Now That's Tasty!

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Mountains of meat

As I was looking for hiking boots yesterday for my eventual journey to Nepal (which couldn't come soon enough) I was reminded of a recent meal of mountainous proportions--The Himalayan Steak Sandwich from Smokey's Saloon in Apgujeong.
In many ways I hate to post about foods that originate so far away from my current local, but then again, there's always something to be said for a good sandwich...especially in this country where they're not.easy to come by.

Smokey's Saloon is a welcome escape from kimchi and rice, serving up fat, filling burgers, sandwiches, wings, salad and chili fries. One of my favourite aspects of Smokey's is that all of their barely-biteable sandwiches come with a side of jalapeno peppers and real baby dill pickles (much to my chigrin, this country does not welcome a pickle that isn't sweet).
Conquoring the Himalayan Steak Sandwich in all of its meaty, cheesy glory was a bit of an intestinal battle, but it has brought me one step closer to one of my lifelong dreams of climbing the mountains in Nepal.

...maybe I'm exaggerating just a little bit too much there.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Wicked ways to warm the Seoul.

Galbi Tang (beef rib soup)

Continuing on the theme of simple and delicious taste pleasures, there's nothing more comforting to me than a big bowl of steamy broth. Soup is one of those things that I can eat any time of the day, whether stiflingly hot and certainly when it's bitterly cold; soup is a simple pleasure that is uncompromisingly efficient in even the most mediocre of states.

Soondubu jiggae (soft tofu stew)
Soup is also a staple around Korea. Often accompanying a barbeque or Korean 'table-haute' meal free of charge, or changing the game as an intriguingly inexpensive side to your supper soup comes in many delicious and diverse variations around these parts. 

Here's just a couple tasty ones that I've enjoyed as of late [temporarily excluded are the mass amounts of ramen I've been consuming]. 

Top: Galbi Tang or Kalbi Tang is a simple yet well rounded beef rib soup. Served literally boiling hot in a deeply flavourful beef broth that's been simmered for countless hours, the tender chunks of galbi are generally laid aside so you don't scald your lips as you pull off the succulent beef and such the bones dry of their marrow. Topped with fresh enoki mushrooms, and green onion as well as what I believe to be a type of chili nut (but which tasted oddly similar to a date) and a nice pile of glass noodles at the bottom, galbi tang is an excellent lunchtime mow that will typically run you under W8,000. 

Bottom: Soondubu jjigae is a spicy robust jjigae (Korean stew) made with extra soft tofu and often various types of seafood (clams, shrimps, mussels, oysters), mushrooms and green onion. This is much more of a soup than a stew in my humble opinion but regardless of how you classify it the tastes are clean and powerful and each bite is booming with belly burning warmth. For W3,000-6,000 I be gettin' jjigae with it all the damn time! 

Monday, 25 April 2011

Crispy fried pig

A wise friend of mine once told me, "No matter where I am in life, I always know that there will be a BLT waiting."
Sometimes it's the most simple things that elicit the greatest pleasures; crispy, salty, fried bacon is one of them!

Top: The Bacon Breakfast S'manwich- compiled from bottom to top with aged cheddar cheese, fried egg, 2 strips of bacon, ketchup, buffalo wing sauce, a second fried egg, more bacon strips, more ketchup, tobasco sauce and a cream cheese finish. Rich, creamy, crispy, salty, sweet, spicy; super bomb! (This is how you spend a Sunday morning)

Left: The Classic BLT- old style seedy mustard, aged cheddar, lots of crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. Perfectly simple, perfectly delicious. (This is how you spend a Sunday night)

Friday, 22 April 2011

Staying Alive

The weekend that was: tremendously jam packed, totally epic, and truly Korean. I'm finding it difficult to digest now, but man, did it ever go down easy at the time.

As soon as Friday let out it was a mad dash to Seoul station to link up with my u of fellow degenerates and catch the first available train to Daegu, Korea's third largest city. Daegu is a nearly 4.5 hours train ride from Seoul on the snail-rail or a speedy 1 hour 40 if you hop the KTX (high speed train). Despite a price reduction of a mere 3 dollars we boarded the KTX with "standing room" tickets in order to avoid an unnecessarily lengthy ride. While things in the country are often unlike one would imagine, a standing room ticket means that you get the opportunity to ride in the small entrance way to train car- barely enough room for 4 people we crammed in twice that number. A comfortable ride compared to those in the standing 'area' one car down which looked to be holding upwards of 10-15. Nevertheless, we were on a mission and we were well equipped, with a few 40's of Hite beer and a bottle of soju that probably should have been smaller.

Our mission: get down and dirty in Daegu for the evening, find a an always fateful jjimjilbang to eventually pass out, wake up at the crack of dawn (provided we aren't still drinking at the time) and hop on the train once again for the 30 minute journey to the small rural town of Cheongdo. Why Cheongdo you ask? Featured destination: The Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival--a 1,000 year old tradition of balls-out, bull vs. bull brutality!

While animal cruelty is not a pastime that I condone, I am certainly no animal rights activist. Safe to say, watching two 3,000 pound masses of muscle with horns butt skulls, falls well within my criteria of a good time. Insert an array of vendor stands, a mini marketplace with fresh local fare and barrels of beer for under two bucks and we've upgraded to the ideal afternoon!

(vats of YukGaeJang, piles of whale meat, tables to dine at...what more could a hungry man ask for?)
Before partaking in the festivities it was imperative that we filled our famished bellies. So, we sauntered over to the makeshift 'restaurant' row where they were serving up everything from massive fish platters, vats of boiling soup and the controversial local delicacy--whale. Some friends we were with suggested we partake in a hearty bowl of beef soup called YukGaeJang. This steamy assortment of small fatty pieces of beef, lotus root, mung bean sprouts, green onion, yam, garlic and rice is simmered for hours in a delicious and spicy beef broth. To accompany our lunch, several bowls each of Dongdongju the more homemade cousin of Makgeolli--a traditional Korean alcoholic beverage made from a mixture of fermented rice, wheat and water. The cloudy brown liquor which is served in a large bowl and ladled into smaller drinking bowls is slightly sweet with a tangy aftertaste and only contains about 6.5-7% alcohol due to an incomplete fermentation process.

(Chopping up some whale meat. It took me a while to spy-cam this shot because the lady kept trying to block my view. Maybe it sully's the flavour of this highly disputed delicacy? Or maybe the fact that she was chopping up a pretty illegal piece of meat had something to do with her unwillingness to give a thumbs up and smile for the camera.)

(A steaming bowl of YukGaeJang)

With our immediate hunger pangs gone and our thirst temporarily quenched, we relocated to the grandstands inside the stadium to watch a few hours of exciting bovine bashing. It was no blood bath, but with cold beers always in hand and 1,000 won side bets on our favourite bulls we all had a riff of a time! The sun was out and a calm wind kept us at a most comfortable 23 degrees. Little did I know that this was just one of the many positive events which would eventually complete my most enjoyable weekend in Korea to date. 

Post fight-fest the crew and I skipped back to Seoul, leaving behind a most unforgettable afternoon. The weekend, however, was far from over. Early to mid April in Korea is cherry blossom season; a short period of roughly two weeks, where thousands of indigenous and hybrid cherry blossom, magnolia, and other trees of this nature are in full bloom across the country. In Seoul, Yeouido Park is the go-to destination for cherry blossoming (a new verb in my dictionary). The streets surrounding the park are lined with over 1,500 cherry blossom trees in full bloom. Their delicate pink petals gave off a sweet and subtle aroma as I strolled along in the warm sunshine.

(View from the entrance of Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market)

As beautiful as the cherry blossoms were, I have little interest in eating flowers off the branches of trees.  Luckily for me, the infamous Noryangjin Fish Market, the largest wholesale fish market in the country (to my understanding) is just a short walk away. Along with my faithful travel companion, Yoni, I wandered over in search of one of the most talked about and exciting foods that Korea has to offer--sannakji (live octopus). I'm not trying to pull your tentacles here, this is seriously real, and as I would soon find out first hand, seriously delicious as well.

The Noryangjin Fish Market is bustling with people and 'poisson' starting from roughly 4 or 5am when the early morning fish auction takes place. As fresh as possible, and in many cases still live, Noryangjin is a must visit for any food fanatic visiting Seoul. As you wander around the overflowing stands of fresh and saltwater fish, crustaceans, cephalopods and mollusks, the fishmongers feverishly promote their personal supply and shout at each other if you should decide to walk away in favour of another's catch. It's times like these I wish I were a marine biologist, because the myriad of freaky looking fish as so enticing but equally foreign to me.

(Only one small step away from my stomach)

It took a bit of figuring out and some help from one of the vendors who saw us peeking down uncharted corners with baffled looks on our faces before Yoni and I could get our hands on what we came for. The way that Noryangjin works for the individual eaters is that one is free to select whatever they desire and if they so choose, they can have their catch prepared onsite in one of the various restaurants for a mere 3,000 won seating fee. The preparation of sannakji or sannakji hoe ("hoe" meaning "raw dish) is quite simple: chop up the small baby octopus into bite-size bits, immediately put it on a plate and wrestle with the squirming pieces as they suction themselves on to your plate, strangely aware of their fatal destiny. Sannakji is often garnished with sesame seeds and sesame oil and dipped in gojuchang (Korean hot sauce), however, our was presented straight up and with a nice selection of sides, including kimchi, lettuce and sesame leaves, fresh green chili peppers, carrots, garlic, gojuchang, soy sauce with wasabi and sesame oil.

(Sannakji: still al-eye-ve and ready for the eating)
(The stand from which out sannakji came)
I can understand how many people would have a difficult time getting over the slimy appearance and lack of seasoning, not to mention that it might appear as though your food is trying to squirm off your plate, but for any adventurous eater or sushi lover this is a must try! The texture is far more delicate than cooked octopus with the right amount of chewiness. The freshness is unparalleled and the flavour is subtly sweet and pairs perfectly with the saltiness of the chili or soy sauce. Just make sure you chew well! There are asphyxiation related deaths nearly every year from the consumption of this dish...the reports fail to mention the blood alcohol percentage of the fools who succumb to such a death.
(Mr. Squid himself)

Following this most enjoyable meal we wandered back in the direction of Yeouido for some more cherry blossoming and managed to delve in to 4 more untested, yet widely available Korean delights. First, some dried, grilled squid; a common street vendor item which has confused me ever since entering in to the country due to its incredibly large, flat and rippled appearance. "How does a squid end up in that shape?", I wondered. Until I saw the process before my eyes I wasn't all that interested in tasting what turned out to be the beef jerky of the sea-world. In the end, like most Korean dishes I've tasted thus far I was more impressed than I ever anticipated. The pieces of dried squid head are pressed between a flattop grill and brushed with butter and then fed through a press of sorts a total of three times, widening and thinning the squid with each pass and creating ribs across the body. A couple more shots on the grill and you're mowing. The chewy strips of squid grow on me and become tastier with every bite. The chewy texture is identical to that of beef jerky and the smokiness and subtle crisp from the grill had me stuffing squid down my gullet until I was gnawing on my fingertips.
(Roll out)

The final few pecks along the road featured an amuse bouche of soft warm and rich roasted chestnuts, a palate cleanser of small amost waffle like donuts filled with sweet red bean paste (these things are all over the place, but I'm not sure what they're called), and main course of small sandwiches filled with coleslaw, ham and cucumber in some sort of fried bread (possible made from rice; I tried to ask the owner what they were made of but ran into some communication problems as per usual).

(If you're not a fan of friend bread you may not be a friend of mine)

No need for desert here; this was without a doubt the most unbelievable day of eating I've ever had. Never have I experienced places, smells and sights in such form and had the good fortune to constantly eat my way through an entire afternoon of foreign, fun and excuse the language, but fucking delicious food! I sincerely hope that this is just the beginning of many years of fresh and unfamiliar feasting.

As I mentioned before, this weekend was hard to digest, more mentally than physically. I have finally begun to indulge in the type of food porn that I lust for and pursue the type of eating that fills my belly with satisfaction and my mind insight into the world of food that is commonplace for some and completely unheard of for many. This is the life I've been waiting to live and I doubt a day will ever come where I'm not quite literally, hungry for more. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Into the frying pan and over the fire

After one of my longest periods away from the kitchen since I fell in love with the art about a half-dozen years ago, I finally had a paycheck in hand and a meagerly stocked kitchen...but it was enough to marinate some breasts, chop up some veggies and put together a proper home cooked meal for one.

On the menu for this evening we have a seedy mustard and balsamic marinated breast of chicken with a single malt and soy pan sauce accompanied by sauteed oyster mushrooms, fire roasted green pepper and steamed rice. 

I marinated the chicken overnight in old fashioned seedy dijon mustard and a balsamic and olive oil dressing that had shallots, fresh garlic, salt, pepper and a little bit of sugar and rubbed the chicken with fresh ground sea salt and black pepper. 

After getting the chicken into the pan with some olive oil and a bit of sea salt I quickly flame roasted a green pepper and then cooled it in some cold water and removed some of the charred skin.

I sauteed my oyster mushrooms in olive oil (would have used butter if I had acquired it yet) sea salt, black pepper and basil and tossed in the sliced green pepper at the end just to warm them back up. 
For the pan sauce I added a couple dashes of single malt scotch, water (because I have no stock) and a little bit of soy sauce. 

(seedy mustard and balsamic marinated breast of chicken with a single malt and soy pan sauce accompanied by sauteed oyster mushrooms, fire roasted green pepper and steamed rice. )

It feels good to eat like I'm home again! 
And I've got a breast of leftover chicken sliced up and ready for a beauty of a sandwich in the next few. Fuckin' right, Now That's Tasty!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

No Reservations..."Gun Bae!"

In the midst of transition and trepidation towards my time in Korea there are those who inspire and continue to ignite the flame that flickers too dimly at times.

I must attest; these past few weeks in Seoul have been difficult to say the least. A bout of food poisoning from some un-stomach-able spicy squid stir fry, many difficulties surrounding my world of work and most recently, a 3-day long fever riddled stomach flu (potentially caused by exposure to nuclear rain, although, I think that's a long shot). Yet, amongst these unfortunate hours I am fervently forcing myself to forget the ills of today and look forward to tomorrow.

This will undoubtedly not be the last time you'll see me quote this, but in the poetic words of Gord Downey of The Tragically Hip: "Escape is at hand for the traveling man". However, if a traveling man has nothing to escape but his travels themselves, then escaping to the travels of another seem to be entirely fitting.

One of my closest friends, a fearless female of five-feet who has recently returned from her first 'real' travel experience ever...a mere two and a half months solo missioning in India (no biggie), recommended that I check out a program that I'm embarrassed to admit has passed me by until now, called Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.

Bourdain's long list of accolades begin in the kitchen, progress to the page, the television set, cyberspace, and seem to have no end in sight.  No Reservations is a punchbowl of edge and insight, character, cool and all that is unknown, or should be known, about eating what the locals eat around the world. To put it plainly, it is productions like these that continue to motivate me to do what I want to do out here in Korea. To push me towards a career path like that of his own and, hopefully, one day being that dude on TV whose giving you the low down on the best street vendor to eat chao tom (barbecued fish paste on sugar cane) in Saigon, drink the purest caipirinha in Sao Paulo and soak up the sweetest scenes in Sumatra.

It can become frustrating for me to know that the vast majority of my time is Seoul is spent taking care of off the wall tots and juggling the excessive demands of a foreign management that can't actually communicate what they want me to do. However, by the time I do get to leave work and peruse the street vendors, massive marketplaces, restaurants, bars and  bo gi stands, I know that at least something seems right.

Living in Seoul, as far as the city is concerned, has been eye opening and unimaginably interesting thus far. Over the next 11 months I can barely begin to hypothesize what will be in store. The culinary culture is a 24/7 mosaic of mysterious meats, funny looking fish, bountiful barbecues and a relentless amount of rice. Although, I am all too limited in the things I am able to order today, I'm confident that I'll pick up enough knowledge, or at the very least, a good crew of Koreans to help me delve in to all the deliciousness that surrounds me.

Meanwhile, I will continue to strive towards someday earning the privilege to be a ballsy and sometimes brash, temperamental yet sentimental, hopefully insightful, intriguingly inquisitive 'acquisitioner' of my very own travel/food show; not unlike Mr. Anthony Bourdain.

"Gun Bae" ("cheers" in Korean) to you good sir, and to all those individuals who take part in the career that I lust for. If you ever need an enthusiastic intern or a dupe to try the shitty stuff first, you know where to find me!

A quick must mention of one of the tastiest Korean dishes I've tacked to date: Sauteed and skilleted chicken large intestine!
The texture is somewhat firm, with a bit of an el dente outer layer and an inside that bursts with robust flavor when you bite into it. I reminded me a little bit of when I tried prairie oysters back when I traveled across Canada except these were done in a spicy chili sauce with the perfect contrast of added sweet sugar that you just wanted to eat with a spoon. These 'tiny' - large intestines were served on a hot plate skillet with white onion, fat cloves of garlic, green pepper, green chilies and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It was sumptuous!

(That's some saucy shit...I mean, the sauce is the best part of this shit...I mean, this shit actually tastes delicious!!)

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Light on the stomach and the wallet

There is an abundance of affordable eats around the city of Seoul, and if you're looking for something of the non-Korean variety your options are still relatively vast.

Though Japanese culture and influence can be shunned at times around these parts, due to the tumultuous history between the two nations, Japanese restaurants are the most common finds apart from the local fare. Being the sushi fiend that I am, a frequent lunch-stop of mine (3 times since in a month...nearly 1% of my lunches) has been a small Japanese spot whose name I cannot read, and likely would have trouble pronouncing if I could. One of the draws to this place and its many similar Japanese eateries is the hardened, cellophane wrapped displays of their top dishes in the window complete with prices!

This tasty Kake Udon noodle soup topped with enoki mushrooms, seaweed, green onion, tempura bits and kamaboko (a processed Japanese seafood product consisting of various ground white fishes and other additives, formed into a loaf and sliced) is a delicious way to warm up on a cold Korean afternoon. Udon noodles are a fluffy thick japanese noodles generally made out of wheat or flour (these ones are flour) and the mild soup broth is commonly concocted using dashi (the fundamental Japanese cooking stock), soy sauce, and mirin (mild Japanese rice wine consisting of 40%-50% sugar--also essential in Japanese cuisine). The soup is accompanied by four pieces of nigiri on the right: sweet shrimp, snapper and two pieces of bean curd and common side dishes: pickled yellow radish, picked cocktail onions and radish kimchi. The bill-- W4,000 (under $4).

(Kake Udon)

Roughly 90 meals deep

Time flies when you're 14-hours ahead of the rest of 'your' world...

(My Kindergarden class: Jamie, Alice (no longer), Jon)
It's but a few hours past my one month anniversary of my arrival in Seoul. Hard to believe from both sides of the spectrum; on the one hand I feel as though I've seen and done so many new and interesting things since I got here, on the other, it's as though I just said my goodbyes to close family and friends.

I'm reluctant to say that it's a milestone moment; today was like most other days I've had here in Seoul. Early to bed, early to rise, 9 hours of tiring and somewhat stressful work (dealing with 4-10 year olds all day long and attempting to manage a mixed bag of completely unmentioned, yet lofty, expectations from management that barely speak your language has already caused a grey hair or two to sprout), bibimbap lunch, workout at my nearly private studio gym (recent addition to the schedule), Thai dinner with my good friend Yoni (we just had payday so we're going a bit 'haute-classe'), squeezing in a blog and soon to repeat itself again...and again...and again...

(W4000 pork you know it's good!)
The weekdays are the unfortunately lengthy filler leading up to much anticipated weekends and the opportunity to truly take in the many wonders that Seoul has to offer. The city is impressively accessible as a result of years of highly developed and constantly expanding subway infrastructure, cheap taxi cabs and the ability to find something interesting, or at least different, to do in every neighborhood. The short list of exciting adventures that I've had so far include many a tasty barbeque joint (may not be so exciting for some, however, grilling meat at your table ranks right up there in my book!), a colorful St. Patties day celebration in the historic Insadong neighborhood, more barbeque, all night parties in Itaewon and Hongdae, an afternoon at the Namdaemun market feasting on sumptuous street foods, beef barbeque, a Sunday afternoon at the jjimjilbang (pronounced: jim-jill-bong is a Korean communal bathhouse and sauna-torium) called the Dragon Hill Spa weaving my way through the shopping mecca of Myeongdong, stumbling upon an impressive art showcase in the Gyeongbukgung subway station that turned out to be a High School art exhibit, pork barbeque, visiting the ancient Gyeongbukgung Palace of the Joseon dynasty which is home to the Geunjeongjeon (the main palace where kings were crowned and other such events took place) and the Gyeonghoeru (a large raised pavilion resting on 48 stone pillars, overlooking an artificial lake with two small islands), and barbeque, and barbeque, and barbeque!

With the constant work, the need to cook my own meat, and my attempt at living a life outside of these time-consuming duties I have neglected this blog on more than one occasion, both in frequency and the inclusion of content. I hope to find more time to inform, digress, and discuss my goings-on's on a more consistent basis in the coming months,
however, do know that while my stories and stomach-fillers may not always appear in a timely fashion--they will appear.

I appreciate all the comments I've gotten from everyone thus far and I implore you to keep them coming in all forms; compliment to criticism. You are all missed know who you are...and keep me posted on what's happening around my former stomping grounds!

990-ish Meals To Go.

(The Korean corndog at Namdaemun Market: rolled in some sort of rice and seasoning mixture with a crab stick inside topped with hot sauce and honey mustard)
(Dried squid in a cup, anyone? Also from Namdaemun)
(Fresh, handmade dumplings from a market in Jongno)
(It's a barbeque kinda thing)
(Gyeongheoru from the back)

A few standouts from the Deokwon Arts High School Exhibition