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Man’s Stomach’s Best Friend

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Today’s entry on Mastication Monologues is a short one and the penultimate in my Florida food chronicle.  My final lunch on vacation took place in an eatery called Dune Dog Cafe located at 775 N. Alt A1A  Jupiter, Florida.  I didn’t know what really to expect in terms of food, but my parents were raving about it.

So when we arrived, it was a small, tropical shack of sorts that was all open air dining which once again made me wonder what they did when the winds and rain picked up as they always seemed to do in the afternoon in Florida?IMG_2972IMG_2968IMG_2737  Pondering aside, it looked like the natives were quite restless as a line streamed out the front of the hut as we attempted to find a spot in their meager parking lot.  After about 45 minutes of leaning up against our rental car, baking in the noon sun, and watching crowds of urchins wrestle with each other as their mothers attempted to corral them, our reservation name was called.  We made our way around to the back part of the restaurant.  It was more relaxing since we didn’t have hordes of hungry diners giving us the evil eye for not eating quickly enough.  After looking over the menu that had mainly American food like burgers, salads, hot dogs, and chicken wings, I went for the last option.  Ten wings with half barbecue sauce and half sesame sauce.  The prices were very reasonable (5-12 dollars for a meal.  Apparently, one of the waiter’s mom’s worked with my mom’s friend who we were eating with, so we got a free appetizer called “Yankee nachos”.IMG_2969  Being Yankees ourselves, we found it interesting that they see us as people who only eat potatoes instead of tortilla chips.  Regional differences aside, this was one tasty platter.  It consisted of waffle fries piled high with all the classic nacho toppings like two types of cheddar, olives, guacamole, onions, tomatoes, and jalapenos.  Once we all polished that off, my wings came out, and they looked like a smaller version of Hooter’s wings that I am ever so fond of. IMG_2970 As for the taste, I was greatly satisfied.  Not only was there plenty of meat, but the crisp batter, smoky barbecue sauce, and slightly aromatic sesame sauce really made me think that something this great for the cheap price was fowl.  Actually, the only thing that ruffled my feathers was the bleu cheese dressing that seemed oddly acidic.  Nevertheless, as I wiped the sticky saucy aftermath from my fingers and mouth, I could see that Dune Dog truly did live up to the hype.

So if you want to check out a great family restaurant that has a beach vibe far from any sandy shore, hit up Dune Dog Cafe.

Dune Dog Cafe on Urbanspoon

Getting All Sazzed Up

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Today, I’m going to write you a blog post you can’t refuse to read.  If you have a hunger that cannot be satisfied with a typical burger or fried chicken joint, I found Sazio in Delray Beach.  It’s an Italian eatery that truly believes in the idea of abbondanza or abundance as I “quickly” found out.

After working my way through Delray’s various food genres, I was in the mood to mangia some good Italian food.  While I did see that there were various pizzerias up and down the happening Atlantic Avenue, I wanted to see if there was any restaurants that could take on more substantial representatives of the Italian food famiglia.  This is where Sazio came into the picture.  It was a bit further away from the beach, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t doing booming business the night I visited.IMG_2944  They have both indoor and outdoor seating, and I opted for the latter due to Delray’s impeccable weather even at night.  The robotic but seemingly warm hostess told me it would be another 15 minutes for a table, but I saw there was a two-top (two person table in non-restaurantese) open on the patio.  Having worked as a host in a restaurant before, I wasn’t going to hassle her about the table being open since I knew there were other seating arrangements they might use that table for.  So I settled on looking at the menu while I waited.  I could see they had a litany of sandwiches, salads, pastas, pizzas, and entrees.  However, I was sad they didn’t really have any standards from Chicago like chicken saltimbocca or chicken vesuvio.  Eventually, I was seated, but I had to once again wait at least 5 minutes for someone to come to my table similar to Lemongrass Bistro in my previous post.  It seems that service is overall bit slower in the South compared to the North.  Thankfully, I knew I wanted the chicken bruschetta sandwich ($10), so I just had to choose a drink.  I went for a glass of the Ruffino Chianti 2009 that had fruity notes but a definite acidic bite for an aftertaste.  As for my meal, it eventually came out, and it was quite intimidating.  I think they might have sandwiched two full chickens between the fluffy, crustacular ciabatta bun halves.IMG_2941  I slowly unhinged my jaw to take a bite, and after the first chomp I was impressed.  Not only did they have monstrously large pieces of chicken breast in the sandwich but also a tomato relish, slices of fresh buffalo mozzarella, delicate arugula, and a balsamic glaze atop the mountain of greens to add a slight tang to the more mild mannered meal. IMG_2939 The side salad was good but was a mere footnote when compared to the behemoth it shared a plate with.  Sazio managed to reinvent a classic Italian antipasto with real gusto that left me one felice (happy) diner.

So if you’re ever in Delray Beach and are looking for a lot of good food for a reasonable price, check out Sazio on Atlantic Avenue!

Sazio on Urbanspoon

Poppin’ Molly, I’m Sweatin’! (Portland, Finale)

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Well, I’ve finally managed to come to the end of my sojourn through the wilds of Portland’s culinary scene, and this final post is a fitting finale to the adventure.  Fitting in the sense that I manage to go out in a blaze of glory instead of just fading away a la Kurt Cobain minus the whole dubious suicide and artistic angst.  Instead, I grapple with another spicy food challenge at local eatery Salvador Molly’s.  It’s a bit outside of the city center, and you have to take a bus out to the hill country to get there.  However, it’s a unique dining experience that you can’t get anywhere else in Portland.

Now, I’ve survived my fair share of uber-spicy food that would make any normal human’s taste buds melt immediately.  The medium of fiery madness has ranged from soup, chicken wings, and even a deep fried pork cutlet, but Salvador Molly’s Great Balls of Fire challenge managed to switch it up once more pushing me to my culinary, physical, and mental limit.  The exterior of the restaurant gives off a hippie/Caribbean vibe with its tropical plants and vibrant color schemes, and the interior is even more fascinating.IMG_3881IMG_3880  Buddhist prayer flags were streaming overhead while the walls were adorned with African folk art murals along with Mexican artisanal crafts. IMG_3882 Upon sitting down and scanning the menu, I could see that they had food from all corners of the globe including the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hawaii to name a few.  I was initially drawn to the Jamaican Roti wraps, but I decided to go for Pele’s Volcano sandwich ($9.50) since it had some interesting ingredients.  Along with this, I asked to get the Great Balls of Fire challenge (7 balls, $7.95).  The waitress was hesitant, and asked me if I wanted to just try one to make sure I knew I was getting into.  The only thing I knew was that they were made out of habenero peppers, and I could eat those no problem.  So once I agreed to it, she wrote it down on her paper pad like a death sentence for a doomed prisoner.  While I was waiting, I saw that on the wall next to my table there was a couple of pictures on the wall chronicling the brave souls who pitted their wits against the flame-infused orbs and survived.

The few, the proud, the spiceheads.

The few, the proud, the spiceheads.

In my mind, I could see my picture going up there as well by the end of my meal.  That’s half the battle with food challenges, envisioning yourself triumphing over the massive obstacle placed in front of you.  Eventually both came out, and the sandwich looked more intimidating than the food challenge.IMG_2693  I knew I was in real trouble when they made me sign the waver saying that I couldn’t sue them if needed a colostomy compliments of their tortuous habanero appetizer.IMG_2692  They also pointed out the warning sign next to my table that was in other parts of the restaurant as well.IMG_2691  Not too scary at all, but I had a plan.  I wouldn’t be rushing headfirst into the gates of hell without a trusty thick coating to my stomach which was what the Pele sandwich was for.  It different than what I was expecting because it was more like a toaster oven pizza than a traditional sandwich.   As for its name, Pele is the goddess of volcanoes in Hawaiian culture, and I was expecting real fireworks to be happening on my palate.  Instead, it was more like a poorly made sparkler in the middle of a rainstorm.  Lots of fizzle and no sizzle.  A majority of the mediocrity derived from the toasted but cold and soggy, compliments of the toppings, bread.  The pork was average, but the only redeeming factor was the tamarindo bbq sauce that was tangy and sweet with a slightly herbal aftertaste compliments of the tamarind infusion in the sauce.  I was more partial to the hurricane garlic fries that took my taste buds by storm with their crispy exteriors and garlicky interiors.

My eyes then turned to my rotund morsels that threatened my existence as onlookers at another table bade me good luck before I dug in.IMG_2694  They even took out their camera phones to take a few snapshots before I possibly spontaneously combusted mid-meal.IMG_2696  They then got their food but always kept one eye on me as I began the challenge.  I gnawed on the first one as I put my figurative toe in the lava pool to make sure it was just right.  Inside the first fritter, it seemed to be filled with pieces of habanero and cheesy batter, and the spice was coming in hot and heavy waves over my tongue.  It was manageable though as I quickly popped balls 2-6 into my mouth with gusto.  The other diners’ jaws fell on their tables as they couldn’t believe that I devoured the fireballs just as quickly as they came to my table.  However, I was starting to feel a rumbling in my tummy as my mouth was more or less numb, sweat covered my face, and my heart was racing.  The final morsel slid down my gullet while leaving deep, spicy, smarting claw marks on my palate. I mopped up the sweet mango salsa as I gallantly destroyed the Great Balls of Fire Challenge.  The waitress was impressed as she took my picture for the “Great Wall of Flame”, and I got to write a memorable quote on it for everyone to see when they walk into the restaurant. IMG_2699 Once the fanfare ended, I sat there digesting the weapon-grade fritters that were smoldering in my stomach.  I asked for a cup of milk to quell the firebomb that was spreading throughout my gastro-intestinal tract.  I left that restaurant to walk through a monsoon, but I was more troubled with the sensation that felt like someone was disemboweling me.  I could see why they made me sign the waiver because they could have been in real legal trouble with people with less fortitude than I.  I struggled with the pain these little hellions brought for the rest of the afternoon/evening, so I warn everyone that the Great Balls of Fire Challenge will burn you if you don’t have the stomach for it.

So if you want a slightly overpriced menu that really highlights the diversity of Portland’s population or try your hand at consuming edible fireballs, check out Salvador Molly’s!
Salvador Molly's on Urbanspoon

My Glorious Food Revolution- Day 2 in N. Korea

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

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

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

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

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

Not set up for foreigners at all...

Not set up for foreigners at all…

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

Donkatsu or pork cutlet

Donkatsu or pork cutlet

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

The famous Pyongyang cold noodles.

The famous Pyongyang cold noodles.

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

Nothing like some oddly plastic hotdogs.

Nothing like some oddly plastic hotdogs.

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

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

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

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

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

That's one fine lookin' jjigae.

That’s one fine lookin’ jjigae.

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

Ssam Bap A Lup Bop Wop Bam Boom

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  If you’re thoroughly confused about my title, it’s a reference to “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard and one of the many foods I tried over this past weekend in Gyeongju.  It was a great time where not only did I enrich myself in terms of friendships but also in food knowledge.  Gyeongju is located in the southern part of the Korean peninsula, and we were going there by bus to see the cherry blossoms.  Ergo, we stopped at Korean rest stops along the way to stretch and get the old bones moving again.

I soon realized that Korean rest stops are a lot more intense than rest stops in the US.  First, there are so many different types of shops in these places.  Not only are there vending machines with every type of item from coffee to sunglasses, but they even sell jewelry and CDs outside in hawker stalls.  However, I was not there to buy a techno remix of Gangnam Style nor get a brand new pair of knock off Oakleys.  I was more interested in perusing the wide variety of Korean fast food each shop was offering.  Naturally, there were a lot of fish products, but I saw something that perhaps was a bit of Konglish.  It was a food labelled, “Hot Dog Pizza”.  Now, coming from Chicago where we do both of those foods right, I was curious to see what the Koreans meant when they decided to put these two delicious items together.IMG_0036  Turns out, there was nothing even remotely resembling a hotdog or a pizza involved in the snack.  It was about a six-inch long tube of crunchy, fried, bread-crumb encrusted outside. IMG_0037 Then, I bit into a gooey center that did not contain a sausage of any kind.  Instead, I was met with a slightly more viscous sauce that I could only liken to a Chinese-American sweet and sour sauce.  It went well with the fried dough (as most fried things are inherently delicious) and left me satisfied.

After we got to Gyeongju, we biked around the city for a couple of hours which led to us working up quite an appetite.  So, we piled onto the bus for a ssam bap dinner.  We weren’t sure what exactly constituted this meal, but thanks to our rudimentary Korean skills we at least knew that it contained rice because of the word “bap”.  However, almost every Korean meal comes with rice, so it didn’t help us that much.  When we arrived and sat down, we were immediately face to face with the international food of mystery.IMG_1399  The ssam bap meal consisted of galbi and chicken mixed with various types of leafy green vegetables and grilled in a big metal bowl in the middle of our table.  Once it was fully cooked, we took the meat and rolled it up in the lettuce and pepper leaves that were provided to us on the side along with other types of banchan like the omnipresent kimchi, sour bean paste, pickled radishes, a green salad with sweet sesame dressing, and seaweed soup to name a few. IMG_1398 I should have had more rice, but I was still hungry after the meal.  However, it was more of a case of quality over quantity as the semi-spicy chili sauce the chicken was marinated in really brought some intense savory flavors rushing over my palate.  It was countered with the smooth, cool texture of the lettuce leaves.  While this dinner seemed par for the course in terms of Korean dinner, what I ate the next morning was anything but normal.

We rose early to a drizzly morning, but we still decided to see the grotto to see a giant carved Buddha statue.  As we were walking back from the amazing sanctuary, I saw people in my group were getting corn dogs and hot dogs.  I, being the natural weirdo that I am, saw beondegi in a pot next to the tube steaks everyone else was buying.  You might be wondering what beondegi is, and it is not for the squeamish.IMG_1450  It ‘s boiled silkworm pupae or little worm babies in layman’s terms.  I don’t know if I’m foolish, crazy, and/or brave, but it was an interesting experience.  They were a little bigger than kidney beans and possessed an amber hue.  I popped them into my mouth, and their exoskeletons were crunchy. IMG_1448 The insides were the tough part to stomach because texture-wise they were like smooth mashed potatoes, but the taste was somewhat overwhelming.  It tasted like hay smell mixed with manure mixed with a slight nutty undertone.  I’m glad I didn’t buy a whole cup of these little buggers, but it was worth the experience like the whole weekend making unforgettable memories.

Everything’s Bigger in Itaewon

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Hello and welcome to another installment of Mastication Monologues!  Today’s review is going to be short and sweet since I have to actually ready for a big week of teaching.  Tomorrow a new co-teacher is starting with me, and I’m quite scared since she doesn’t have any teaching experience or experience with children.  Well, at least I had a great meal today with great memories I can savor when things are possibly going downhill in the classroom.

My friend Steph and I went to Seoul to see the Tim Burton art exhibit, and it was quite the experience.  There were sooooo many people, but overall it was a fun time.  Eventually all of that walking got us really hungry.  So Steph asked me what I wanted to eat.  I might have wanted to try a new galbi place, but I really had a craving for a legit burger.  Therefore, we headed to Itaewon to The Wolfhound which apparently has the best burger in Seoul.IMG_1369  Now that might not be saying much since there aren’t many legitimate burger restaurants outside of Itaewon, but I’m always down to try new places.  It was down a side alley, but upon walking in it was like any normal Irish pub themed restaurant/bar in the States.  There was no one in the place, so it was nice to get away from the insane crowds we had to battle just to see an original sketch from the Nightmare Before Christmas.  There were a lot of great options on the menu, but I decided to go for the Big Paddy burger (about 12 bucks) since I probably wouldn’t be coming back to the restaurant in a very long time or ever again.

It came out, and I was genuinely impressed.  I could see why it is considered the best burger in Seoul.

So Western it hurts

So Western it hurts

It had a legitimate slab of beef for a patty, cheese, bacon, garlic mayo, and a hefty helping of veggies.  Plus, it came with steak fries on the side.  In Korea, those are probably as rare as a Coelacanth.  Anyway,  I quickly got down to business since I hadn’t eaten since 8:30 in the morning.

Doing work

Doing work

Upon sinking my teeth into the gargantuan burger, I was pleasantly surprised by the beef since it was well seasoned with a definite peppery aftertaste.  The bun was light but did not buckle under the pressure of the burger’s contents.  I also really enjoyed the onions, tomatoes, and lettuce since all were really fresh and were not playing second fiddle to the beef.  The bacon was also pretty good since it was western style with some seasonings on it, and it was cooked to a semi-crispy state.  The staff also provided us with pretty standard condiments like ketchup, mustard, mayo, A1 steak sauce, and Tabasco sauce.  The steak fries didn’t disappoint either.  They were very fresh, not too salty, and had fluffy white interiors.  Overall, this was the best burger I’ve had so far in Korea and closest to the American standard in terms of taste, size, and just overall quality.  So if you want a break from kimchi and seaweed, head on over to The Wolfhound for a little piece of the West in the Far East.

Only for big appetites

Only for big appetites

Got the Munchies?

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Hello everyone to another installment of Mastication Monologues!  Life continues in Korea, and I’m writing this since the weather is cold and wet outside.  I don’t think the seasons really know what they’re doing around here.  One day it’s sunny and warm and the next day it’s cold and wet.  Oh well, at least one thing has remained constant:  me trying new and crazy foods.  This post will talk about different odds and ends of Korean snacks I have tried since touching down here.  First, there are the items I have received from my teachers.

I’ll start with one food that my teachers have given to me in various forms, but I have yet to find one that really catches my fancy:  rice cake or tteok in Korean.  Obviously, rice holds a special place in Asian cuisine as a staple grain just like wheat and corn in the West, and therefore, there will be many different products made from it.  However, I have never tried so many different types of rice cake in my life.  It seems like there are as many varieties of rice cake as there are varieties of kimchi.  The rice cake is made by pounding sticky rice into a dough, mixing in various ingredients, and then portioning them out into more manageable to eat pieces.  One of the first types of rice cake I tried with my coteachers was coated in semi-dehydrated red beans.  It was dry, gummi, and tasted like bland beans…yummy.  On another day, I saw strange purple squares saran-wrapped on the table, and I found out that it was rice cake with cut almonds in it.  I took one bite, and it had a strange floral flavor that clashed with the almonds.

Very natural looking...

Very natural looking…

The only two types of rice cake that I actually enjoy are the black sesame coated type or one infused with raisins.  The black sesame powder one is quite expensive, but tastes like sweet sesame seeds.  As for the raisin tteok, the absence of flavor in the actual rice dough allows for the sweet raisins to really shine.  Overall, rice cakes have failed to grow on me as of right now.

Moving on to treats my teachers have given me that I actually enjoyed, I’ll start with the mystery 12 grain sticks.  One of my teachers who occupies a cubicle kiddie corner from me gave me a small foil package and said “For you”.  I looked at it, and it just said, “12 grains crispiroll.”IMG_0015  So I was expecting some sort of granola bar to emerge from the wrapper, but what I encountered was something completely different. IMG_0016 Instead of seeing a granular bar, I was greeted by a light yellow, crumbly tube.  I took a bite, and it was an interesting experience.  Not only was it crumbly, but the interior somehow seemed to be filled with some sort of cheese flavored substance I couldn’t see for the life of me.  It must have been hidden under the interior layer, but it was like eating a healthy version of cheese puffs.  Another great treat from my students was chalboribbang.

Although the name is somewhat long, these little sandwiches really hit the spot.  Our 5th graders took a trip to Gyeongju, and they came back with boxes of chalboribbang.IMG_0017  Apparently they are the region’s specialty and have been made since the Silla dynasty of Korea (57 BC to 935 AD).  The perfect combination of freshness and delicious taste explains why they have been around for millennia.  The small pancakes are made from barley and between the cakes is a sweet paste made from azuki beans.  They’re moist, chewy, and have a very slight maple syrup taste.IMG_0019  Perhaps that last part comes down to my love for pancakes, but chalboribbang pack a lot of quality flavor into a small package.  Finally, there are two small snacks I tried this weekend that I would like to comment on.

First there are the Doritos.  World recognized food brands adopt their flavors to suit the local population in order to boost sales and be respectful to their potential consumers if they have religious qualms with the ingredients.  Naturally, the Korean Doritos I picked out for our guys night seemed to be flavored like barbecue ribs since Koreans love to barbecue any type of meat.

Not all that and a bag of chips

Not all that and a bag of chips

However, they were a gigantic letdown in terms of flavor.  The chips were like back in the states in terms of size and texture, but the bold, savory barbecue flavor that is synonymous with a rack of ribs was severely lacking.  On the other hand, my friends took me to a shish-kabob place in Bupyeong in Incheon right outside of the club Shelter that brought both the flavor and the heat.

We had just finished our guys night at my friend Nate’s place, so we headed to Bupyeong to check out some new bars.  Instead, I ended up in front of this food truck that had a chef inside who was diligently pressing chicken skewers on the red hot griddle and slathering the piping hot meat in different sauces.

Poetry in motion in Bupyeong

Poetry in motion in Bupyeong

I was goaded into trying the “So Spicy” option, and I took it down no problem.  I’d liken the spiciness to probably a couple jalapenos consumed at once.  The chef saw that I finished it so quickly, so he decided to make a special sauce just for me.  He was laughing while putting chili powder and vinegar into a cup.  As he mixed it he said, “Ok I kill you”.  Culinary challenge accepted.  Eventually my skewer of death was finished, and I went to town on it.

I can play with fire and not get burned

I can play with fire and not get burned

The pieces of chicken were succulent and the green onions had a nice crunch to even out the chewy, grilled chicken.  As for the spiciness, it was more in the Habanero/scotch bonnet range.  As I was taking it down, other Koreans waiting for their skewers were staring at me like I was a supernatural being and wanted to know where I was from.  I finished my complimentary death skewer in no time, and the guy asked me if it was too much.  I said nope, and he smiled, nodded, and said, “You very strong”.  Got to love being able to consume spicy foods and make friends along the way.  Not too bad for only a $1.50.

Hair of the Waygookin

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  However, this is not any regular edition of my wonderful food blog, but rather it is my 60th post.  I never honestly thought I would stick with writing a food blog for this long, but when I realized that people from all over the world enjoy my food adventures, I kept the reviews and ideas flowing.  So if you have any suggestions for new restaurants and/or new foods to try, please send them my way.  I appreciate all of the views my blog has gotten so far, thanks! Anyway,  I decided to do something a bit different for my 60th post where I would comment on the different types of drinks I have tried while living in Korea.  First, I’ll go for the lifeblood of Korean nightlife:  soju.

King of Korea

King of Korea

Soju is an interesting character in comparison to all of the other types of  drinks I have tried.  I had briefly tasted it stateside when I went to a Korean restaurant/noraebang for karaoke, but I didn’t really remember it making much of an impact on my palate.  However, upon arriving in Korea, I was in the middle of many toasts with co-workers, new friends I made through my orientation program, and old friends who were already living in Korea.  Soju is probably consumed more than water here, and it’s definitely cheaper than water in 7-Elevens.  Plus, in orientation we were informed that it is the number one liquor in the world in terms of consumption even above Smirnoff vodka.  Then again, after watching drunk Korean businessmen stumble down the street on Tuesday nights, I’m not surprised.  As for the actual taste, it kind of is like Korea’s answer to vodka.  It’s clear, nearly scentless, and can be used with many different mixers.  However, there is a somewhat off-putting, slightly sweet aftertaste if you take it in shot form.  A Korean friend told me the taste is due to the distilling process since soju is no longer derived directly from rice but rather through using artificial sugars and potatoes or tapioca roots.

The fancy bottle hides a nasty surprise inside

The fancy bottle hides a nasty surprise inside

I even tried a different soju that was distilled with turmeric,  pears, and ginger to name a few ingredients.  It didn’t go down so well since it tasted like vodka mixed with an herbal tea.  So that’s a little blurb for you liquor-only drinkers.  Next is for wine afficionados:  bokbunja and flower wine.

Bokbunja is a traditional Korean blackberry wine that was exquisite.IMG_0023  It tasted similar to a Western sweet red variety or for those who are not well versed in wine types, it had a very high sugar content.  Ergo, it seemed closer in taste to fruit juice in comparison to a more intense and full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon.  Another fun fact about this delicious Korean wine is that supposedly it promotes mens’ sexual health and drive.  Personally, I didn’t feel any sort of heightening of my sexual spidey senses or anything like that.  Perhaps it’s just another gimmick to sell more wine.  As for the flower wine, I have sampled two varieties:  Baekhwaju and another variety that I don’t know the name of.  The Baekhwaju is made with over 100 different flowers (Baek in Korean means 100), and it was very smooth.IMG_0025  It was like drinking a chamomile tea with minimal alcohol aftertaste.  The other bottle was a bit more intense in regard to flavor, and I think that it might have been Dugyeonju which is made with azalea petals.IMG_0024  It was slightly more viscous than the 100 flower wine which also added a texture factor that I didn’t particularly enjoy.  Moving on from that slightly negative note, next is a rice wine that I greatly  relish in imbibing.

Makkoli is a rice wine that I actually really enjoy compared to the other Korean beverages I’ve tried so far.IMG_1172  I knew Japan had its signature sake rice wine, but I didn’t know that Korea had their own version of it.  While sake is consumed either cold or warm, Makkoli is typically consumed while cold.  It’s a blend of rice, wheat, and water which ends up as a drink that looks almost like milk.  The first time I had Makkoli was during our orientation trip to Ganghwa island outside of Incheon, and we had lunch at a peasant village with a Korean tour group.  While we were eating our kimchi and chapchae, a bright green bottle caught my eye on the table.  I poured some of the milky liquid into my cup, and I was very satisfied with the taste.  It was almost like drinking a carbonated vanilla milkshake minus the richness of the butterfat and instead had a slight alcohol aftertaste.  Still, not too bad, and I definitely enjoy it more than drinking soju even though both have very low alcohol percentages.  Then there is Korean beer…

Buying mekju in Korea is buying in bulk

Buying mekju in Korea is buying in bulk

Asia really isn’t known for having amazing beer like traditional  brewmasters Germany, England, and the USA due to varying local resources, but Korean breweries have seemingly modeled most of their beers off of many of the large American lagers like Budweiser and Coors.  The three biggest brands are Hite, OB, and Cass.  I’ve tried all three, and they’re nothing to brag about.  They’re pretty run of the mill in terms of taste (minimal hops and quite thin in regard to body), but at least they’re affordable compared to foreign beers.  Sadly they don’t have any dark beer to speak of, but beggars can’t be choosers when in a different place.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this special post celebration 60 wonderful posts of food and drink adventures.  Raise a glass and here’s to 60 more!

It’s Easy Being Green

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Hello and welcome to part two of my Easter special on Mastication Monologues!  Today I am going to be talking about a classic Korean noodle shop that my friend introduced me to for Easter lunch.

Even though I’m far away from friends and family back home, I at least found a Catholic cathedral in Korea that I could go to to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  I was interested to see the Koreans’ take on mass since I have been to services in other foreign countries, and each nation has their own take on the Catholic rites.  I went to the Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul on a beautiful Sunday, and the Church was pretty impressive in size and design (Gothic, specifically).  After mass, I didn’t have anything planned for this lazy Sunday since there strangely wasn’t anything Easter themed to do in a country that has tons of fervent Christians yet not even one type of Easter candy or colorful egg.  So my friend, Steph, met up with me for lunch since we both were starving.  We ended up at Myeongdong Gyoja which is a Korean noodle house that has been open for over forty years in Seoul.gyo

They are known for their kalguksu or hand cut noodles, and only have four to five dishes on their menu.  Most of them are noodle broth meals, but they do offer steamed dumplings as well.  Steph told me that their specialty was the meat broth option, but I saw the spicy noodle option (bi bim guksu).  Obviously, I gave into my weakness for all things spicy and decided to give it a try.  The service was very prompt in the extremely busy and semi-cramped restaurant.  You also share tables with other diners if it’s just two of you, so just a heads up for those of you looking for a place to have an intimate conversation or want a bit more privacy while dining.  It was 8,000 won upfront for the noodles along with some kimchi banchan, a bowl of beef broth, rice, and gum for the ubiquitous after-dinner breath in Korea.IMG_1353  All of it looked very fresh and elegantly presented especially the noodles that were unlike any noodles I have seen before in Korea. They were a deep forest green!  It didn’t really deter me much as I tucked into the verdant jumble of deliciousness.  The noodles were very supple and thin and were thickly coated in red pepper powder and gochujang chili sauce.  Plus, bi bim guksu is a cold noodle dish, so I was kind of caught off guard with the first bite.  It wasn’t too spicy for yours truly, but every bite contained an undercurrent of cucumber notes that came from the cucumber slices that were hiding underneath the green tangle and the freshly julienned cukes on the side.  By the time I reached the end of the bowl, I was filling up fast on the glorious noodles, but I had room for finishing off the kimchi.  I’m going to say it now, but this was the first bowl of kimchi that actually was somewhat spicy.  For some reason, the chili sauce they doused the cabbage in had a strange numbing-spiciness I could only liken to a Sichuan chili sauce I had at my friend David’s hot-pot dinner (See Drop It Like It’s Hot Pot).  There was also a lot of garlic powder in it, hence the gum.  I had two helpings of this fiery side-dish much to the surprise of one of the waitresses who went along scooping more into other diners’ bowls.  So if you like spice, definitely check out the kimchi at Myeongdong Gyoja.  As for the beef broth, it was very simple but intensely flavorful.  I’m sure it was quite high in sodium like a lot of broths, but it tasted like I was biting into a succulent steak roasted by God on this holy day.

Anyway, I give Meyongdong Gyoja the waygookin (foreigner) seal of approval if you want to try a piece of Korean traditional cuisine in a famous place or at least try some kimchi that lives up to its spicy reputation.

It’s a Good Day to Fry Hard

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Hello to everyone out there to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  This is part one of two for my Easter weekend in Incheon/Seoul.  This past week has been way too crazy for its own good at school with losing one of my coteachers to sickness, so I was intent on making the most of this weekend to put my worries behind me.

So after a semi-wild night on Friday in Bupyeong, I was planning on meeting up with some friends at this barbecue festival in Seoul, but due to some detours they took, somehow they were over an hour late.  I got tired of waiting in the cold and semi-drizzling outdoors, so I went downstairs at Magpie Brewery to get my southern style barbecue to find a line that was all the way out the door and not moving.  I waited for probably ten minutes and called it quits.

Never meant to be

Never meant to be

I’ve had my fair share of barbecue, and I’m pretty sure this wasn’t going to be like the real thing I’ve had while in the Dirty South.  Instead, I made my down to a restaurant right around the corner that I saw on the walk over to the brewery:  The Poutine Factory.  Now, I remember during my childhood we took a trip to New York/Canada, and we stopped in Canada at a McDonalds for a bathroom break.  Naturally, I wanted to see if they had anything different on the menu, and I saw that they had something that looked like fries piled high with cheese curds and gravy with the word “Poutine” next to it.  I didn’t really know what it was back then, but that image always stuck with me.  So this place, Poutine Factory, seemed to be a perfect place to finally try that mysterious Canadian food I saw many years ago.

By Noksapyeong station

By Noksapyeong station

It wasn’t the cheapest meal I’ve had here, 12,000 won, but I went with the KB fries with a side of chili sauce.  The decor of the place was not too kitschy with little Canadian souvenirs everywhere along with different books in a little bookshelf with different facts about Canada.  I saw the guy also freshly frying the fries in the back, so I was expecting a great meal. They were all finished, and I was salivating just looking at the Poutine from afar.  Then the chef tripped and spilled it on the floor…luckily I got a discount because of it.  He whipped up a brand new order, and I was face to face with my Korean Poutine.

Bon soir, mon ami

Bon soir, mon ami

It was a mini mountain of freshly fried fries topped with kimchi, marinated bulgogi, chili sauce, sesame seeds, and sour cream.  Plus, I had a side of sweet chili sauce and a bottle of Sriracha just to keep things interesting (as if they weren’t already).  To start, the fries were perfect with a golden-brown hue and a fluffy white interior.  Plus, they were not greasy or over salted.  The bulgogi was really good with the gochujang chili sauce and sesame seeds.  There was a good amount piled on the fries, and the meat was very tender.  The only downside to this dish was the kimchi.  Now, I’m not a kimchi expert/Korean, but this kimchi was very bland even though it had been mixed in with the gochujang.  I thought that the sour cream drizzle brought more to the table as a cooling element to the savory/spicy elements of the meal than the limp contribution of the fermented cabbage.

Overall, Poutine Factory is a bit pricier than a normal Korean restaurant, but you get a substantial portion of very hearty food.  It was a tasty tribute to the spirit of the Quebecois.   Bon Appetit!

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