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1.146 Bibimbap


-Cycle 1, Item 146-
31 (Mon) May 2010

-Korean-
Bibimbap

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

In tonight's bibimbap (빕빔밥) (see generally 1.043 Bibimbap), the ingredients came from different sources, prepared at different times, some by me, some by our nanny, and some from the supermarket.  Clockwise from bottom: squash, mushrooms, carrots, spinach, gosari (고사리), broccoli, and bujigaengi (부지갱이).  The egg on top, perfectly sunnyside-up with a brown crispy crust on the bottom, was all me.

1.145 Yuk Sashimi


-Cycle 1, Item 145-
30 May 2010

-Korean-
Yuk Sashimi

2.0

at Tongnamu-Jip ^

-Hoengseong, Gangwon-

Before discussing what yuk sashimi is, the name of the dish deserves some explanation. Try to keep up.

First, with respect to pronunciation, the yuk is not "yuck" like "Huck" but "yook" like "Luke." As mentioned in the Note on Transliteration found on the home page of this blog, I've opted to go with the "official" system adopted by the Korean government for the sake of consistency. In many or most cases, however, the system doesn't produce the proper pronunciation of the original word when read in English, as here. And in some particular cases, as here, the mispronunciation itself has an unfortunate semantic consequence. Yuck, indeed.

Second, the etymology of the name is both redundant and oxymoronic. Yuk means "meat" or "flesh" but usually refers to beef unless otherwise noted. Sashimi, a Japanese word, breaks down into the components sashi, meaning "pierced," and mi, meaning "meat" or "body," but usually (or always, as far as I can tell) refers to raw fish. So, the name means "meat pierced meat" denotatively or "beef raw fish" connotatively. Metaphorically, I suppose, it's intended to suggest "beef, eaten raw, the way the Japanese do with fish."

This brings us to the yuk sashimi itself, which is about as primitive as a plate of meat can get. Just slices of beef consumed raw with a sprinkle of salt, maybe with a dash of sesame oil. Done. Not quite the way the Japanese do with fish.

I suspect that this so-called dish is closely tied to attempts within the past decade to promote the hanwoo (Korean beef) industry, for which freshness is a key marketing point. In addition to quality concerns relating to imported beef from abroad, Koreans regard "fresh" meat as being superior in taste to anything frozen. In the countryside, restaurants or meat shops display signs announcing the butchering of a cow that day.

In keeping with our custom of sharing a final meal at a local restaurant to wrap up any camping trip, which had taken us this time near the vicinity of Hoeng-Seong, an agricultural district famous for hanwoo, someone suggested we go for yuk sashimi.

Personally, after this first and only experience, I've concluded conclusively that I'm not a fan. I happen prefer my cooked beef on the ultra-rare side, seared on high for an instant, but even that brief period of heat develops some texture, gets the juices flowing, and brings out the flavor. But yuk sashimi, frankly, doesn't feel or taste like much of anything, just flabby cold animal flesh dipped in salt and sesame oil. I was sorely tempted to grill my portion, as we had a flame going for the standard, non-sashimi, looking exactly like sashimi but apparently less fresh, beef that we had also ordered, but everyone else appeared to be enjoying themselves, so I let them have mine. As for the price, because it's eaten raw, it has to be totally fresh, which means it's going to be expensive--in this case, 40,000 won per 150 grams. No thank you, never again.

1.143 Grilled Chicken

MEAL 1.143
28 May 2010

-American-
Grilled Chicken

at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * *

1.144 Grilled Yang-Nyeom Galbi-Sal


-Cycle 1, Item 144-
29 (Sat) May 2010

-Korean-
Grilled Yang-Nyeom Galbi-Sal (양념갈비살)

* * * * *

by Yun YH

at Daegwan-Ryeong National Forest Park
(대관령 국립 자연휴양림)

-Gangwon-

In the very first post of this blog, where I discussed the pork version of galbi (see 1.001 Pork Galbi), a Korean specialty consisting of ribs in a sweet soy marinade, I noted that the dish is more famous internationally as beef.

The version presented here is indeed beef, though in a simplified form. The term "galbi" literally means "ribs." Hence, an order of galbi (pork or beef) at a restaurant typically includes an actual rib bone from which the meat has been butterflied into one extended roll, with a knife, by hand, at the expense of great time and effort. By contrast, the easier way to go is galbi-sal (갈비살), which literally means "rib meat;" that is, the meat has been cut off the bone and chopped into small bit-sized pieces. This method is often found in cheaper restaurants or at home or, in this case, at a campsite. Because galbi-sal can be cooked plain or marinated in the galbi style, the descriptor "yang-nyeom" (양념), which just means "sauce," is often affixed when marinade is involved.

For my second camping trip with the Backcountry Camping group, MtG and I met up with the others at the Daegwan-Ryeong National Forest Park in the northeast corner of the peninsula. Most of them, who had been there since the day before, were well under way with the evening's dinner feast by the time we arrived. One of the items being offered was this marinated rib meat dish by a new acquaintance, Yun Yeonhee. The galbi was just one of the many amazing things that she busted out during the course of the long evening.

1.142 Goluptsy


-Cycle 1, Item 142-
27 May 2010

-Uzbek-
Goluptsy

* * * *

at Cafe Uzbekistan

-Dongdaemun, Seoul-

Interestingly, Seoul has an ethnic enclave for Central Asia.  It started out as a Russian thing but expanded to cover other countries in the region, such as Uzbekistan and other "stans," as well as Mongolia, which currently seems to have become the pond's big fish.  It's been known by several names throughout the years, from "Russia Town" to "Central Asia Village, and now "Little Mongolia."  Beyond the landmark 10-story Mongol Tower, it's mostly a bunch of random businesses adorned in Cyrillic signage--mobile phone stores, groceries, restaurants--all clustered within a few blocks.  It's situated in Gwanghui-Dong, south of the Dongdaemun shopping district, just north of Exit 5 on the Dongdaemun Historical and Cultural Park station on Lines 2/4/5.

Cafe Uzbekistan is a restaurant specializing in Uzbek cuisine.  This evening marked my first experience in the area, at the restaurant, with the food.  It turns out that a lot of the dishes were familiar, similar to dishes more commonly attributed to the cuisines of neighboring countries, like borsh and kebabs (see Wikipedia's article on Uzbek cuisine).  Their staple bread is oni non, which is cooked in a tandir oven, almost exactly like tandoori-cooked naan from India.  Their meat dumpling manty looked and tasted like Chinese mantou and/or Korean mandu.  My favorite was this goluptsy: ground lamb and rice stuffed in a cabbage leaf and half of a paprika shell, steamed (presumably), and served with wedges of potato and carrot in a light broth.  It was all pretty good, if unremarkably so.  Every dish was about 8,000 won, which didn't seem that bad at first, but the little plates piled up in the end.

1.141 Grilled Chicken

MEAL 1.141
26 May 2010

-Korean-
Grilled Chicken

at Jal Gu-Eun Chicken Jip ^

Apkujeong
Seoul

* *

1.140 Mapo Tofu with Chicken Breast


-Cycle 1, Item 140-
25 (Tue) May 2010

-Chinese-
Mapo Tofu with Chicken Breast

2.5

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Mapo tofu is a Chinese tofu dish.  It consists of cubed tofu and minced aromatics, and often ground pork, all stir-fried in a sauce consisting primarily of doubanjiang.  The spicy/salty/nutty flavor of the fermented bean paste pairs well with the soft/subtle/nutty flavor of the bean curd.  In Korea, where it's called "mapa dubu (마파두부)," the dish is almost always served over rice, only at the cheaper neighborhood Chinese joints, one of the cheapest items on the menu.

So easy to make at home, especially with a ready-to-cook sauce packet, just adding tofu and whatever ingredients happen to be on hand.  

1.139 Penne alla Ragu with Mushrooms

MEAL 1.139
24 May 2010

-Italian-
Penne alla Ragu with Mushrooms

at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * * *

1.138 Grilled Garlic-Pepper Chicken with Romaine


-Cycle 1, Item 138-
23 (Sun) May 2010

-Pan-Asian-
Grilled Garlic-Pepper Chicken with Romaine

2.5

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

1.137 Pineapple Fried Rice


-Cycle 1, Item 137-
22 (Sat) May 2010

-Vietnamese-
Pineapple Fried Rice

* *

at Pho Tai
(Lotte Department Store)

-Sogong, Seoul-

Worse than the pho, unlikely as that sounds.

1.136 Mushiu Pork

MEAL 1.136
21 May 2010

-Chinese-
Mushiu Pork

at Dongbuk Hweogweo Wang ^

Dongdaemun
Seoul

* * * *

In my first review of this restaurant (see 1.037 Yangjangpi), I mentioned the mushiu pork. As the photo might suggest, it's nothing like the mushiu that I'd grown accustomed to from Chinese restaurants in the States, particularly the absence of pancakes, plum sauce, and sliced scallions. I wouldn't know which version, if either, is more authentic. Regardless, the one here is excellent.

1.135 Steamed Mandu


-Cycle 1, Item 135-
20 (Thu) May 2010

-Korean-
Steamed Mandu

1.0

at Kangseo Myun Oak (강서면옥)

-Sinsa, Seoul-

Among the various forms of mandu (see generally 1.067 Mandu Jeon-Gol), they sometimes come in jumbo size, as here.

Size aside, these mandu were awful.  I won't go into details.

1.134 Assorted Nigiri Sushi

MEAL 1.134
19 May 2010

-Japanese-
Assorted Nigiri Sushi

from E-Mart
(takeout)

at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * *

This was actually not quite so bad, given its somewhat dubious origins. Although it's one of those ready-to-go, cellophane wrapped sushi boxes from a supermarket, the "chefs" in the fish department make them throughout the day, marking down any that haven't been sold within the hour. I got this marked down to 6,400 won (from 8,000 won). And replated as such on a nice dish, it didn't look too shabby, either. Clockwise from bottom left: squid, salmon, fluke, flying fish roe, clam (of some sort), shrimp.

1.133 Combination Pizza


-Cycle 1, Item 133-
18 May 2010

-American-
Combination Pizza

* * * *

at Costco

-Yangjae, Seoul-

In a prior post, I contemplated whether American-style pizza should be categorized as "Italian" and concluded that a cheese pizza is "close enough" (see 1.111 Cheese Pizza). A combination pizza, on the other hand, a perfect example of the American tendency to overdo things, has gone so far beyond the basic form that it probably no longer really qualifies as "Italian," even though the individual toppings are more-or-less Italian.

If the pizza at Costco isn't necessarily the best American-style pizza in Korea, then at least it's the most authentic representative.  Whenever I buy it for my students, they all think that it's too salty, too tomatoey, too cheesy, too big.  Exactly.  

1.132 Spaghetti with Mushrooms in Cream Sauce

-Cycle 1, Dinner 132-
17 May 2010

-Italian-
Spaghetti with Mushrooms in Cream Sauce

* *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Aside from the fact that I don't like cream sauce, I don't like to make cream sauce because it requires the acquisition of cream, which is sold here in 500-ml containers, enough to make at least 8 servings, more like 16 the way I do it, meaning that I always have a lot left over, leftovers that quickly go to waste because I never want to make another cream sauce anytime soon thereafter. I don't know why I even bother in the first place.

Having just made a cream sauce a few days ago (see 1.130 Creamy Fettuccine alla Vongole), I certainly wasn't in the mood for this one, especially when I felt like being compelled to do it on account of the leftover cream.

1.131 Barbecued Garlic-Pepper Shrimp

-Cycle 1, Item 131-
16 May 2010

-Miscellaneous-
Barbecued Garlic-Pepper Shrimp

* * * *

at Noeul Gongweon (노을공원)
[campsite]

-Sangam, Seoul-

Noeul Gongweon (노을공원) is a park and campground in Seoul. It's located on the hills overlooking Sangam-Dong (상암동) and the World Cup Stadium. In fact, the name literally means "twilight" (noeul) "park" (gongwon) in reference to the spectacular views of the city that can be seen, especially in the glow of dusk. Originally, it had been built as a public golf course, but the city was forced to shut it down amidst widespread protests against the use of such a large expanse of land within city limits for the sake of an elitist sport. It was converted into its present form, open to all, the campsites by reservation, though the fairways and greens and bunkers remain, perhaps intentionally, providing the masses an opportunity to walk all over the upper class. Each campsite is equipped with a picnic table, electric socket, and fireplace. The downside is that the campground is nearly a kilometer from the entrance, limiting the gear to whatever the camper is able and willing to lug--fortunately, the wheeled hand carts once used for golf bags are available.

1.130 Creamy Fettucini alle Vongole

-Cycle 1, Dinner 130-
15 May 2010

-Italian-
Creamy Fettucini alle Vongole

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

In a prior post, I noted that my vongole pastas tend to be more intricate than the simpler "authentic" version (see 1.069 Spaghetti alle Vongole). Case in point, this evening's effort saw the addition of cream and parmesan cheese. I consistently hear/read that Italians never add cheese to seafood, so the parmesan perhaps disqualifies the dish from being truly Italian.

Whatever the label, it didn't turn out so great.

1.128 Chicken & Barley Soup


-Cycle 1, Item 128-
13 May 2010

-American-
Chicken & Barley Soup

2.0

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Improvised, with ingredients on hand.

Tomato paste for flavor and color.

Turned out a bit bland.

1.126 Pork Schnitzel with Tomato Slices

MEAL 1.26
11 May 2010

-Austrian-
Pork Schnitzel with Tomato Slices

by me at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * * *

As evidenced by the lack of creativity in the accompanying side dish (slices of raw tomato) and the lame garnish (the stem of the tomato), I'm afraid that I'm beginning to take schnitzel for granted. I've already done it, in some form or another, on 5 previous occasions on this blog (see 1.002 Pork Schnitzel; 1.019 Beef, Pork Schnitzel; 1.065 Pork, Shrimp Schnitzel; 1.075 Pork Schnitzel with Black Olives in Marinara Sauce; 1.095 Pork Schnitzel with Black Olive Marinara Sauce). It's still good, just not very exciting, as it once was (yes, schnitzel used to excite me).

1.125 Beef Demi Curry with Steamed Rice


-Cycle 1, Item 125-
10 (Mon) May 2010

-Indian-
Beef Demi Curry with Steamed Rice

*

by me

in my office
(Ajou University School of Medicine)

-Suwon, GyeongGi-

My standard for the 1-star rating is simple: so awful that it's inedible. Not having encountered any meal anywhere close to being that bad since beginning this project over four months ago, I'd been wondering lately if the rating were meaningless, obsolete in a modern society where, for the most part, ingredients are plentiful, properly maintained, hygienically prepared, cooked to taste good--in short, where the food is, at the very least, edible. But that notion was immediately dispelled with the first bite of this abomination, the living embodiment of inedible. I took a second bite just to be sure. I was sure.

Instant curries, "3-minute" curries as they're usually called, which are foil packets containing ready-made sauce that are submersed in boiling water for a few minutes and then torn open to pour the heated contents over rice or noodles, have been around for over twenty years. They're pretty good, most of them, especially in a pinch. The most common style of curry in Korea is Japanese curry, a softened version of Indian curry with less spice and usually made with cubes of beef (yes, I recognize the irony), potatoes, carrots, and onions. This curry is so common, in fact, that it's hardly considered a foreign food anymore. By and large, it's been the only kind of curry known to the majority of Koreans until perhaps five years ago, when Indian, Middle Eastern, and Thai restaurants began to venture out from the more cosmopolitan areas of Seoul, where they'd been ghettoed for years, and introduce a variety of different curries to the masses.

 Hence, CJ Foods decided to get in on the action and produce what the box proclaims to be "authentic Indian curry." This one is "beef demi curry" (yes, again, the irony), whatever that is. I can state with absolute precision that it was the worst meal I've had for dinner in the last 124 days (and probably for much longer than that).

1.124 Fried Egg & Tomato, Salami Sandwiches

MEAL 1.124
9 May 2010

-American-
Fried Egg & Tomato, Salami Sandwiches

at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * *

1.122 Bindae Ddeok


-Cycle 1, Item 122-
7 (Fri) May 2010

-Korean-
Bindae Ddeok

* * * *

at Ganggane

-Hannam, Seoul-

Bindae ddeok (빈대떡) is a type of Korean pancake.  It consists primarily of ground mung beans, as well as flour and egg to make the batter, along with optional ingredients, such as bits of pork, bean sprouts, onions, scallions, etc.  On a generously oiled griddle or pan, the batter is cooked into patties, typically around 10 cm wide and 1 cm thick.

The name of the dish varies from place to place, person to person.  Most commonly, it's called "bindae ddeok," as here.  However, ddeok is a rice cake, whereas this is technically a jeon (전) (see generally 1.066 Assorted Jeon).  Second, the meaning of "bindae" in this context is subject to speculation, though several sources suggest that the etymology may derive from "binja" (빈자), which means "poor person."  Those who subscribe to this theory hold that these types of pancakes were traditionally made by mashing up whatever ingredients were available, especially during hard times.  If true, then mung beans would be inappropriate, as they were once rare and beyond the means of the average populace.  In further keeping with the humble origins of the dish, meat and other fancy additions would also be precluded.  Unfortunately, this doesn't leave much room for anything, as even flour was a luxury back in the day.  In any event, some sticklers insist that the dish as it's now prepared should be referred to as "nokdu jeon," the "nokdu" meaning "mung bean."

For now, I'll continue to call it "bindae ddeok," as did the restaurant here.

1.121 Semi-Homemade Cheeseburger

-Season 1, Meal 121-
6 May 2010

-American-
Semi-Homemade Cheeseburger

* *

by me
(with help from Burger King)

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Difficult to categorize this, whether it's "home-cooked" or "fast food." I'd bought a Junior Whopper from the Burger King in the basement of Ajou University Hospital for dinner but never got around to eating it while at work, so I took it home, where I added extra lettuce, onions, and some sliced yellow bell peppers, as well as dijon mustard. I think I've made "substantial improvements," to use a term from property law, thus justifying a "home-cooked" categorization.

Although frankly, the burger was so dried out by this point that there was nothing left to improve.


1.120 Arugula Pizza

-Cycle 1, Dinner 120-
5 (Wed) May 2010

-Italian-
Arugula Pizza

* * *

from Due Cose
[takeout]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Whereas the pizza offerings in Korea have long been stylistically American, a phenomenon that I discussed generally in a prior post (see 1.111 Cheese Pizza), a welcome new trend among increasing numbers of local Italian restaurants is a preference for pizza more in line with the old-world style. Thinner, hand-made crusts. Traditional toppings in traditional combinations.

Due Cose, a small Italian eatery with a proudly displayed wood-fired oven that seems to take up about 20% of the floor space, makes pretty good pizzas in this new/old way. The toppings and cheese leave room for improvement, but their crusts are just right. Overall, significantly better than anything from the American delivery chains. A bit pricey, anywhere from 15,000 won to 25,000, this simple cheese pizza topped with fresh arugula goes for 18,000 won. Just barely worth it.

One major drawback, however, is that their pizzas don't travel very well, even for short periods. The restaurant is located a couple kilometers from our apartment, a five-minute drive, so I've ordered various things to go and eaten them at home. While the pastas are fine, the pizzas end up a bit flabby, as was the case tonight, the crusts losing their chewiness and the cheese going gummy. So for take-out, not worth the money.

1.117 Samseon Jjajang-Myeon


-Cycle 1, Dinner 117-
2 May 2010

-Chinese-
Samseon Jjajang-Myeon

4.0

at Da-Rae-Hyeon (다래현)

-Dongducheon, GyeongGi-

In any Chinese restaurant here in Korea, the upgraded form of any noodle dish is the samseon (삼선) option--e.g., samseon jjajang-myeon. The term, which breaks down as "three" (sam) and "fresh" (seon), has come to signify three varieties of seafood. Thus, samseon jjajang-myeon would consist of the basic black bean sauce noodles (see 1.012 Jjajang-Myeon), along with shrimp, squid, and sea cucumbers, typically, or whatever the kitchen has on hand. It's a bit more expensive, a few thousand won more, but usually not worth the extra cost unless it's at a proper restaurant with fresh seafood. My understanding is that the original meaning of samseon, as it's used in China, refers to land, sea, and air, one ingredient from each: beef, shellfish, and squab, for example.

The samseon jjajang-myeon at Da Rae Hyeon is the best I've ever had in my life, samseon or otherwise, which means it's the ultimate embodiment of my all-time favorite dish. As such, it has earned the first 6 stars of this blog. Perfection. Jumbo shrimp, huge chunks of squid and sea cucumbers, absolutely fresh. Balanced sauce, with just a hint of oil to smooth things out. And the kicker was the handmade noodles, pulled and twisted and cut on the spot. It was awesome.

And to think it happened by accident. We were on our way home from yesterday's camping trip, when Sunday afternoon traffic came to a standstill. The restaurant, located along the road, didn't look particularly promising aside from the sign prominently and proudly advertising the aforementioned handmade noodles, a rarity these days. Certainly, I'd never heard of the place at the time, though it turns out that it's somewhat famous. When I pulled in to the parking lot, spur of the moment, on a whim, just wanting to take a break from the stop and go, I had no plans beyond a bowl of jjajang-myeon sans samseon. But the menu, which offered the basic variety for 4,000 won and the samseon for 8,000 won, changed my mind. The doubled price suggested they were serious. They were.

1.116 Fire-Roasted Smelt

MEAL 1.116
1 May 2010

-Japanese-
Fire-Roasted Smelt

at campsite

Hantang-Gang Camping Park ^
Gyeonggi-Do

* * *