Hanwoo (한우) means "Korean beef." This photo sums up what hanwoo is all about: the amount shown represents 2 portions totaling 250 grams (125 grams each) and costing 110,000 won (50,000 won each, plus 10% tax). To put those numbers into perspective, it'd be like paying $100 for an 8.8 ounce steak. These prices aren't considered particularly expensive--for hanwoo, that is.
Back in the day, back before I'd realized how preposterous hanwoo had become, I had been a regular at Sae-Byeok Jip (새벽집), a hanwoo barbecue restaurant open 24 hours whose name literally and appropriately means "House of Dawn"--regular to the extent that my budget would allow, at any rate. The restaurant is immensely popular, a landmark, not solely on the basis of their beef, which is not necessarily any better than any of the other restaurants serving so-called "1++" cuts of hanwoo, but perhaps partly/largely due to their free and keep-em-coming pots of seonji-guk (선지국) (beef blood soup), which both tastes good and fills the belly during the meal with something other than exorbitantly over-priced meat. Business was/is so good, in fact, that the owners took over the adjacent building, and eventually the next building, busting through walls to connect one to the other, such that diners enter through the original restaurant, still quaintly low key, and may be ushered into the second or third dining hall, where the decor becomes progressively modern.
The food's about as good as it ever was, I suppose, but I wasn't as impressed as I used to be in my impressionable years as a fledgling foodie.
Although I don't even go to these types of places anymore, tonight was a special occasion, our nanny's (2nd) going-away party, so we wanted to take her somewhere special. Ever frugal, however, she looked at the prices and immediately claimed that she wasn't very hungry. She sure did eat a lot of the free soup for someone who wasn't hungry.
Originating in Italy, pizza has been embraced by many countries throughout the world, particularly the United States. In fact, I would suggest that the globalization of pizza was and continues to be an American endeavor, attributable in no small measure to such worldwide brands as Pizza Hut and Domino's. The American style of pizza, in terms of toppings and crust and method of preparation and therefore taste, has become dominant outside of Italy and certain parts of Europe.
I'm hesitant to categorize any pizza from an American chain as "Italian," but I believe that a simple cheese pizza is close enough.
Just in case the abbreviation isn't entirely familiar, "BLT" = "bacon, lettuce, tomato."
The fried egg addition was an experiment. It attempted to fuse the classic BLT with the fried egg + lettuce + tomato, one of my personal favorites when on a bagel. Bacon and eggs are an obvious pair, but inexplicably they didn't work so well together in this form. Keep simple, simple, I guess. Even the half-assed, yet simple, fried egg and tomato sandwich without lettuce, as discussed just a few days ago (see 1.104 Fried Egg and Tomato Sandwich), turned out better.
Not too bad as far as delivery roast chicken goes (see generally 1.059 Original Gui Chicken), but it was kinda spicy. Aside from my general aversion to spicy foods, I hate it when places spice up traditionally non-spicy foods without warning. In tonight's case, for example, I was planning on sharing some of the chicken with my kid, but he couldn't handle the heat. Had we been at the restaurant, I might've sent it back, but I didn't want to go through the hassle of getting a delivery refund, even if such a thing were possible.
Incidentally, the carrot and celery sticks were my own addition.
While certainly not the best ever, probably not even the best in Seoul, or even the best in Itaewon, though maybe, The Wolfhound's fish & chips are at least done properly: 2 big solid fillets of what appears to be cod (none of the staff could confirm this), deep-fried in a light crispy batter, served with actual potato wedges and tartar sauce and vinegar (upon request) (unfortunately not malt vinegar). All for 12,000 won a plate. And on Tuesdays, 2 for 1. Definitely worth it then.
Needs lettuce. And preferably on a bagel. But not bad in a pinch with ingredients on hand. Someday, I'll present this sandwich, actually my favorite sandwich, the way it's meant to made. Someday soon, I hope.
Presenting the Shanghai Spice Chicken Burger: a slightly spicy breaded deep-fried chicken patty with lettuce and mayonnaise on a sesame seed bun. The patty, something of a cross between the processed chicken puck of a McChicken and an actual piece of whole chicken, consists of random chicken chunks mashed together into the general shape of a disc. At first bite, this imparts the initial impression of quality beyond that of a typical fast food burger. However, the dryness of the burger as it goes down, despite the gobs of mayonnaise, quickly dispels that notion. I found myself wishing that I'd gone with the McChicken.
As far as I know, this item is available only in Korea. I have no idea what the "Shanghai" refers to.
While living on my own in the States, during college and after, before law school when I started taking cooking more seriously, I had an at-home quick-fix go-to meal. It consisted primarily of 4 components: a bowl (or two) of steamed rice, pan-fried slices of (low sodium) Spam, a fried egg (or two), and kimchi of some sort (e.g., radish, as here) (but usually napa cabbage). While economy and convenience had a lot to do with it, the main thing was taste. Yes, taste. The synergy of the Spam-egg-kimchi combination, each of which must be present in every bite, the salty Spam, the savory egg, the spicy kimchi, is beyond compare. Other side dishes sometimes found their way into the mix (e.g., pan-fried tofu, as here), but the foundation of the meal was always the same.
Even now, I keep contingency Spam in the pantry for this same purpose.
The izakaya is a Japanese-style pub/restaurant. Here in Korea, a given izakaya generally falls into one of two categories: the vast majority feature simplified menus with familiar mainstream Japanese appetizers and a few Korean dishes thrown in for good measure, serve both sake and soju, local beer and a token Asahi or Sapporo on tap; much rarer is the establishment that steers towards authenticity, featuring menus written in Japanese with bonafide izakaya items and Japanese drinks exclusively. The first, though by no means cheap, is comparable in price to a mid-tier Korean watering hole. The second, largely due to the cost of the booze, is extremely pricy.
I'll opt for the second, to hell with the money, if it means I can get my hands on a plate of ankimo. Ankimo is pate made from monkfish liver, a delicacy in Japan and a treasure here in Korea, typically served with ponzu and topped with pickled radish. My understanding, completely unverified through any legitimate source, is that fishermen catching monkfish in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) would send the livers to Japan and the flesh to Korea, such were the respective preferences of the two countries in the past. Ankimo is now available in Korea, but rarely and only in certain Japanese restaurants and izakaya that cater to a discerning clientele. I first discovered ankimo back in 1999, when I spent a month working at my uncle's sushi-boat restaurant in San Diego, California; after hours, the sushi chefs (all Japanese) would gather at a tiny, unassuming izakaya in a suburban strip mall for "real" Japanese food--a sign on the door read, "NO CALIFORNIA ROLLS."
The old standby (see 1.028 Grilled Samgyeop-Sal; 1.039 Grilled Samgyeop-Sal), but this time with a twist: the miso went with the pork bellies and not into the stew. Maybe I didn't do it right, based loosely on recipe from a Pan-Asian cookbook of dubious authority (the author claims that tandoori chicken is the most beloved dish across the globe to emerge from Asia). The untwisted version was fine to begin with, but, well, what the hell.
Whenever my kid or my wife or (maybe) my mother is sick, standard operating procedure calls for me to make a batch of jeonbok juk (전복죽): a Korean-style porridge (juk) of abalone (jeonbok). This response has more to do with the digestible qualities of porridge in general than the supposedly restorative powers of abalone, a "stamina" food, as some Koreans believe, in particular. Even though abalone is now relatively affordable, around 3,000-5,000 won for a small specimen weighing about 100 grams, which is enough for a single serving of porridge, the ingredient is still regarded as a luxury item, something to be had only in the best of times, or the most dire.
Tonight was my 3rd foray into the curious culinary quarter of Yeonnam-Dong (연남동), where a handful of restaurants dare to defy custom by refusing to serve jjajang-myeon (짜장면) and instead offering dishes in the Taiwanese style that bear little or no resemblance to standard Korean-Chinese fare (see 1.063 Taiwan Shrimp, 1.083 Deep-Fried Eggplant in Chili-Garlic Sauce). The food here is certainly different, though the jury is still out as to whether it's any good. And because of my unfamiliarity with this type of cuisine, whether it's actually Taiwanese or something else entirely, I find that I'm stumbling my way through the menus, more or less picking dishes at random based on the primary ingredient.
Take this dish, for example. At mainstream Chinese restaurants, one of my favorite items is yangjangpi (양장피), glass noodles with shredded seafood, pork, and vegetables in a mustard sauce, which I've discussed in 2 prior posts (see 1.037 Yangjangpi, 1.092 Yangjangpi). Seeing "cucumber yangjangpi" on the menu here, I was intrigued. When I asked what it is was exactly, she replied, "Exactly what it sounds like." Intrigued even more, we ordered it without further question. It turned out to be exactly what it sounds like.
In a prior post, I speculated that coconut milk might be the key to making Asian Home Gourmet's Thai curries especially good (see 1.086 Kaang Phet with Chicken Fried Rice). This evening, I tested that theory by using regular whole milk as a substitute. I was right--coconut milk only.
Daegabang is one of the city's better restaurants Chinese restaurants. The food is unabashedly, unmistakably in the Korean-Chinese tradition, which isn't the same as Chinese food elsewhere in the world, but it can be great, so long as it's done right, of course.
Having discussed the basics of yangjangpi in a prior post (see 1.037 Yangjangpi), which was from a more Chinese Chinese place than most establishments in the country, I'll simply add here that mainstream Chinese restaurants plate the fresh components each individually in a clockwise fashion with the noodles and pork and other cooked components placed in the center. Everything is mixed together prior to eating, but the separated arrangement does make for a better visual upon serving, maybe.
I've discussed pork galbi in two prior posts (see 1.001 Pork Galbi, 1.081 Pork Galbi), more recently concerning the method of cooking that is most ideal for this dish. Specifically, I noted that oak charcoal was the way to go in terms of heat sources. Another alternative is the yeontan (연탄), a cylindrical charcoal briquette with roughly the diameter of a paper towel roll though not quite as tall. In Korea, prior to the proliferation of apartment buildings and gas heating systems during the 1970s, yeontan was mass produced on a national scale and served as the primary if not exclusive source of heat for most homes throughout the country. I can remember a time when my grandmother would place a few lit yeontan under the floorboards when it got cold, actually quite nice for folks who sleep on the floor, as we all did back then. Yeontan is still used in homes, in lower income neighborhoods, that haven't been retrofitted with gas pipes. It's also used in some restaurants to cook meat the "old fashioned" way. These places are usually somewhat grungy, intentionally in some cases, to enhance the nostalgia of a time when things were a bit more rough, not so clean and comfortable. Although some diners swear that galbi is best when cooked over yeontan, I suspect that the carbon monoxide has warped their senses. If anything, I've found that the cheaply manufactured charcoal has a distinct bitter odor, which is imparted onto the meat. But maybe some people like that.
Anyway, this place was pretty good, yeontan notwithstanding.
Korean fish stews fall into 1 of 2 main groups. The first is maeun tang (매운탕), the more popular form, which features a spicy broth as described in a prior post on the subject (see 1.013 Daegu Maeun Tang). The other form is jiri tang (지리탕), which is essentially the same thing as the former but without the hot spices. Not to say that maeun tang is easy to make, but any deficiencies in the soup's broth can be masked to a certain extent by the powerful taste of gochujang (고추장), a red chili pepper paste, and gochugaru (고추가루), a red chili pepper powder, both of which are essential seasonings. By contrast, jiri tang has nothing but the fish and vegetables to flavor the broth, a much tricker task.
Because of Dominic, who can't handle heavy spices just yet, I've been forced to go with jiri tang lately. I have yet to master the broth, which I strongly suspect requires MSG to get it to taste like restaurant offerings, but at least the fish and vegetables and tofu in my home-made version are good.
Naked Grill is a welcome addition to the growing restaurant scene in Hannam-Dong. What I like about their food is that it's prepared properly. Their basic burger, the "Naked Burger," consists of a respectable-sized beef patty, lettuce, onion, and tomato, mayo, mustard, and ketchup, on a slightly toasted white bun. No bullshit. Toasting the bun is a small yet crucial step that really makes the difference, one that many burger joints around here fail to take. I guess it wouldn't be such a big deal for buns freshly baked, but most places use stale buns directly out of the refrigerator, all cold and crumbly and tasteless if they're not toasted. Most notably, Naked Grill's fries may very well be the best I've ever had in Korea and rank among the best I've had anywhere in the world (though I'm not really a fry aficionado and don't even like them all that much). They serve beer. They deliver. Nice.
Asian Home Gourmet (see company's website), a line of packaged sauces that ambitiously attempts to cover a range of cuisines representing pretty much the entire continent, from Indonesia to India, has cornered the market here among the stores specializing in imported and/or black market food products. Interestingly, the website shows that the brand also offers Korean sauces (see page on Korean sauces), though they're not available here. I can't recall ever seeing the brand in the States, whether in the mainstream supermarkets or in Asian specialty shops. Their products aren't "instant," as are the "3-minute" curries ubiquitous throughout Korea (see generally 1.125 Beef Demi Curry), but rather consist of sauce bases to which oil and vegetables and meats and other ingredients must be added and cooked. I've had at least a dozen varieties throughout the years, unavoidable as they are. While I can't vouch for authenticity, they've all been pretty good.
In particularly, the Thai curries are probably among the better ones in the lineup. Maybe it's because Thai curries are easier to package than other sauces. Or maybe it's because the Thai curries require adding a whole can of coconut milk, which seems to make anything taste good.