourth bowl was unlike the others because I had asked David why we had spoons on the table.  He then proceeded to ladle in the devilishly red pepper broth  from our spicy hot pot into my bowl .  This lava in my bowl was pretty spicy but tolerable for me.  Once I finished eating this molten ambrosia, my mouth felt kind of funny, but it turns out that the Szechuan pepper causes slight numbness along with burning in the mouth.

The chili flavor is as big as the pot on the package

The chili flavor is as big as the pot on the package

Even though I couldn’t feel my mouth, it was a sign that I had just experienced an authentic piece of Chinese culture, and I am thankful that David and his family welcomed me into their home to take part in this very entertaining tradition.  Hope you and everyone else has a happy and healthy new year!

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