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Call Me Delishmael

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Well, I’m finally back to perusing the best eateries that the Chicagoland area has to offer after a very long time away in Korea and around Asia.  So first, I’d like to start off this post of Mastication Monologues with a quick snack that I sampled on the plane from London to Chicago.

I managed to find a pretty good deal through the Irish air-carrier, Aer Lingus, so of course everything was Kelly green with shamrocks all over as soon as I stepped on the plane.  Aside from that, it seemed like everything would be similar to a flight in the USA.  However, I knew that the food they served on the aircraft would reflect the national flavor of the airline, and they did not disappoint when they presented me with something that I’ve never seen before.  The stewardesses were walking by with baskets offering us “flapjacks”, and I was greatly confused as to why they were walking around with pancakes in baskets? The reason being is that the word “flapjacks” in America is another way to say pancakes, so why would they be slinging these breakfast treats around without even giving people plates to eat them on?  So, I said I’d take some flapjacks, and it ended up being this pre-packaged bar that seemed to be made of oats, sugar, honey, and chocolate chips.

Presto

Presto (pancakes/flapjacks in the USA)

Change-o

Change-o (Irish flapjack)

IMG_3843It tasted great and not as diabetes-inducingly sweet as you’d might think.  It was like a more decadent granola bar.

Moving on from cultural misunderstandings through English regionalisms, I’d like to call attention to a famous yet not so famous pizzeria in Chicago called Pequod’s Pizza.  They have two locations:  one in Morton Grove and one in Chicago.  I went to the Chicago location on 2207 N. Clybourne Ave.  Before I begin with my assessment of my dining experience, I’d like to first address a time-old polemic of pizza preferences:  thin crust vs. deep dish.

This has caused many a debate amongst friends in Chicago about who makes the best kind of each variety, and it has caused conflict between Chicagoans and other Americans (read:  New Yorkers)/foreign tourists.  I’ve found that many people from outside Chicagoland deride Chicago deep dish pizza for not even being pizza and more like some sort of mutant casserole, cake, pie, food brick, etc.  Instead, they prefer the wafer-thin New York City slices that are more similar to pizza from Italy.  I won’t get into a pizza debate while writing this post, but I’d like to hear what kind of pizza do you prefer?  Personally, I like it all, but I will always defend deep-dish pizza as being a fantastic version of pizza.  As for those who say it’s not pizza, it still has all of the main components of pizza:  crust, cheese, and tomato sauce but just on a more grandiose scale.  An analogy I always use for the naysayers involves a pickup truck vs. a monster truck.  Both have the same components of a truck:  four wheels, general body shape, an engine, and a steering wheel.  The main difference is the monster truck can do sweet jumps, crush cars, and has enormous wheels, but you cannot deny that it still is a truck despite the difference in appearance.  Anyway, back to Pequod’s.

I had heard many good things about Pequod’s through various forms of media and word of mouth, so I decided to make reservations there ahead of time for Friday dinner.

Thar she blows

Thar she blows

I highly recommend you make reservations on the weekend as I arrived to a thirty minute wait even though I called in for a table beforehand.  Thankfully, they were very prompt with their service, and my friends and I were seated at a nice corner booth.  The overall ambiance is just a general bar and pizzeria with two floors of tables and booths. IMG_2458 Their menu was manageable with basic bar food along with their famous pizza that sports a “carmelized crust” that seemed to be enhanced by the type of pan they used to bake them.IMG_2459  The only appetizer we got was cheesy garlic bread that was passable, but nothing that really wow-ed me.  Thankfully it wasn’t as greasy as the garlic bread I got in London at Bunga Bunga.  I didn’t like that they charged us for an extra cup of marinara sauce on the side when neither of the cups were adequate for four hungry people.  It was a minor setback as we segued to ordering a large pan pizza (17.50) with cheese, spinach, pepperoni, and sausage.

Like all pan pizzas, it took around 45-50 minutes to cook since there is a lot more to heat up compared to the thin pizzas found anywhere else in the world.  When it came out though I was very excited since it looked to die for.

Best welcome back meal ever.

Best welcome back meal ever.

Upon taking my first bite of the pizza, I knew I was won over by Pequod’s pizza.  The crust wasn’t extremely thick but still substantial enough to support the avalanche of delectable toppings piled atop it.  With each bite, there was plenty of gooey cheese, seasoned pieces of Italian sausage, non-greasy pieces of pepperoni, and semi-chopped pieces of spinach which I really enjoyed in comparison to Giordano’s finely chopped spinach they use in their deep dish pizza.  As I reached the end of my first piece, I encountered the caramelized crust they boasted about on the menu.  Even though caramelization essentially means the food is burnt like the sugar on top of a creme brulee, I did not get burned by this flavorful and crunchy crust.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it tasted like some well done cheese on the edge of the crust along with the very slightest hint of sweetness to balance the overwhelming wave of savory ingredients that had just washed over my palate.  I tapped out at three pieces which is the equivalent of probably eating ten pizzas at Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn, but my friends and I left very satisfied customers.  58029_3211435121840_163141590_n

So, if you want to check out a popular Chicago pizzeria that isn’t as big as Uno’s or Lou Malnati’s but still has delicious pizza at reasonable prices, check out Pequod’s pizza.  I finally found and enjoyed my white whale.

Here’s my updated pizza list in Chicago:  1.  Giordano’s, 2.  Lou Malnati’s, 3.  Pequod’s, 4.  Uno’s, 5.  Apart.  What’s your favorite?

 

Pequod's Pizza on Urbanspoon

London (Days 4 and 5)- When the Disco Hits Your Eye Like a Steak and Kidney Pie

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As if day three in London couldn’t get any wilder, day four was extra crazy as my friends and I went off to have dinner at an Italian eatery called Bunga Bunga.  It’s located in the Battersea area of London which is just south of the Thames nearby the posh Chelsea neighborhood.  It was a dining experience unlike any other I’ve had in my life, so I hope this installation of Mastication Monologues can adequately describe the madness that is Bunga Bunga.  I’ll also cover my pre-match meal before seeing Tottenham Hotspur play in north London later on in this post.

So, Bunga Bunga.  If you aren’t up on your geo-political happenings or history in general, politicians are known as getting things done, both good and bad.  In Italy, there is a man named Silvio Berlusconi (former prime minister of Italy) who is one part politician, one part business tycoon, and one part Lothario.  That last part is where the restaurant gets its name from because “Bunga Bunga” is a joke that became synonymous with sex parties he threw for his friends and cronies complete with hookers, drugs, and bribes to keep everything hush hush…until recently when all of these allegations came to the surface.

Need I say more?

Need I say more?

With all of this info in the back of my head, I was wondering what sort of mischief Bunga Bunga had in store for its diners.  As soon as we walked in, I didn’t see any saucy vixens, but there was plenty of Italian kitsch adorning every square inch of the walls.IMG_2277  We knew it was a unique place when the servers would randomly break into a choreographed dance routine accompanied by pumping Italo-techo music in the middle of the restaurant (much to their annoyance).  I kind of felt bad for them since the novelty of it wore off after the first time.  Anyway, we started our meal off with three fancy mixed drinks (12 pounds each) that ended up being fantastic and hilarious since they sported names of famous Italians. IMG_2280 I got the  BungaBunga which was served in the head of a winking Berlusconi.  It consisted of gin, Martini Fierro, peppercorns, and grapefruit juice.  It was light and spicy with a bitter aftertaste, kind of like Berlusconi’s eventual fall from grace.  My friend Ravi got the SuperMario Monti (the prime minister of Italy post-Berlusconi) which was basically gin combined with muddled cucumbers which was cleaner and more refreshing than my cocktail.

My failed attempt at winking.

My failed attempt at winking.

As for my friend Bob, he’s a big footy fan, so he went for the Chellsi Balotelli (maverick soccer player who now plays for AC Milan) that had rhubarb vodka, rhubarb puree, cranberry juice, lime juice, and bitters all of which made a sour and strong drink.  Fitting for a man more known for his off the field antics and sulky personality.IMG_2283  For appetizers, we then got a side of cheesy garlic pizzicato (5.95 L) and cheese and spinach bruschetta (6 L).  The former was ok since it was starch combined with cheese, but I wouldn’t get it again since it was a bit too oily for my liking.IMG_2284  As for the latter, I liked the addition of spinach to modify the traditional bruschetta recipe, but once again it was extremely oily that kind of put a damper on the meal.IMG_2282  For the main course, we ordered three different pizzas (range: 9-13 pounds each).  I got the Ruby Loves (11 L); Bob ordered Chef Share-issimo’s Favorito (13 L); and Ravi’s a vegetarian, so he got The Naughty Napolitano (10 L) that had gorgonzola and pears on top.  Bob’s and my pizza were brought out on a long board like some sort of meaty centerpiece for a Roman feast.IMG_2285  My choice consisted  of N’duja soft sausage, salami, and cherry tomatoes.  It was tasty with the savory and salty meats but greasy once again (notice a trend?).  As for Bob’s side that contained rosemary seasoned lamb and chili, I liked it better because the lamb was expertly roasted and proved to be a lighter, less greasy topping compared to the pork products on my side.

So.much.grease.

So.much.grease.

I needed something to cut through the Mediterranean Sea of grease in my mouth, so I got their specialty, Ferrero Rocher gelato, for dessert. IMG_2287 It did the trick as my palate was coated in a molto delicioso wave of semi-dark chocolate ecstasy with interspersed crunchy Ferrero Rocher candy pieces.

Free wine and ice cream.  Winning!

Free wine and ice cream. Veni,vidi, vici!

As the night went on, the place filled up with plenty of party goers as the stage was filled with a variety of performers like a cabaret singer, a magician, and karaoke singers.

Abra-ca-blabra.  Make with the magic.

Abra-ca-blabra. Make with the magic.

NOTE:  If you want to go to the discoteca upstairs, make reservations for that in addition to your table.  We made that mistake and were confined just to the first floor.  Either way, it was a fun time aside from a brief upset stomach compliments of the greasy food.  I recommend Bunga Bunga to anyone if you’re looking for a crazy dining experience, but I don’t think I would make it one of my regular haunts.

Bunga Bunga on Urbanspoon

The following day was a bit rough given that we left Bunga Bunga, got crazy in the Clapham neighborhood, and didn’t make it home until 3 am.  Thankfully, it was laid back as Bob and I just spent most of it watching football or soccer in Amurikan.  Before watching the League Cup, Bob and I got lunch at a cafe nearby White Hart Lane.  While I was contemplating doing the English breakfast that had everything I loved like hash browns and bacon, I decided to go more for a footy classic with a steak and kidney pie with tea on the side.IMG_2300  I was disappointed with the pie and tea.  The crust was ok, and the insides were coated with a peppery white sauce.  However, they were missing a key ingredient:  brown gravy drizzled over the top, and the tea looked anemic.  As for the pea mash and chips on the side, they were passable.  Those were enhanced with the addition of this mysterious “brown sauce” that was in a squeeze bottle on the table that I could only liken to a sweet gravy with a hint of sour aftertaste and a lighter ketchup consistency.  This meal was as exciting at the Spurs vs. Cardiff match we saw, but maybe it just required a change of venue.  The only highlight was seeing Adam Richman of Man vs. Food fame on the field!  At least my last days in London would prove to be much more exciting.

Un Tapateo Muy Feo (A Very Ugly Tapas Dinner)

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Ever since living and studying in Barcelona during my undergrad years, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the peninsular nation.  I don’t know if it was the warm people (especially the andaluces), the lovely historical sights, or the fantastic food, but I miss living there.  Back in the States, I would always try to find new places to get tapas to see how they measured up to the ones back in Spain, and I was generally pleased  (See Tapa 1, 2, Patatas).  Perhaps when I’m finished with my time here in Korea, I might make a return to the land of jamon and Don Simon.  However, since I’m still in Korea, I thought I had found a slice of Espana in the form of Que Tal Tapas which is located in Bupyeong in Incheon.  In order to get there you have to go to Bupyeong Market exit 2 and walk for about ten minutes until you look down a side street on your left.  Here’s the front of the restaurant to get an idea of what to look out for:IMG_1310

So I had originally thought of going to this place for my birthday since I love Spanish food, but instead I ended up going to the wonderful Action Grill.  Therefore, I vowed to one day try this taperia before I left the Land of the Morning Calm.  I finally made the sojourn yesterday with a fellow KOTESOL member after attending the smallest teaching conference ever with a whopping total of three people including me.  The interior had some nice, kooky drawings along with various types Spanish paraphernalia hanging on the wall.  That’s about where everything “Spanish” about this place ended.  First, there was the menu.  It took me flipping through five pages of pizza, spaghetti, and risotto dishes to finally get to the tapas.  While Spain and Italy might occupy the same  language family and are both ballin’ peninsulas, a Spanish restaurant should not have more types of pizza than tapas.  I did see that they had paella as well, but it was well tucked away like the tapas.  The tapas that they offered ranged from 4,000-6,000 W, and they were quite uninspired creations.  Not only were they almost all seafood creations, but somehow bruschetta made it on the menu.  I sincerely hope they were referring to pan amb tomaquet or else the owners need a serious culinary geography lesson.   My friend and I decided to get the pizza set for 35,000 W which was a great deal since we got the following:  either a Margherita or verde pizza, two 4,000 W tapas, one 6,000 W tapa, and two drinks which could be soda, coffee, house wine, or an ade.  For our combo, we got the verde pizza, tortilla espanola, cooked mushrooms, roasted shrimp, and two glasses of the house wine.The first items that came out were the mushrooms along with the two glasses of wine.

IMG_1313  I found the wine to be quite pedestrian as it was of the dry red variety, but it was fine since the mushrooms were quite vivacious in terms of flavor.  They seemed to be sauteed with some type of beef stock infused with pepper and had a slight woody aftertaste.  IMG_1312These hongos were garnished with a fried egg on the side which they told us to dip the pieces into, and there were some fresh dandelion greens on top along with some savory purple olives I enjoyed.  Unfortunately, this was the only plate that wowed us, so it was somewhat depressing in hindsight to know that we reached the apex of the meal after one tapa.  After the mushrooms came my nemesis in Spanish cuisine:  la tortilla.  Now, when most people hear the word, “tortilla” they automatically think that I was just munching on some flatbread instead of making a taco like a normal person.  Of course I would hate it if I did that, but a tortilla in Spain is actually more like an omelet with potatoes inside.  When I lived in Barcelona, I thought it was flavorless and nothing special.  Que Tal tapas managed to recreate this signature blandness even more so by having a higher potato:egg ratio in comparison to the real thing.  IMG_1314Why they would serve us such a demure tasting plate after the bold mushrooms is beyond me.  The penultimate entry in this pageant of mediocrity was the grilled shrimp.  Here I was thinking, “Que bien!  Me encantan gambas al ajillo!” (Oh good!  I love grilled shrimp!), but I was in for a rude awakening. IMG_1315 While I admired their presentation, I don’t think I’ve ever consumed such terrible shrimp in my life.  Not only was the texture of the meat extremely chewy to an unsettling degree, but they had an almost chemical-esque flavor to them.  I tried another shrimp after the first just to see if I had picked a bad one.  Nope.  Basura (garbage).  As if this train wreck of a dinner couldn’t get any more interesting, they brought out our verde pizza.  I wondered what made it “verde” (green) when ordering it, and I could see it got its moniker from the mini-garden that was chilling out on top of the actual pizza.

Step 1:  Find out if you got a salad or a pizza.

Step 1: Find out if you got a salad or a pizza.

 Our waitress then said to us, “Roll” while gesticulating towards the pizza.  This was very disconcerting since I’ve never heard anyone tell me to roll my pizza.  I could see why she said this when I went for a piece.  It was incredibly thin, had no cheese, and was just mushrooms and the greens.

Step 2:  Attempt to find a method of eating said salad/pizza.

Step 2: Attempt to find a method of eating said salad/pizza.

 The only way you could eat it without getting half the contents on your pants was like a taco.  I know you fold NYC-style pizza in order to eat it better, but this pizza was just ridiculous.

Step 3:  Why?...Just why?

Step 3: Why?…Just why?

 The taste didn’t even justify its unique consumption style.  While I always appreciate an opportunity to up my fresh vegetable intake, the mushrooms were tasteless and the dough was a non-factor.  This pizza was the equivalent of “that” drunk person at the holiday office party.  The pizza looked like it would be a good time initially, but after spilling itself all over my hands and being really annoying to eat, I never wanted to see it again.

In the end, don’t go to Que Tal Tapas if you’re looking for a real tapas experience.  It’s the culinary equivalent of Don Quijote fighting the windmills.  It tries really hard but fails every time.

Kicking Ass and Eating Wings

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Hello everyone, and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  My latest food adventure took me to, surprise surprise, Itaewon.  My two friends, Youngmi and Bora, heard that I liked my really spicy food challenges.  So, they threw down the gastronomic gauntlet and lead me to J.R. Pub in Itaewon.  It’s easy to get there.  Go to the Itaewon metro stop and go out exit 4.  Make a u-turn to your left and follow the sidewalk.  You’ll see a Taco Bell on the other side of the street on your left.  Continue down the sidewalk until you get to a large alleyway and make a right.  You’ll see on your right hand side a sign for the Wolfhound Pub, and right next to it is J.R. Pub.  Here’s the address: 128-4 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul South Korea.

If you have read my blog before, you know that I am quite the daredevil when it comes to hellishly spicy dishes (see what I did there).  If not, check out some of my posts (Hell Hath, Cuckoo, Devil With Wings ).  Youngmi and Bora were very surprised that I was actually going to try it, and even advised me to bring milk and eat something beforehand.  Nothing like coating the stomach before ingesting hellfire!  Looking over the menu, they had most bar food standards like burgers, various barbecue meals like pulled pork sandwiches, wings, and pizza.  I ordered the spiciest wings the ladies were telling me about, the Kick Ass wings (8,000 W), and they got the pulled pork sandwich and some chicken fingers.  While we were waiting they told me about the last time they ate it, and they rushed to the bar to get milk after just one tiny bite.  Definitely instilled a lot of confidence in me.  Eventually they came out, and I could smell the evil that lurked under the lava-red surface of the chicken.IMG_1201  If you want to see me going to town on these bad boys, check out the link at the end of the post.

So young and innocent

So young and innocent

 When I took my first bite, I was greeted with a jalapeno level of spice with a familiar smoky background that quickly ratcheted up to a mini-inferno in my mouth.  It felt like the Drop-Dead Donkatsu challenge all over again, but I was determined to take them down.  I was extremely focused on withstanding the heat.  With each mouthful I could feel the beads of sweat starting to form on my apparently reddening face, and the hiccoughs were coming on strong.  I’ve found that’s my death rattle when it comes to my spice tolerance.  In the video you can see them starting around the third wing along with my stunning forehead vein making a grand entrance.  By the fourth one, it felt like I replaced my Mentos with blazing charcoal briquettes.  The fresh maker?  More like the pain train coming into dead taste buds station.  The ranch sauce that came with the wings was zesty and managed to take a bit of the edge off the heat.

..and my face is on fire

..and my face is on fire

 I rested for a bit while trying the ladies’ pulled pork sandwich, fries, and chicken fingers.  The sandwich was good from what I could tell using the last bits of my functioning tongue, and the chicken fingers had more of a panko breadcrumb covering that made for a nice change of pace in terms of texture.  Bora even got in on the action and wanted to redeem herself by eating one of the wings.IMG_1205  She performed admirably even though she still ran to the bar for some ice.  Eventually, I made my way to the top of Mount Doom and banished these wings to the pit of my stomach.

Fighting!

Fighting! The guy behind me can’t believe I finished it.

 Bora said that they weren’t as spicy as the first time they tried them, so maybe I’ll have to come back for round two.

Good times

Nice face, Youngmi!

 

Either way, I had a great time at J.R. Pub with even better company.  They have quality food for reasonable prices along with an amiable atmosphere and good service.  Now if you want to see my eternal struggle with the wings, check out this link.

Thinking Outside the Box and Eating Inside One

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Hey, everybody!  Well, it has been another long and arduous week at work, so I was definitely looking forward to my friends’, Lauren and Kevin, birthday party at Charcoalo, a somewhat secret barbecue joint in Apgujeong.  Here is their address:  642-12 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu.  It’s a bit complicated to explain how to get there, so I won’t bore you with the details.  The closest two stations are either Apgujeong or Gangnam-gu Office.  Just let Google Maps lead the way for you.  After navigating our way there, we were greeted with a large, red corrugated metal that almost seemed to glow like some sort of Polaris for barbecue lovers all over Korea.  I knew I came to the right place when I saw the window in the front let you watch the cooks in action while they slapped large slabs of steak and ribs on the sizzling stove tops.  Culinary poetry in motion.IMG_1110

Upon entering the establishment, it was definitely different than what I was expecting when I read that the restaurant was inside an industrial shipping container.  Instead of being greeted by a dank and dark interior where I would have expected to be tortured by members of the Korean mafia, it was a warmly lit dining room with an industrial edge in terms of decor.

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

Meropi obviously had a great time

Meropi obviously had a great time

It even had skylights cut in the ceiling which would be a blessing and a curse on a sunny day since I could see the rays of light possibly blinding some unlucky customers.  Giving the menu a once over, I could see that Charcoalo isn’t the cheapest barbecue eatery I’ve been to.  Case and point, a bottle of Cass Korean beer that’s normally 2-3 bucks was 7 bucks.  The menu contained different types of burgers, ribs (44,000 W for a rack), steaks, pizzas, and sides to go along with your main meal.  I went for the bacon cheeseburger set (16,000 W) which meant I got a side of fries and a soda (Coke, Sprite, Diet Coke, or Welch’s Grape).  I picked the last one since I needed something sweet after quite a bitter day with one of my coteachers.  When it came out, I was very excited due to its exquisite appearance and my gnawing hunger pains.IMG_1111

Almost everyone else at my table got double cheeseburgers, but they were kind of crestfallen once they saw the meaty masterpiece towering above my fries.

Sad Heidi is sad

Sad Heidi is sad

First, I’d like to say that this burger wasn’t the easiest thing to eat since you’d have to be a reticulated python to be able to take an adequate bite.

Now that's a burger

Now that’s a burger

It was piled high with a thick beef patty, mayo, ketchup, lettuce, cheese, tomato, semi-crispy bacon, and some additional pickled jalapenos, onions, and roasted garlic cloves that came on the side.  So, I was taking small bites, and each one was a small step towards to the center of this cheeseburger in paradise.  Still, the buns should have been bigger in order to accommodate the plethora of ingredients because there was definite slippage as the mayo caused the patty to sneak out the back of the burger.  Overall, it was a great cheeseburger without any surprises like at Burger Bay, and the french fries were superb.  They were crispy, golden-brown sticks of heaven, but I wish they were a bit bigger to grab with my fingers.  I’m not a big fan of the slightly-enlarged shoestring potato type of French fries.  Maybe these are more common in Korea because Koreans are afraid to eat with their hands.  Who knows?

So if you’re looking for quality barbecue and are willing to spend a little bit more to get it or just want a masterfully crafted burger, check out Charcoalo.

Pie in the Sky Prices = Not So Apeeling

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Well, life just keeps on getting weirder and weirder in Korea, but I’m really looking forward to tomorrow since I’ll be gracing Everland for the first time.  For those who don’t know, Everland is basically South Korea’s response to Disney World, so I’m excited to see their take on the enchanted kingdom.  Anyway, I’m here to talk about the supposedly “Best pizza place in Seoul” a.k.a. the Pizza Peel.  Here’s all the location/hours info courtesy of their business card:

IMG_1036So there you go.  The directions are pretty straight forward:  leave Itaewon station exit 4 and walk straight for about 10 minutes.  Once you pass the McDonalds, look on your left hand side, and you’ll see an arch saying, “Alley Market”.  Walk under it, and you’ll see the Pizza Peel. IMG_1029 As I mentioned before, the reason that brought me here was that I heard it was the best pizza in Seoul, but then again, it seems that there are many contenders for that coveted crown.  So I had to check it out for myself.  The interior was modest but very busy with people enjoying their Hangul day off from work/school.  I greatly admired the establishment’s brick oven that seemed to be cut and pasted straight from a pizzeria back home, NYC, or Italy.

Mother of all pizzas

The hot momma of all pizzas

As my friend, Aaron, and I sat down, we perused the menu.  We could see that it wasn’t the cheapest pizza in the world as exemplified by their menu below (range from 14,000 W to 18,500 W):IMG_1037IMG_1038

To drink they also have soda and beer options that goes beyond the typical Korean trinity of Cafri, Cass, and Hite which was pretty great, but the non-Korean choices are in the same league as the pizza prices.  However, I figured the pizza was so expensive because of the ingredients you’d never find on Korea pizzas like Feta cheese, pesto, Ricotta, and artichokes to name a few.  I kind of wanted to eat them all, and I even considered one of their dessert pizzas.  Sadly, I’m not making Psy money teaching English. Eventually, I went for the Buffalo Ranch pizza  (18,500 W), and Aaron went for the Canadian (15,500 W).

It apologized for not smiling for my photo

It apologized for not smiling for my photo

Aaron’s pizza looked marvelous, and I learned that apparently in Canada they actually have their own “Canadian style” pizza which must have mushrooms, pepperoni, mozzarella, and bacon on it (not Canadian bacon though for the Hosers or peameal bacon for the Canucks).  As for my pizza, it looked delectable as well.  Size-wise, if you’re a big boy/eater like me or just really hungry, you can easily eat one of these pizzas by yourself which further underscores the somewhat inflated prices.  In comparison to the North American fatty alliance at our table, the Koreans  around us were splitting the small pies between two people.  Go figure. We quickly tore into our meals, and mine was interesting to say the least.IMG_1030  First, the crust.  It was definitely on the thin side, and I dare say thinner than NYC slices which are like delicious pieces of paper with cheese on it.  What this all meant was that each slice’s integrity was close to nothing, so you had to fold it in half and hope the piping hot toppings didn’t fall on your clothes/hand like some delectable napalm.  I’ll take my thicker Chicago thin crust, thank you.  On the other hand, the crust was expertly baked in just the right places with a golden hue and warm, white center to every crust.  As for the toppings, there was plenty of natural mozzarella cheese instead of the typical, artificial, rubbery cheese-flavored product the Koreans use on their pizzas.  The chicken chunks were well roasted and went well with the ranch dressing which was the substitute for the traditional marinara tomato sauce.    It was like gobbling down pizza and chicken fingers at the same time.  Ranch just goes so perfectly with both!  I didn’t really taste much of the Feta or the hot sauce, but I was satisfied with my choice nevertheless.

So after finally going to the supposed “Best pizza place” in Seoul, I’d have to disagree.  True, they have some rarer pizza ingredients along with a brick oven for that rustic touch, but I’d still take Monster Pizza over Pizza Peel.  You get one giant slice of quality pizza for only 3,000 W roughly, and a whole pizza from Monster Pizza could feed a small army for just a fraction of Pizza Peel’s prices.  Now that’s something a gourmand like me can sink his teeth into.

A Nest Above the Rest

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What’s up, food lovers around the world?!  Another day, another post of delicious food.  Today I’ll be talking about Crow’s Nest which is a pizza joint located in the foreigner district of Seoul a.k.a. Itaewon.  It’s located at Yongsan-gu, Itaewon 1(il)-dong, 112-2, Seoul, and you first come out of Itaewon Station Exit #2. Turn at 1st left and turn at 1st right. It will be on your left side.  I had been invited out by my friend Stephanie to hear about all of my wonderful adventures in Taiwan and Hong Kong.  Naturally, I didn’t say no to trying a new pizza place since it’s one of my favorite foods.

When we got there, it was located on a new fashionable street off the main drag, but it’s located on the second floor.  I had reinjured my knee that day, so the stairs were a bit brutal.  No entrances for the handicapped in Korea for the most part.  When we eventually got to the the door, we were greeted with a large dining room and an open kitchen that was bustling with activity.  It was kind of neat with how you could see some employees throwing the pizza dough to the perfect size or laying out all the ingredients on top for each handmade pizza.  It was an honest display of craftsmanship.IMG_0991  We proceeded to the patio outside that was thankfully sheltered from the rain we just missed.  We ended up going for the half and half pizza (24,000 for 14 in. or 30,000 for 20 in.).  Some blogs say that you can do any of the pizza options, but our waitress emphatically told us you could only chose the following:  Italian sausage, margherita, pepperoni, Hawaiian.  Steph wanted the Hawaiian pizza which I think is an abomination, so I went with the Italian sausage on my half which I also appreciated that it had a mild or spicy option.  We got the 14 inch pizza which was more than enough when it came out to our table. IMG_0990 They also provided us with Parmesan cheese and spicy olive oil when we asked for it.  I didn’t try the Hawaiian side of the pizza, but mine was great especially with the powdered cheese and oil.  The crust was somewhat between the paper thin New York slice and the heartier Chicago “thin” crust pizza, but it was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  As for the ingredients on top, thankfully the sauce wasn’t Koreanized with the odd sweet tang, and the cheese was plentiful.  The spicy Italian sausage wasn’t quite as spicy as back home in Chicago, but it partnered the oregano and onions perfectly with its ever so wonderful greasy goodness.  We polished off the pie eventually but didn’t feel stuffed which is a testament to the light crust that didn’t crumble under the pressure of being faced with two hungry diners.

So if you want to check out a legit pizza parlor in Seoul and don’t feel like going to Monster Pizza in Hongdae, check out Crow’s Nest in Itaewon.

An Elephant Never Forgets 100 Posts

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Hey y’all!  So this is another installment of Mastication Monologues from my recent vacation for the Korean Thanksgiving holiday.  Actually, now that I think about it, this is my 100th post!  I never thought I would keep up with my blog for this long, and I would be trying so many different types of food and sharing my findings with the world.  Thanks for all of your support!!  Yet I regret having not started it earlier to record some great restaurants I visited in Europe whose names escape me now.  Alas, the show must go on, and this will be epic!  So that brings me to today’s post where I traveled to the island of Macau.

Before I left, my friends told me to read up on the Vietnam visa on arrival program and to consider a work visit, I considered it for a long time before I decided to keep with my initial plans. I started my day again at a cha chaan teng where I had a Hong Kong breakfast of oats with milk and crispy buns with sweetened condensed milk.   If you don’t know what a cha chaan teng is, check out my last post.

Hong Kong's odd couple

Hong Kong’s odd couple

The oats were unfortunately more milk than oats, so I jazzed up the bland concoction with some sugar that was on the side.  As for my crispy buns with sweetened condensed milk, I should have just gotten two orders of these toasted nuggets of heaven.  Not only were they crunchy yet soft, but the salty butter mixed with the extremely sweet condensed milk definitely beat any doughnut I’ve probably ever had.  They were that good.  Once I downed that satisfying meal, I was ready to catch my boat to Macau.

I was originally drawn to Macau ever since my mom told me about her exhilarating ride on the hydrofoil, and how the island was a mix of both Portuguese and Chinese cultures.  So, I was determined to see this cosmopolitan island for myself while vacationing in Hong Kong.  Naturally, the food was another driving factor for me to go the extra mile and see the island.  I’ve always loved Portuguese and Brazilian culture whether that be Fado vs. a birimbao for a capoeira  roda or some Nando’s spicy piri piri chicken vs. some pao de queijo and brigadeiro.  One of the first noms that I sought out were the pasteis de nata or more commonly known as egg custard tarts.  I really wanted to try them in Macau because I had some in the Santa Maria de Belem neighborhood of Lisbon.

The original bakery.

The monastery next to the original bakery in Lisbon.

I bought them at the first bakery (Casa de Pasteis de Belem) that began mass producing these egg desserts in 1837 when the original producers, the Jeronimos monks, were driven out by the Liberal Revolution of the 1820s.

Ain't nothing like the real thing.

Ain’t nothing like the real thing.

They were amazing there with a little powdered sugar and cinnamon on top, so I was gunning to see if they were worth the boat ride.

I was a fatty even five years ago.

I was a fatty even five years ago.

In Macau, I ended up going to Margaret’s Cafe e Nata which is located at Gum Loi Building, Rua Alm Costa Cabral R/C Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, Macau.IMG_0777  I saw there was a line, and a woman was directing the traffic for what seemed to be a sandwich line and a pastry line.IMG_0776  She looked at me, and I asked for “pasteis de nata“.  She looked at me like I was an alien.  I said it again, and she said, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, egg tarts” and then led me to the line on the left.  I thought she was just an oddball who didn’t speak Portuguese, but I told the woman behind the register, “Quero seis pasteis de nata, por favor“.  She was less incredulous, but still had trouble understanding.  I held up six fingers, and she rung me up.  Then when she gave me change, she said “obrigado” which only men should say.  I guess Wikitravel really was right when it said people don’t really speak Portuguese in Macau even though everything is written in it…so strange.IMG_0779  Anyway, I quickly opened the box to find six golden mini-pies that would eventually fuel my intense day of hiking and sightseeing.IMG_0780  The first bite revealed a crispy top with a smooth, vanilla taste accompanied with a slightly gooey egg interior and an extremely flaky yet sweet pastry crust.  Overall, they were pretty good, but they were a bit too gelatinous for my liking.  The originals in Lisbon were better since the egg custard was a lot creamier and didn’t feel like you were eating a sweet omelet.  While walking to the Sao Paulo Cathedral, I also have to mention the free beef jerky samples I got in the street.

A real meat market

A real meat market

These stalls are mainly by the cathedral.  I tried the spicy and honey bbq flavors, and it’s different than jerky back in the States.  The Maccanese version was flavorful and surprisingly moist like it was just cut off the cured hog.

After running all over Macau and hiking up a mountain to see a temple, I decided I needed to go to Rua da Cunha on Cotai Island.  IMG_2475This street is known for its Portuguese bakeries and restaurants, so I decided to go to Restaurante Dumbo.IMG_0786  It’s very well furnished inside, and the prices are a bit more expensive compared to Hong Kong restaurants. IMG_0783 I ended up getting a quarter of gallina a la portuguesa which arrived in a small pot at my table. IMG_0784 It was delicious as the top was crusted over with cheese, and then beneath the surface lurked large chunks of chicken along with potatoes, black olives, and carrots.  It was a hearty dish that obviously came from humble origins with the ingredients. IMG_0785 I would highly recommend this place to anyone who wants to try Maccanese cooking.  Then I got serradura for dessert.  Serradura means “sawdust” in Portuguese, and it probably was pretty apt since the crushed cookies on top looked literally like it should be on a steakhouse floor.IMG_2478  However, the taste was phenomenal.  It was like a rich vanilla ice cream cup covered with cookie crumbs.  It was a good end to my visit to Macau.

IMG_0798

Hey girl, can I take you home?

At the end of the night back in Hong Kong, a couple of the guys and I went out in the Wanchai neighborhood and found Big Pizza located at 89 Lockhart road.  I ended up getting a piece since what goes better with beer than pizza?  I opted for the chicken tikka pizza, and it was a slice as big as my head for only 20 HK.  Needless to say, the pizza was just what the doctor ordered.  The chicken was tender and had the proper Indian spices while the crust was firm, slightly chewy, and baked to a golden-brown.  A great way to end a great night.

Next up, my last night in Hong Kong with sum dim sum action.

Achin’ For Some Bacon On A Lazy Sundae

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Hello everyone to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  In this installment, I am not going to review a restaurant (tear tear), but I am actually going to talk about a couple interesting little snacks/meals I’ve had over the past couple weeks in Korea.  First, there are the school lunches.

Where to begin with the school lunches?  From what I’ve heard from my orientation cohort, I think I got off pretty easy in terms of the variety and quality of food my school serves.  My favorite days are either tonkatsu or “breaded pork cutlet” day or curry day.  However, then there are days like when they serve a variety of cold seafood omelets where they try and see how many different types of mystery meat and tentacles they can fit in one pan.  Frankly, I’ve tried them all, and I’m not a huge fan.  One day, I even saw something that looked a bit familiar to me.  There was a pan filled with small, purple-ish/crimson colored disks.  Naturally, I scooped up a ladleful and put it in one of my tray compartments.

The sundae's in the upper right hand compartment

The sundae’s in the upper right hand compartment

I chopsticked one into my mouth, and I realized that it was 순대 or Sundae.  However, instead of a rich mix of vanilla, butterfat, and chocolate syrup, I was greeted with a semi-coppery flavor of blood sausage.  If odd textures disgust you, stay away from this sausage’s rubbery skin.  It was somewhat similar to the Polish kiszka, but the Korean blood sausage had noodles on the inside of it which kind of put me off of enjoying it more.  A more positive experience during school lunch was when they were serving stir fried baby squids.  Now, I’m not the biggest seafood fan in the world, but I’ve found after living in Korea that they make some mean squid dishes.  This meal was no different.

I love it when you can look your food in the eye

I love it when you can look your food in the eye

The baby squids were stir fried in a sweet, orange based glaze and were accompanied by dried squid jerky on the side.  I personally preferred the stir fried squids because the sauce really made the savory essence of the seafood pop, and the squid jerky wasn’t as good as the barbecue squid jerky they served on a separate occasion.  It was very dry and tough which made for an unpleasant eating experience.  Moving on from the more intense elements of my culinary journeys through Korea, lets talk about some junk food.

First, there was the discovery of bacon chips.  Yes, bacon lovers in Korea rejoice.

You can never have enough bacon

You can never have enough bacon

There are chips that are literally shaped and flavored like bacon.  I originally found them at a rest stop on my way to go paragliding, and I definitely made the right choice.  The texture could be likened to a veggie chip, and it was strangely colored like a semi-raw piece of bacon.  As for the taste, it actually tasted like eggs’ natural companion.  Not the most natural thing in the world, but I’m glad I tried it.  Moving from the good straight to the ugly, there is the Chicago Style pizza from Emart.  For those not living in Korea, Emart is basically a giant department store that sells everything you could ever need.  So some friends and I split the cost for a couple pizzas including one that was supposedly a “Chicago Deep Dish” style pizza.

Blasphemy incarnate

Blasphemy incarnate

When we opened up the box, it wasn’t the same as the genuine article back home aside from the crust.  That was the least of our problems.  The taste was terrible.  Do not buy this pizza from Emart.  Just get the regular 11,000 Won pizzas.  They are a much better deal.  Anyway, the taste to put it simply was everything that is wrong about Korean pizza.  First, I’m pretty sure they didn’t use real cheese since it tasted like we were eating sticks of non-salted butter.  On top of that, we were greeted with a lovely flavor wave of very sweet Korean pizza sauce.  I’m not sure if the pepperoni was real, but it was the only redeeming feature. In short, it was the perfect storm for a terrible pizza recipe.  Putting this unpleasantness behind us, lets talk about some sweet things.

I have spoken about my love for my Kindergarten classes before, but I might also be swayed by the fact that I get free food from the teachers every time I teach.  One of the best days was on Childrens’ Day because I got something that didn’t think existed:  Korean bakery.  Up to this point, I had been inundated with so many different types of tteok or “rice cake” that it would make your head spin, but today was a special day with special food.  On my tiny plate, they served me 소보로 빵 or Soboro Bbang which I could only describe as a type of peanut infused streusel bread.IMG_0091  The bread itself was light and airy which was complimented by the generous, peanut butter crumble topping.  It was like a messier and sweeter version of a peanut butter sandwich.  Not something I was really complaining about when I was siting at a table that was lower than my knees.  In more recent news, today I received another sweet treat from one of my coteachers that inspired me to write this post.  I don’t know what they’re called in Korean, but I’m going to call it a Yuja cookie.

Tasty tart

Tasty tart

Yuja is the Korean name for citron which is a fruit that is similar to a lemon.  I first tried the fruit in a traditional Korean drink, 유자차 or yujacha, and I was instantly hooked on  its sour and semi-bitter bite.  With the cookie, the bitterness of the jellied citron pieces was toned down to a certain extent, but it still blended perfectly with the buttery crust that was not too crumbly.  It was a pleasant surprise to start the week off right.  So that’s about it for now, but keep watching for my next post that will most likely be about the best fish and chips shop in Seoul.

It’s Alive!…It’s Alive and Delicious!

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Hello and welcome to another installation of Mastication Monologues!  So life in Korea has really kicked into high gear now for the month of May, and last night really signaled of fun times to come.  Not only did I go out to see the Godfather of rap, Snoop Dogg, but I finally ended up in the mystical land of Hongdae.  I had heard many things about this wonderful place, and after a night of fun times ending at  6 a.m., I could see why.  One of the stops along the way that really caught my attention was Monster Pizza located across from the NB2 Hip Hop Club.IMG_0142

It’s a plainly furnished place with a couple tables here and there, and you have to walk up to order your pizza.  They sell pretty big slices for 3,500 Won which is a  great deal for Korea when it comes to pizza.  Last week I was originally contemplating trying a Dominoes pizza here, but then I saw it was 17,000 Won (16 dollars) for a medium cheese pizza.  Thanks but no thanks.  They only have three options:  standard cheese, classic pepperoni, and the mysterious Spice Girls flavor (I don’t know if they purposely named it after the girl group or not).  Naturally I was drawn to the last one, but I was also hungry.  So, I opted for a slice of the Spice Girls and a slice of pepperoni.  They also had packets of Parmesan cheese and a large bottle of red chili flakes on the side for self-service.  Now I was a bit skeptical looking at these slices because it seemed like some sort of trick.  Normally Koreans only like pizzas if they have potato wedges, sweet potato filling, kimchi, shrimp, peppers, onions, and hotdogs etc. etc. on top and within them.  They are veritable monstrosities.   Therefore, Monster Pizza’s slices simplicity reminded me of home.IMG_0146  I started with the Spice Girls slice which had pieces of ham, chopped black olives, and pieces of jalapenos on top of the slice.  As soon as I bit into the slightly crispy yet squishy crust, cheese,  and marinara sauce, I felt like I was almost eating a piece of pizza back home in Chicago. IMG_0147 The only difference was that I was sitting in a park watching a guy bust some very girly moves to Psy’s “Gentleman” blaring out of his boombox.  Every element of the Spice Girls pizza worked in harmony to bring a taste that I have never experienced in Korea:  the peppers were actually spicy; the ham was semi-seasoned and savory; and the marinara sauce was not sickeningly sweet. IMG_0148 As for the pepperoni slice, it couldn’t really reach the heights of standard set by the Spice World pizza.  It still was very good with its gooey cheese and semi-greasy red disks packed with salty, unhealthy tastiness, but the sauce seemed to have a bit more sugar in it which brought down the overall taste.

So whether you’re insanely drunk and are looking to stumble upon a food antidote to your inebriated state after a night in Hongdae or are just looking for a legitimate pizza place to try in Korea, don’t be afraid and choose Monster Pizza.

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