Now That's Tasty!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Yum?

To begin a list of subpar food ideas...Omurice

It's not that it's so bad, but it's just really not so great either. Whoever decided that stuffing an omelet with mediocre fried rice and placing it in a pool of poorly flavored barbeque sauce/gravy, then drizzling it with some sort of aioli type substance was a great idea isn't winning any awards with me.

The initial intrigue is nearly tempting; I like fried rice, I like omelet's...bibidy-'bop'idy-eww. I may try this one again to see if it wasn't just the venue, or my raging hangover rejecting any 'breakfast' (if I can call it that), which didn't include heaps of fried sausages and bacon. I'm not, however, anticipating a full fledged reversal in opinion.

A veritable assault on my expectations. The presentation grossly overshadowed the taste.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Dumpling Daze

Dreary-eyed and in a hot daze on a sweltering Sunday afternoon--It was no Dim Sum, but I did manage to dive into a decent pile of dumplings in Incheon's China Town. Happiness in a bite.

Mid-bake
Loading up
First, some Chinese buns that are stuffed with various fillings (meat and onion, red sesame, squash, among many others that we couldn't translate) and baked, stuck to the sides of a stone oven. The bun itself was excellent; crisp roasted outside with a softer doughy inside, however, the meat could have used some more seasoning to bring up the flavor. My friend got one stuffed with red sesame paste that was much more of a hit. All in all it seemed as though the allure of the process and the hype surrounding the things overshadowed the actual taste, in my opinion. A friend who lives in Incheon said that there's normally a line half-way down the block, and the lady in front of us walked away with about a dozen.

I prefer my doughnuts to be filled with meat
Pan fried pork dumplings
Boiled shrimp dumplings
Our dumpling shop was supposedly the best spot around the area, according to some local research and the advisory of a friend of a friend, who's a chef in Incheon. We had three different kinds: pan fried pork dumplings, boiled shrimp dumplings, and boiled meat dumplings--all living up to expectations and satisfying our cravings. The fresh, handmade, meat-filled, perfectly textured balls of goodness, were accented by several sauces: a garlic and green onion oil, black bean sauce, vinegar, and make-your-own chili sauce of ground chili powder and soy sauce. No, I don't like dumplings at all...

Most tables should include at least one plate of these.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Leftovers

Tiring weekdays and ram-packed weekends. The need for release and rejuvenation after a long day at work can often take precedence over forcing feeble attempts at accomplishing even the things that we desire to do most. One thing, however, that need not be sacrificed is a tasty meal. I know that for some, pulling out the cutting board and turning on the burner doesn't align with their ideal repose, but for me, a proper meal...one that I've cooked to the exact specifications of my grumbling gut...is always on the menu.

I will admit, cooking up a meal from scratch can be a more cumbersome endeavor than one might want to undertake after an arduous day on the job. There are, however, some simple and sumptuous ways to whip up something that's well worth the wee effort.

For those other days where we've planned ahead and conjured up a masterful culinary creation, treated ourselves to a divine dining experience at a fou-fou restaurant, or have been so damn lazy that microwaved meatloaf seemed like a sound dinner decision--there's undoubtedly been leftovers. Often not enough for a sufficient meal, un-accompaniable or undesirable in their current state; the existence of leftovers can be fragile and too often forgotten. Tupperware's and takeout containers, slowly rotting away in the darkest corners of your refrigerator. Nearly bionic bouillabaisse, tangy tenderloins and congealing curries that could threaten a healthy ecosystem. And whose parasites would pummel your intestinal tract like sipping runoff from the Ganges. If your icebox contains any food products that remotely resemble such a description...throw them the fuck out! On the other hand, if you're leftovers are of a more stable chemical composition then there are plenty of acceptable and palatable ways of reviving dinners of yore.

Sandwiches, soups, stews, pastas, tacos, salads and stir fries; a small selection of the ways in which one can not only consume, but completely reinvent the character of an old meal. Sure, the culinary copout would opt for the 'plate and wave' method, but there's no reason that using your leftovers should mean sacrificing freshness and taste quality. Trust me, some of the best restaurants you've ever eaten in are serving you their most delicious leftovers and you're none the wiser!

Green Chicken Curry (what once was)
I recently went out to celebrate a good friends birthday with an elephant sized Thai feast. Several types of spring rolls, fried rice, noodle dishes, green and panang curry's and even complimentary wine...thanks My Thai! (135-120 B1 657-11 Shinsa-dong, Kangnam gu, Seoul, Korea. 010 2883 4691 call Jeong Jin Hoon for an incredible and authentic Thai meal in the beautiful Apgujeong area). After destroying all of the delicious dishes that were piled on top of the table there was nothing left but a few ladles worth of both the green and panang curries. I would have taken the bowl to my glutenous gullet and slurped up the minor remains, had it not been for my better culinary intuition which told me that these flavorful sauces could be put to better use. So, I kindly asked our good friend Jin to package up the leftovers for me with the intention of making a curry of my own back at home...my stomach thanked me immediately for resisting as well as days later for recreating the wonder of a good curry.


Panang Pork Curry (what once was)
From a $30 meal that was already paid for, to two extra dinners later that week; I took something as simple as a few bits of sauce that would have fed the garbage and used them to make two heaping servings of impeccable chicken curry that did well to feed me! After an all important day of ziplock bag marinating three chicken breasts in the mixture of both curry sauces, all it took was to sauté one yellow onion (would have preferred to use shallots or red onion if I could find it here) some red chilies and a japanese purple eggplant with salt, pepper, garlic and basil, add my now cubed chicken breast and simmer over medium low heat until tenderly cooked and bursting with juicy curry flavour. Top some steamed rice with my new meal of leftovers and in a mere 20 minutes I've got a fresh, different, and equally delicious dinner on my plate using things that I already had.

Chicken Eggplant Curry Concoction (what now is "Tasty!")
So, next time you're waiter is clearing off your table, or you're about ready to toss a live grenade into your fridge for fear that what's in there may have mutated and will scamper out to feed on your flesh, think about the ways in which you can use what you've already got rather than feeding the rabid alley cats or increasing your carbon footprint. Fuck, I sound like some sort of environmental nutter...but for real, there's a whole heap of humans who are literally dying for what you're about to lay to waste. More sentimental boo-hoo-ery, I know, but to add to the cliche...there's some real food for thought.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Every dog has his day

It was inevitably going to happen...

It was more so a question of when and with who, then if or ever. It's one of those things that you can't think too much into or it could get the better of you. I've never been one to agonize over where my food comes from, but then again, I've never played fetch with a cow or a chicken before. In the end, the way I see it, is that as long as an animal is bred to be slaughtered and served up on my plate then then there's a good chance I'll enjoy eating it.

My buddies and I have recently become friends with a class-act Korean guy named James. 35-years old, 5'8'' with a medium build, jet black hair that flops over his forehead, glasses and a beaming smile constantly plastered on his face. A relentless worker in the finance industry and the kind of gentleman that fancies a few soju's at the end of a long day; James is the epitome of the work hard play hard culture that is rampant among Korean businessmen. Here is Korea, it isn't uncommon to hear of someone working well into the night, or even sleeping for several days at a time in the office. Their system of personal reward comes to fruition in the wee hours of the night as you see heaps of staggering men in suits and ties, holding-up one another, hoping to evade an almost certain nosedive into the sea of concrete below their stumbling feet. Now, my good friend James is not to be dumped into such an abhor'ish category of individuals, however, if you're going for a night out with James the word "No" should be promptly removed from your lexicon.

James, leading us down the dark path to goodness
As my mission in this country and the rules associated with it (see March 28 blog) wouldn't have allowed me to pass up this meal, even if I wanted to, when James asked my friends and I if we wanted to go eat some Gaegogi (dog meat) with him, I was encouraged to know that the infamous Korean delicacy--the original health food in this country, was still being consumed by regular folk. Before coming to this country I could not count the amount of times that friends and family members asked me whether I would delve into this dish. Coming from a culture that has an often unhealthy obsession with their pets, it's incredibly hard for people to think of anyone putting a pup on their plate, much less enjoying it. Being a dog lover myself, those were not the thoughts running through my mind while eating this meal; this was just another animal bred for my belly and one more opportunity for me to indulge in a culinary tradition that is synonymous with Korea--at least from a foreigners perspective. 

It wasn't until 3pm yesterday when I got the news from Nolan. "James dinner is on!!! Woof woof!!!". Still four long hours until quitting time, the tail end of my day was frantic and full of excitement. I'd already managed to nock off one of the famously frightening Korean meals in sannakji (live octopus) but this one seemed to be just that much more 'out there'. We met up on the soggy streets of Myeong-dong at 8pm, an area of town famous for it's shopping, and as far as I knew, nothing else. As we herded ourselves through the whopping crowds of people, down tiny boutique-laden arteries, James' head darted back and forth in search of our spot. It was only fitting that this restaurant was tucked down a dingy, dark, back alley that no one would be able to find unless you'd been taken there before--this was how I'd always imagined it would be.

As I stepped down into the hole-in-the-wall establishment the initial aromas that caught my nose were unidentifiable and less than tantalizing. I had basically only heard of people eating dog soup, and so I figured that's what the evenings menu called for, however, the other two tables seated at our tiny 8 pad restau had large wood cutting boards piled with dark brown meat an some sort of leafy green. James raised his eyebrows at me with a smirk when I asked him if that's what was on the way to our table.

Do ma gogi
A healthy looking table. 
Do ma gogi (do ma being the wood cutting board) is one of the two ways that James said he's enjoyed his gaegogi before. The meat is also called Su yuk (yuk being the Chinese character for meat) and what lay in front of us were cuts taken from around the neck, belly and the loins. The do ma gogi, which is boiled for dog knows how many hours, is a dark brown colour with a considerable fat content that imparts remarkable tenderness and richness to the meat. Garnished simply with a sprinkling of sesame seeds, the closest I can come to comparing it to to other meats is lamb shank or beef knuckle. The fat is soft and full of flavour and the meat is as tender as meat can be with remarkable depth, especially considering it is a boiled meat with little seasoning. Needless to say, I'm really enjoying this so far. Eaten alongside steamed green parilla (ggaek ip pronounced gean-nip), an herb known for its medicinal properties, on which I can not elaborate, and most closely resembles mint springs and whose leaves taste more like a mild sesame leaf with the stems like subtle broccoli. The do ma gogi is paired with a few pieces of the green and dipped into a sauce containing chili sauce, minced garlic, sesame oil and parilla seeds (egoma) to which white vinegar and spicy dijon style mustard can be added if desired. We also got the good fortune of trying dog meat soup, bo shin tang (literally meaning "soup for health") which was one of the highlights of the meal. Not far off from a beef broth with tomato, green onion and parilla, the soup was extraordinarily well balanced with the falvour of sweet meat and subtle spice. 

As James was describing to me, before kimchi became the most revered food in the land, gaegogi was the original Korean health food. Praised the country over for boosting stamina and making you "taste better"...if you know what I mean (if not don't ask)...dog meat was far more commonplace a mere 20 or 30 years ago then it is now. After wolfing down two platters of do ma gogi and several bowls of soup I wonder why its lost so much popularity amongst the more squeamish younger generation--then I think about exactly what it is that I'm eating. 

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Parental Ovation

Behind every good chef there is another great chef, and behind most great individuals there tends to be good parents. Now, I'm not saying that I'm any sort of special human, but I am fortunate enough to have two very special parents--both of whom know how to maneuver their way around a kitchen!

My mother is notorious for making the best soups in our family, a mean meat sauce and some ridiculously good roast chicken and potatoes, amongst a long list of other delights; she can execute these recipes time and time again with flawless precision and unparalleled taste quality. My father, on the other hand, a miracle worker on the grill and a man of many meats, is not one for the recipe book. His approach to cooking is much more like mine, and consists of sifting through the fridge and scouring the spice rack to pair ingredients and concoct meals.

While I have adopted many of the recipes that my mother uses in order to treat myself to some of the comforts of home when I am away, the vast majority of my meals are conceived and executed on a whim. I always choose to buy fresh, and will frequently find myself at the grocery store several times a week. When shopping, it is always important to make sure what you're buying will go well together, however, I tend to leave preparation and presentation to my cooking mojo--allowing my mood and available means dictate how things end up on my plate.

A meal made for a queen
Returning to the focus of this post, I have been deeply blessed with an ability to eat, enjoy, and understand great food through the efforts and abilities of both of my parents...and of course, a healthy obsession with the Food Network. And being that it is Mother's Day, I feel that it is only fitting to feature a meal (right: Lamb Osso Bucco with a sherry grapefruit sauce, crispy potato latkes and grilled baby zucchini) that my father proudly sent me this morning, that was cooked up especially for the most deserving woman on this planet, my mother.

My mother is amongst, if not the most, caring, compassionate, kind and hard working person that I know. I know you all love your mother's, some of whom I know, and believe me they are truly great women too, but I'm sorry to say that they're no Heather Finestone! So, here we go, the sensitive side comes out...Mom, I miss you very much today and love you dearly. I hope that in the absence of both of your children, you still had an amazing Mother's Day!

Here's to you and all that you do.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Foot in mouth disease

I've got a disease, and it can only be cured with more spicy, saucy, steamy piles of 4:00am chicken feet and a bottle of W7,000 wine from a convenience store.

I find it funny that the only toes I will ever suck on in my life are ones of an animal that prances around all day in a pile of dirt and their own fecal matter--go figure. 


There's something supremely special about a couple of old pals sharing in a late night foot feast. Joe was in tears from the spice and I was in tears from laughing at him and his weak tastebuds. 

Monday, 2 May 2011

Dim Sumday...maybe someday

What real shu maai should look like--in all of its pork filled, shrimp stuffed goodness



Roughly 11am EST, any given Sunday; if I were back in Toronto I would likely be waking up around now, still dazed and dreary eyed from the previous nights festivities, but with the knowledge  that no matter how debilitating the hangover, how foggy or fragile the state of my mind--this is a day of promise.



I am hardly a creature if habbit. Yet, in my wildly sporatic life there is one, nearly unfettered, tradition that comes in the form of many dumplings, both fried and steamed, loads of pork, heaps of sticky rice and more chili sauce than a man with a gastric condition should reasonably consume. Coordinating a crew of two or a few too many is never an issue for this feast of kings. And the chili sauce is sure to burn a hole through your esophagus before the price ever burns one through your pocket.

The Sky Dragon at Spadina and Dundas in Toronto: my second home
One would assume that in a country so close to China, there would be little effort needed to find a bustling brunch spot packed with hungry heads turning in near-full revolutions to catch the cart-lady with the shu maai and har gow or char sui baaw, but after two months of questions, directions, and an unsettling amount of disappointment, I have been without my favorite and most coveted eating tradition since my arrival in Korea.

It is days like today that I long for you, my love. A Sunday is hardly a Sunday without Dim Sum.

The closest thing I've found to Dim Sum in Korea is this pitiful, freeze-packed, likely microwaved poo-poo platter of plastic looking excuses for my most favourite of foods. Quite frankly, the bogus presentation is unnecessarily insulting.