Now That's Tasty!

Sunday, 31 July 2011


Originally composed: Thursday, July 21, 2011 (Flight AC063 from Toronto to Seoul)

Some anticipated events never come as expected. An oxymoronic statement, I know. The life cycle, however, is full of predictable comings and goings, frequent ups and downs; as much as one may want to solely acknowledge their existential propulsion through the passage of life, some things are simply beyond our control. The incalculable twists and turns, the dramas, heartbeats and heartbreaks are what makes life worth living. Although some great things inevitably tend to have an expiry date, it’s rare that the sour moments linger long on the palate.

I unexpectedly returned home, to Toronto, this past week to be alongside my family as we mourned the passing of my grandfather.* It’s never a good thing to receive bad news. Receiving bad news from 10,000km is that much more difficult. Thankfully, Seoul is a developed city with an easily accessible international airport, and so prompt planning to return home was not overwhelmingly tasking in comparison to wrapping my head around the fact that I never got a chance to say goodbye. 

While the circumstances were not favourable, in the end, I was just fortunate that I was able to get home to be with the people who I love and who needed me as much as I needed them. Just before leaving I was asked if I would deliver the eulogy, something I had done two years prior when my grandma passed away on my dad’s side. This is by no means something to get used to, however, the exercise is one that allows me to reflect meaningfully and begin to put perspective and closure together in an organized way. 

No one ever wants to be left with an occasion to fill such a role, however, I was honoured to be able to memorialize such an amazing man, and speak on behalf of my family in such a difficult time. 

Papa, you will be greatly missed, yet forever remembered and eternally loved. 

This is for you:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011.

Morty Goodman (November 18, 1923-July 10, 2011)
When a loved one passes, amidst emotions and anxieties, it’s the memories that stand out. One attempts to sift out any negative energies and focus on positive remembrance, personal and precious experiences and the overall legacy that must now be preserved. In many instances, there are some negative thoughts, resentments or, potentially even some moments of regret concerning the dearly departed; except in such a case. 

Mortimer David Goodman: Morty, Dad, Bubie, The Friendly Pirate, Jonathan McGillicuddy, our Papa. Though you may have called him something different, in my 23-years of life, I have never once heard a poor utterance of his name. With no attempt at exaggeration, I can honestly say that every individual who crossed paths with my Papa was veritably touched, if not struck by his sweetness, charmed by his demeanor and delighted by his smile. 

A salesman by trade, there was no tact, no gimmicks needed, for anyone to realize the genuine quality of his character. He was caring, committed and concerned for the people he loved, and equally kind and compassionate to complete strangers. There were times where he chose to not say much and there were times where he was unable to tell you exactly what he wanted to say, however, at all times, without any shadow of a doubt, he was listening. One could tell by the way the expression would change in his bright blue eye as he stared intently into your gaze. A subtle nod and accompanied smirk would transform into a jovial laugh that filled the room along with any melancholy vestige that one may have lurking deep within. 

I recall one specific instance where after four months traveling across the country, I returned home and went to visit Papa by myself at Cummer. It was a warm autumn day and we sat outside in the sun together for the better part of an hour. As often was the case, during the later years of his life, I was doing most of the talking, but, the dialogue was resoundingly two tiered. He gripped my hand tightly, gently passing his thumb over the back of my palm as I told him stories of my travels. Laughing wholeheartedly at my jokes, brimming with a sense of pride and understanding, and constantly affirming his earnest interest in my escapades. While this remains a special memory for me, I know that this is a feeling that everyone in my family; my mother, Heather, my uncles, Howard and Alan, my sister, Erika and cousins, Lauren and Ilana, and most especially, my wonderful Grandma Claire; felt on an equally personal level. There are too many moments to count, where Papa made you feel like you were the only person in the room, the one that mattered the most; and no words were ever needed to affirm such a connection.

Papa had a way of making everyone smile along with him. His likability was lovable and one’s affinity towards him was ineluctable. He brought light, love, happiness and devotion into the lives of those who knew him best and we will remember him today as we will remember him always; with a tear in our eye, but with a smile on our faces. He is in the sky today. He is in the sky tomorrow. He is in our hearts, forever.

*This is why I’ve been unable to blog for quite some time. Two busy weeks in Toronto...with lots of eating, mind you, and then straight off to Shanghai for a week where these sorts of services are inaccessible. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

High Times part 2

Locals fishing on the coast of the East Sea

It's been over a month since I stepped foot along the shores of eastern Korea; planning on writing about the incredible and somewhat unique local cuisine that I enjoyed while in Sokcho has fallen completely by the wayside. So, while the though has momentarily crept through my hardened grey matter, it's now or never.

Time to revisit a happy place. A day spent with good friends, nearby the coastal waters of the East Sea, cruising through fish markets and feasting on fresh local fare

We started off at night after trekking the picturesque peaks of Seoraksan (see "High Times Part 1" 6/3/11) and sat down to a local favourite in a Burger King on the Sokcho strip...whoppers were most certainly not on the menu! Man Sek (if my Korean transliteration hasn't failed me) is a Sokcho institution, serving up tantalizingly crispy, saucy, spicy-sweet, nuglets of fried chicken, for who knows, and who really cares how long! As long as I know I can get my fix whenever I happen to return to this part of the country I'll remain a happy, hungry man. And you can trust me on this one, they're not about to go under any time in the foreseeable century, unless the world falls apart, goes bass ackwards and chickens start to batter and fry us!

A mere 40% of the frying line

Located in the main Jungang street market in what I gathered to be downtown Sokcho, if you get in a cab and ask the driver for chicken, he'll bring you to Man Sek. Guaranteed. As often the case in Korea, there are several other fried chicken joints that side Man Sek, yet I can't imagine how they stay in business next to a two storefront, 20-something wok powered, frying facility like this one. With a queue that apparently never dips much below 20 stomachs deep, the fried foul that gets pumped out in literally hundreds, if not thousands of pounds a day, is so highly regarded that one can spot takeout boxes being carried throughout the city, into the mountains and even back to Seoul. Tossed with a simple yet flesh-suckingly delicious, sticky sweet chili sauce and seasoned with fresh sesame seeds and chopped green chili my mouth is still salivating over a month after indulging in a solid kilo of the stuff.

"[Man Sek] chicken is the shizznit!"
The next morning, as I woke up to the glorious sunshine at the base of Mount Seoraksan, my food belly had deflated and I was ready to indulge once again. Brimming with anticipation to sample a real staple of  the region, and one that is authentically prepared in only one small village that is physically connected, yet more deeply abstracted from the city of Sokcho, and South Korea itself. The Abai Village; formed by North Korean refugees who fled their hometowns to follow the South Korean troops to the south on January 1, 1951, is located on a small pier of land accessed only by a small bridge by automobile, or more commonly, a small man-powered shuttle boat that is pulled back and forth on a tight cable by passengers aboard. Abai means a "grandfather" in the Hamgyeongdo-do dialect, and over 60% of the small population of the village remain war refugees from Hamgyeong-do in North Korea. The city of Sokcho was actually part of North Korea from 1945 until the end of the Korean War when official dividing lines reclaimed the land to the South.

Stuffed squid imposters
While Sokcho is a popular domestic tourist destination in South Korea, the Abai Village, still preserves the cultural relics of its inhabitants, and boasts two incredible culinary delicacies which remain unique to the Hamgyeong-do people: stuffed squid and Abai-sundae. Mimicked all over South Korea, particularly around the markets of Sokcho, authentic Hamgyeong-do stuffed squid and Abai-sundae can only be purchased in the dozen or so shops that sell it within the confines of the Abai Village. Fairly similar in preparation, but incredibly diverging in taste and subtleties; the stuffed squid is done with rice, glass noodles, minced vegetables and various spices and seasonings and is sauteed and sliced, whereas the Abai-sundae, assembled with much of the same ingredients including minced blood sausage and also stuffed into a whole squid, is coated in an egg batter and pan fried in individual slices. Both were special and sensational in their own right. Each was prepared with noticeably fresh squid and ingredients that were bursting with salt, spice and even savory characteristics. The stuffed squid seemed slightly more refined, as it wasn't dripping with oil and offered more of a chili pepper kick to it, which I always enjoy. The Abai-sundae, on the other hand, while greasy and gooey, had a richness from the egg batter and a buttery texture to the squid that made it equally delicious.

Stuffed Squid from the Abai Village--The Real Deal
Abai-sundae flip
Still live, sea urchin and sand dollars
The other, much more unexpected treat that I enjoyed, while in the Abai Village was fresh sea urchin or tong tge. While still in the hunt for the perfect vendor to enjoy our indigenous snack, I was captivated by a woman cracking open baseball sized, spiky balls of a deep maroon and beige color. Having only tried sea urchin once or twice, thousands of miles away from any coast that yields the peculiar sea creatures, I had absolutely no idea what I was looking at, much less how it could be eaten in such a form. After a great deal of intrigued observation, some broken conversation, and a lot of finger pointing I was happy to be with an equally adventurous group of eaters as we sat down to sample one of the most unique and delicious things I've ever eaten. Sorry, Sushi On Bloor, but I don't think eating what I've always know by its Japanese moniker, uni, will ever be the same.

Surrounded by a hard spiked and spiny, still wiggling outer shell called the "test", the one part of the tong tge that is edible amongst the hues of snotty goop, green balls, and crystalline 'bones" are the five, bright yellow or orange roe sacks, actually the gonads, that are present in all species of sea urchin. After doing a bit more extended research I've discovered that we ate standard black sea urchin as well as sand dollars (a species of sea urchin that is more oval in shape and reveals a distinct top and bottom). For the incredibly small amount of edible material that lies within a sea urchin, each bite is so full of flavor, so fresh and so delicate that I was scraping around with my miniature spoon for ever last yellow spec inside the spiny echinoderm. I'd never tasted something that reminded me as much of the freshness of the sea, the fragility and mystery of the ecosystem it comes from. I know this is starting to sound like a Hallmark card or softcore porn for marine biologists, but this was some primo shit!

A sweet treat that can satisfy a man of meat

I though that I was done with the local delights until returning to the mainland and wandering back into the Jungang Market. Our final stop, and one that was apparently so important that we missed our first bus out of town just to indulge in, turned out to be well worth the wait! Another giant line, for another monumental reward. Ho ddok is a variety of stuffed pancake that is served up all over the country in both baked, and fried form. None, however, could compare to the melt in your mouth version that is offered up to hundreds of ravenous, yet patient, customers every day, from one small stand in Sokcho's Jungang Market.

Freshly prepared by moulding a ball of beautifully light dough and filling it with a mix of caramelized cinnamon and sugar paste, flattening it out into a pancake, frying it in a pool of sizzling butter and then stuffing it with a mixture of more fresh cinnamon, sugar, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and peanuts; for a man who is generally apathetic when it comes to dessert products, the mere smell of these things is enough to make you not want, but NEED one. As you are initially astounded by the subtle crunch of the fried exterior, the gooeyness of the sweet filling begins to take over and melt over your tongue, giving way to the balanced tang of salty butter and the gift of crushed nuts and fresh seeds just keeps giving and giving.
Of course I keep an entire stick of butter in the corner of my grill!
Amidst my travels, I have been delighted countless times by fantastic food products, but few single days have been as rewarding and worth remembering as my day in Sokcho. For me, Sokcho remains a pertinent reminder of the life I hope to live; as nice of an atmosphere that this small city offers along the embankment of the East Sea, it's simply not in the place, it's in the pudding. And this was some pristine pudding, if I do say so myself.

I'm still salivating as I serve up this feast of words to cyberspace.