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1.268 Assorted Nigiri Sushi

MEAL 1.268
30 September 2010

-Japanese-
Assorted Nigiri Sushi

from E-Mart
(takeout)

at home

Oksu
Seoul

* *

The last time I'd tried this very same thing--prepackaged sushi from E-Mart--it turned out pretty well (see 1.134 Assorted Nigiri Sushi); this time, not so much. It may have been the different selection of fish. Or maybe the slice of pizza I'd eaten in the store had killed my appetite.

1.267 Tofu Stir-Fry

-Cycle 1, Dinner 267-
29 September 2010

-Chinese-
Tofu Stir-Fry

* * *

by Nanny 5

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

On her final evening in our employ, the nanny announced that she would be cooking something special as a gesture of gratitude for the past 3 months. This is what she came up with. In a prior post, I'd discussed the "somewhat peculiar" eating and cooking habits of ethnic Koreans from China, like our nanny (see 1.251 Pork and Cauliflower Stir-Fry). Not to be a snob, but I guess their standards for what constitutes "something special" are different, too.

Anyway, for various reasons, good riddance.

1.266 Yuk Hoe


-Cycle 1, Item 266-
28 September 2010

-Korean-
Yuk Hoe

2.5

at Baek Je

-Jongro, Seoul-

Yuk hoe is a Korean beef dish.  Consists of raw beef, seasoned with sesame oil and a touch of soy sauce, tossed with julienned pear and cucumber, topped with a raw egg yolk.

As previously explained, "yuk" refers to beef (see generally 1.145 Yuk Sashimi), while "hoe" means "raw."

Never been a fan.

This restaurant, whose yuk hoe has been famous for decades, uses frozen beef. I suppose it was fresh at the time of freezing.  The platter consisted of 500 grams of frozen beef, plus the veggies and egg, all for 30,000 won (compared to 40,000 won for a 150-gram serving of sashimi beef above).

1.265 Budae Jjigae


-Cycle 1,  Item 265-
27 September 2010

-Korean-
Budae Jjigae


* * * *

at Da-Rak (다락)

-Suwon, GyeongGi-

It's called budae ("base") jjigae ("stew") for a reason. According to legend, the dish emerged in the aftermath of the Korean War, when food was scarce and people turned to the black market for canned goods and other goodies from US military bases. These and local ingredients were thrown into pots of boiling water to create makeshift stews, initially out of hunger, likely in haphazard combinations with whatever was on hand, but eventually developing into specific recipes appreciated in their own right, arguably the first fusion of American and Korean foods. One version--consisting of Spam, hot dogs, baked beans, processed cheese, and kimchi--was supposedly served to President Lyndon B. Johnson during his visit to Korea. Now called "Johnson tang" (another word for "stew"), and still available in a few specialty restaurants all claiming to be the original, usually located near military bases, it tastes as strange as the description would suggest. The more generic budae jjigae--consisting of sliced luncheon meat and hot dogs (rarely American in origin), kimchi, ramyun noodles, rice cakes, and red pepper paste--is found everywhere and now considered part of mainstream Korean cuisine. Perhaps in deference to its humble origins, it remains cheap, sometimes as low as 5,000 won for a single serving though usually more like 10,000-15,000 won for a big pot to serve 3-4.

Before this evening, I'd never given budae jjigae a second thought. But as I was eating and considering what I might write about it in this blog, I realized just how terrible the stew is from a health perspective. It has two sources of high fat, high calorie, high sodium, nitrate-saturated processed meat. The ramyun noodles are processed flour, deep-fried in industrial oil. The "rice" cakes are most likely processed flour as well, with a maybe a small amount of rice ground into the mix. The only hint of freshness is the few slices of leeks tossed in at the last minute, more as a garnish than a source of food. And the broth, all salty and spicy from the kimchi and red pepper paste, is guaranteed to include some form of MSG for flavoring. This all may have been acceptable at time of famine, but we should know better by now. Local nutritional experts deploring the recent influx of unhealthy Western dietary influences should look back a bit further.

1.264 Gganpung Gi


-Cycle 1, Item 264-
26 (Sun) September 2010

-Chinese-
Gganpung Gi (깐풍기)

3.0

at Daraehyeon (다래현)

-Dongduchon, Gyeonggi-

Gganpung is a Chinese cooking method.  It consists of breading/deep-frying pieces of meat--most commonly chicken, as here--then stir-frying them in a sweet-spicy-sour chili-garlic sauce.  It's one of the most popular preparations in the Korean-Chinese tradition.  Given the Korean tendency to bastardize foreign foods beyond recognition, I don't know whether "gganpung" in this form even exists outside of Korea.  The term derives from the Chinese "ggan (干 (or 乾?)) = "dry" + "pung" (烹) = "to boil," which doesn't help explain anything; "gi" = "chicken."

This was the second time I've eaten at this restaurant, both times on the way home from a camping trip. The first was by happenstance, the unbearable Sunday afternoon traffic leading me to pull over into the parking lot of a restaurant that boasted handmade noodles (see 1.117 Seafood Jjajang-Myeon). By sheer luck, I discovered the ultimate jjajang-myeon, my favorite food of all time. This time around, however, the jajang-myeon was completely different, good in its own right, but certainly not life-altering. As evidence of my disappointment, I showed the server the photo I'd taken on my previous visit.  Change of ownership, it turns out.

1.263 Barbecued Chicken Hearts in Sweet-Spicy Glaze

-Cycle 1, Dinner 263-
25 (Sat) September 2010

-Korean-
Barbecued Chicken Hearts
in Sweet-Spicy Glaze

* * * *

by Yun YH

at Sanjeong Camp (산정캠프)
[campsite]

-Pocheon, GyeongGi-

My first time with the heart of any animal. Not bad.

1.262 Curry Rice with Grilled Chicken & Broccoli


-Cycle 1, Item 262-
24 (Fri) September 2010

-Japanese-
Curry Rice with Grilled Chicken & Broccoli

3.0

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

About as good as curry rice can get, I suppose.  The grilled chicken was a nice touch.

1.261 Wanja


-Cycle 1, Item 261-
23 (Thu) September 2010

-Korean-
Wanja

3.0

from Wonjo Okcheon Naeng Myeon [takeout]
(Okcheon, Gyeonggi)

-Oksu, Seoul-

Wanja (완자) is a Korean meatball.  It's most common in the egg-washed, pan-fried, flattened form of jeon, typically made of ground pork and/or beef, usually referred to as "donggeurang-ddaeng (동그랑땡)."  In the small town of Okcheon (옥천), located exactly 49.8 km east of our apartment in central Seoul, the restaurants specializing in the neighborhood's namesake mul naeng myeon (물냉면), which I'll be sure to cover someday soon, also offer these jumbo wanja.  Though consisting primarily of pork, and probably extenders of some sort, the texture has always reminded me of canned albacore tuna: dense and chewy.  Awesome.

These were leftovers that I brought home and refried.  Still good.

1.260 Barbecued Ribeye

MEAL 1.260
22 September 2010

-Korean-
Barbecued Ribeye

by me at the cabin

Hoengseong
Gangwon

* * *

Chuseok (추석), the harvest celebration holiday that is sometimes referred to as "Korean Thanksgiving," typically involves a large gathering of relatives and heaps of traditional foods, not entirely unlike a jesa (see 1.021 Jesa Spread).

This year, my family on my mother's side converged at my uncle's cabin in the countryside. While the elders ate indoors, the younger generation was relegated to the patio, grilling meat and delivering it in batches on platters. Fine by us.

1.259 Red Curry with Shrimp and Broccoli

-Cycle 1, Item 259-
21 September 2010

-Thai-
Kaang Phet with Shrimp and Broccoli

* * * *

by me
(based on curry from Pattaya)

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Using leftovers from my meal at Pattaya yesterday evening (see 1.258 Shrimp and Vegetables in Oyster Sauce), I managed to put some flavor back into the food with additional curry paste, coconut milk, and some Thai spices that I've been keeping in my freezer since my honeymoon in Bangkok four years ago. The shrimp and broccoli (but not the fancy cut carrots) are also new additions, so I can still claim that this is my dish, mostly. My only regret is that I was out of jasmine rice. Still, my reworking of the dish clobbered the original. They should be ashamed of themselves.

1.258 Shrimp and Vegetables in Oyster Sauce

-Cycle 1, Item 258-
20 September 2010

-Thai-
Shrimp and Vegetables in Oyster Sauce

* * * *

at Pattaya

-Itaewon, Seoul-

Alas, the gentrification of Itaewon. Time was, it was the only neighborhood in Seoul where certain types of cuisine were available at all (e.g., Thai, Middle Eastern, Indian). The restaurants back then were small, sometimes dingy affairs located here and there in back alleys, patronized by expats or locals in the know. As the city became more cosmopolitan and international restaurants began popping up everywhere, Itaewon remained as the only neighborhood where the food was authentic and reliable. The customers were still primarily foreigners so the restaurants didn't feel the need to dumb down the dishes to accommodate the notoriously conservative palates of the general population, as was the case with restaurants in other parts of the city--try finding cilantro in any pho joint outside of Itaewon. But now, Itaewon has visions of being an upper crust foodie hub, delusions of grandeur, restaurants with celebrity owners and uniformed waitstaff and al fresco seating and plats du jour and wine lists. The clientele--as opposed to customers--is now primarily Korean, young, hip, the disposable income crowd, tired of the scene south of the river. Ironically, and predictably, by bringing their business to Itaewon, they've made it mediocre, virtually indistinguishable from the rest.

Pattaya was, until this evening, my favorite Thai restaurant in Korea. Even when they opened a branch in Cheongdam, which inevitably featured watery curries and overcooked pad thai, the original Itaewon establishment kept it real. Not having been there in over a year, I wondered, perhaps even hoped despite witnessing the evolution-devolution of the neighborhood in general, if Pattaya had resisted the temptation to attempt betterment. As I approached, I noticed from a distance that they had added a patio. It was filled with Koreans. I knew exactly what to expect as I sat down.

1.257 Tofu with Crab

-Cycle 1, Dinner 257-
19 September 2010

-Chinese-
Tofu with Crab

* * * *

at Dong-Cheon-Hong (동천홍)

-Samseong, Seoul-

Food franchises with local origins are still relatively rare in Korea. As far as I'm aware, Dong-Cheon-Hong (동천홍) is the first Chinese restaurant here to branch out with multiple locations via the franchise model. I'm assuming that it's a franchise, and not a centrally owned and managed operation, based on observations concerning the lack of consistency in the menus, interior design, and food quality at the various outlets that I've visited over the years; in other words, it doesn't feel like one guy is in charge of it all, just a bunch of random guys who paid for the right to use the name and font design of the original.

I mention this only because I have fond memories of the original Dong-Cheon-Hong, which is located in Sinsa-Dong, a block away from what can be translated as the "post partum recovery center" where my wife received treatment for 2 weeks after giving birth to our boy. These centers, often but not always affiliated with and adjacent to an obstetrical hospital, are like hotels with a 24-hour nursing staff. In the better (i.e., expensive) joints, mom is housed in a private room equipped with a personal bathroom and shower, wide-screen TV and home theater setup, computer with internet access, and sofas for guests. Meals and snacks are brought to the room. During the day, classes are conducted on cooking, arts & crafts, yoga and stretching, auto repair--and, hopefully, some stuff about childcare. As for the baby, the baby is kept in a separate room with the other babies, delivered to the mom's room for brief intervals at various times for feeding; breast milk may be pumped in advance and stored and/or supplemented with formula for feeding at night, you know, so mom can sleep. In any event, when Dominic was born, I was on summer break, which meant I didn't really have to be anywhere, which meant I had to be at that recover center full time.

In Korea, the new mother isn't given a choice about her dining options, post partum. Five times a day--breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two "snacks" in between--she is served and expected or otherwise forced to eat, without reservation or fail, miyeok-guk (미역국). It's seaweed soup. I am neither kidding nor exaggerating about this: for 2 weeks at this recovery center and then another 2 weeks at home after her release, and another 6 months on a less regular basis, my wife ate this soup. I once questioned whether such strict adherence to this practice was really necessary, and my mother-in-law looked at me with crazy eyes. The theory, or "fact" as they would have it, is that the iron in the seaweed rebuilds the damage to the mother's body caused by the delivery process. "Can't she just take iron pills?" Crazy eyes. "What about mothers in other cultures that don't have seaweed soup?" Crazy eyes.

For myself, not having undergone the damaging delivery process, I grew tired of and didn't quite feel the urge to subject myself to seaweed soup after the 2nd day. I spent a lot of time at Dong-Cheon-Hong, often with friends who came to visit, and got through about a third of their menu by the time my wife was ready to go home. Good times. Since that time, I hadn't been back, surprisingly, until this evening, when we visited a new location that just opened across from Coex Mall. As I write this post, as if to relive the moment, I'm eating the leftovers.

1.255 Fish Burger

MEAL 1.255
17 September 2010

-American-
Fish Burger

at The Wolfhound

Itaewon
Seoul

* * * *

The Wolfhound is known for their Tuesday-night 2-for-1 fish & chips special, which I've mentioned in a previous post (see 1.104 Fish & Chips). Their fish burger differs only by the addition of a bun (and fixings) and the removal of tartar sauce. Which raises the question: can the quintessential English dish become American by being served in sandwich form? For all I know, the English eat their fish on bread, too.

1.256 Nurungji Tang


-Cycle 1, Item 256-
18 (Sat) September 2010

-Korean-
Nurungji Tang (누룽지탕)

* * * *

at Bon Ga (본가)

-Oksu, Seoul-

I don't recall ever having run across burnt rice as an intentional dining option in my experiences with other food cultures, so I'm not sure whether it's even a thing among the many culinary traditions from around the world that rely on rice as a staple, but it's popular here in Korea. Called nurungji (누룽지) by the natives, it dates back to a time not so long ago when rice was cooked in steel or stoneware pots over open flames, which often left the bottom layer of rice slightly browned and crispy, maybe even burnt. This layer was either scraped off and eaten as is, I'd imagine as something of a last resort after the "properly" cooked rice was gone, or water might be poured into the pot and brought to a boil, releasing the rice from the surface and creating a kind of soup, absurdly simple and yet gratifying for its warm, toasty wholesomeness, the most basic of Korean comfort foods. Although the soup is called nu-rung-ji "tang," it's more accurately a "guk" (see 1.013 Daegu Maeun Tang, 1.027 Kimchi Jjigae and Pan-Fried Hairtail).

With the ubiquity of electric rice cookers, nurungji is no longer a happy by-product but a product-by-design. My mother will take leftover rice or sometimes make new rice just for this purpose and spread about a bowl's worth in a thin layer across a large skillet over low heat, flipping occasionally for 20 minutes or so, and then repeating with the remaining rice, ending up with a batch of round crisp patties. Some, she'll eat them directly, breaking off small pieces and munching on them like they're cookies. The rest will be thrown into the freezer for a rainy day, or a sick day, when nothing but nurungji tang will do. Whenever my parents go on vacation abroad, where the local cuisine may not be to their complete liking, my mother will often pack a few of the patties in her bag, which can be made into a quick soup with a bowl of boiling water from the coffee pot in the hotel room--she calls this "travel know-how."

1.254 Engawa Nigiri Sushi

-Cycle 1, Dinner 254-
16 September 2010

-Japanese-
Engawa Nigiri Sushi

* * * *

at Sakanaya

-Sinsa, Seoul-

Without question, my favorite cut of fish for sushi is engawa, the chewy fin section of the animal that I believe is called fluke in English and hirame in Japanese, a flat bottom dweller related in some way to the halibut.

When my boy suddenly expressed a craving for eel, which he calls "flotsam-jetsam" (after the villain octopus Ursula's two henchmen in The Little Mermaid, who are eels), Sakanaya was the best that could come up with on short notice. It's a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant chain that I discussed in a prior post on a different location (see 1.198 Negi Toro Maki). The food's not bad, just ridiculously expensive, most plates worth grabbing priced at 7,000 won and up. Even worse, that evening, the special just happened to be fresh boat-caught (as opposed to farmed) eel at 10,000 won a pop, which I didn't realize right away. They do this oh-so-tricky thing with making the plates all shades of the same color, so it wasn't until 4 plates in that I noticed how much my 3-year-old's refined palate was costing me. He ended up eating 5 plates total. Well, so long as he enjoyed it, it was worth it, I suppose.

On a side note, I discovered that I'd lost my wallet en route to the restaurant, so I had to call a friend to come and pay for the meal. When he saw the bill, 90,000 won (engawa is pricy, too), he did a literal double-take and asked, "Wait, it was just the two of you, right? You and the kid? What'd you have?!?"

Later, another friend remarked that it seemed odd for such a young child to be enjoying eel. Is it?

1.253 Chicken Noodle Soup

MEAL 1.253
15 September 2010

-American-
Chicken Noodle Soup

by me

at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * * *

Try as I might, I can't think of anything to say about chicken noodle soup.

1.252 Bratwurst with Garlic-Mushroom Mashed Potatoes

MEAL 1.252
14 September 2010

-German-
Bratwurst with Garlic-Mushroom Mashed Potatoes

by me

at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * * *

Surely there's an adage somewhere about the repulsive effect of knowing what goes into your food, the more you know, the less likely you're going to want to eat it. I'm not talking about the sausages and laws thing, about how ugly and unsavory the process can be. No, I'm talking about the mashed potatoes thing, about how food often needs to be very very bad in order to be very very good. Butter. It just doesn't work without the butter. And by butter I mean butter. My mashed potatoes also include garlic, olive oil, milk, thyme, black pepper, salt, and on this occasion a handful of button mushrooms--you'd think that'd be plenty of flavor. But no. Butter. It's all about the butter.

1.251 Pork and Cauliflower Stir-Fry

-Cycle 1, Dinner 251-
13 September 2010

-Chinese-
Pork and Cauliflower Stir-Fry

* * *

by Nanny 5

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Other than to describe this dish by its two primary ingredents, I'm not sure what else to say about it. Having had a really rough day, I wasn't in any condition to cook something for myself and didn't care enough about food to order in, so I resorted to the unusual 3rd option of asking our nanny to whip something up, and this is what I got. When I saw her getting ready to add pork to the mix, I told her to leave it out, for some reason, I don't know, but she insisted, for some reason, I don't know. I didn't eat the pork.

Sometime during the past ten years or so, the service industry in Korea has suddenly become dependent on middle-aged women who are ethnically Korean but lived in China most of their lives--members of the so-called Joseon-Jok (조선족), jok meaning "tribe" or "clan" and Joseon being the name for Korea back when their ancestors had emigrated to China. Due to generations of isolation in Korean enclaves there, and the fact that they're often uneducated past primary school, they don't really speak Chinese, while their version of the Korean langauge has developed into a dialect with a distinctive accent of its own. Perhaps primarily for this reason, though certainly many other factors contribute, they're often perceived as second-rate members of society by the mainstream. Thus, whereas 9 out of 10 neighborhood restaurants are staffed exclusively by these women, fancier establishments employ "real" Koreans in positions that deal directly with customers but depend on the Joseon-Jok in the kitchens. I discuss this issue because our nanny, like so many nannies these days, is one such woman. Of course, the main reason for hiring is that they'll work for significantly less pay than their "real" counterparts. (I won't go into figures here.) As for the men, I don't really know the situation; according to our various nannies through the years, one had a husband working in a factory outside the city, another was unmarried, and two had husbands who had remained behind in China.

In addition to the language issue, the food culture of this group is also somewhat peculiar, neither here nor there. The format is essentially Korean in that they'll eat rice, soup, kimchi, and a few sides, but the preparation of the food is Chinese in technique. For example, instead of parboiling vegetables in water and seasoning them with sesame oil and salt in the Korean style, they'll saute everything in oil and add soy sauce. And because many of them hail from small inland farming villages, they're not accustomed to certain ingredients, like seafood. Shrimp, forget about it. But pork, they gotta have it.

1.250 Roast Babyback Ribs


-Cycle 1, Item 250-
12 September 2010

-Fusion-
Roast Babyback Ribs


* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

This started off as something called "shiu yok," which is how the ready-made marinade was labeled on the packaging, some kind of Chinese-style "savory roast" recipe. As I was slathering the dark paste onto a pair of babyback rib racks, the aroma reminded me of hoisin sauce. Maybe I used too much meat for the single packet, but, after an hour in the oven, the ribs ended up tasting like, well, not really like much of anything. So, by virtue of the garlic ranch dressing that had been intended as a dipping sauce for the celery sticks but took over as the primary flavoring agent of the evening, the meal tasted more American than Chinese.  I'll compromise and call it "fusion."

1.248 Wang Mandu


-Cycle 1, Item 248-
10 September 2010

-Korean-
Wang Mandu

4.0

from Gamegol (가메골)
[takeout]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

These mandu (만두) are the best of this kind that I've ever had in my life. In contrast to the more typical thin-skinned mandu described in a prior post (see 1.135 Steamed Mandu), the ones here are made with a thick, soft, bread-like shell containing a chunky and well-seasoned mix of meat, typically pork, along with chopped onions, green onions, maybe bean sprouts or shredded cabbage, sometimes tofu and glass noodles, which are steamed and eaten as a stand-alone dish.

They're from Gamegol (가메골), which is located along one of the bigger alleys in Namdaemun Market (about a 30-second walk from Exit 5 of Hoehyeon Station). It isn't so much a restaurant as it is a cramped kitchen filled with rows of old women who stand bent over counters and make the dumplings by hand. The dumplings come in either the standard or spicy variety; that's the extent of the "menu." They're steamed for a few minutes, in the same kitchen, just behind where the women are standing (I can't imagine how hot it must get in there), and then taken out to the sidewalk, about 1 meter from the steamers. Customers wait in a line that wraps around the block. There are no tables. And a pair of roving employees enforce a strict rule against loitering around neighboring storefronts. So, once the dumplings are obtained, customers must walk a few meters down the alley before eating them, usually by hand, straight out of the box, or bag. The dumplings are sold in increments of 5, starting at 5, for 2,000 won. An order of 5 or 10 will be dumped in a black plastic bag. Orders of 15 and up are placed in a box with a handle. And just to keep things simple, there are no discounts, no matter how large the order (e.g., an order for 100 will be 40,000 won).

The place just happens to be literally next door to the eyeglass store that I've been going to since sometime around 1995. I was at the store to buy a pair of glasses for my wife on the occasion of our 4th wedding anniversary. I don't remember when I first discovered the dumpling shop, whether it had been there all that time or if it moved in later, but I've been a die-hard fan for the past few years. Other than the fact that I don't have much reason to go to Namdaemun very often, maybe 2 or 3 times a year for eyeglass-related issues, I'm further prevented from partaking of the dumplings on most trips because of the lines of customers, which I'm not really willing to endure, even for the best dumplings in the country.

1.249 Dolsot Bibimbap


-Cycle 1, Item 249-
11 (Sat) September 2010

-Korean-
Dolsot Bibimbap

* * *

at Ggulbeol Kal-Guksu (꿀벌 칼국수)

-Seongsu, Seoul-

Essentially the same as regular bibimbap (see most recently 1.224 Bibimbap), but this variation is served in a sizzling hot earthenware pot that somewhat burns the rice at the bottom and gives it a slight crunch.  The vessel--dol (돌) (stone) + sot (솥) (pot)--also warms up the veggies a bit.  I've always regarded bibimbap as a salad of sorts, albeit a hefty one based on rice, so the idea of warming things up never really appealed to me.

For a restaurant that had two items on the menu--this and kal guksu (see generally 1.149 Chicken Kal-Guksu)--I was thoroughly unimpressed.

1.247 4M Spaghetti

MEAL 1.247
9 September 2010

-Italian-
4M Spaghetti

by me

at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * * *

Using leftovers from a few days earlier (see 1.244 Meatballs in Marinara Sauce), I just added some mushrooms and milk to the sauce and poured it all over spaghetti. It was probably the addition of the milk, which is always good for smoothing out and enriching an otherwise bland marinara from a bottle, but this reworking was a huge improvement over the original.

1.246 Funeral Spread

MEAL 1.246
8 September 2010

-Korean-
Funeral Spread

at Chungnam University Hospital

Daejon

* *

A person dies, and here's how it works (typically): the very same day, the deceased is taken to a funeral parlor, usually in the basement of a large hospital, where the family will hold a nonstop vigil for three days, greeting mourners who arrive at their convenience, individually, and at all hours, until the morning of the third day, when the deceased is interred. Mourners, after paying their respects, are provided food and drinks in an adjacent cafeteria/lounge. The meal is fairly predictable, rice and soup and various sides, with soft drinks or beer or soju.

This morning, I received word that the father of one of my best friends, Yongman, had suddenly passed away. During the vigil period described above, the deceased's sons' (if any) friends (if any) are expected to stick around, ideally until the final day, when they'll act as pallbearers. So here I am.

1.245 Deep-Fried Wings

-Cycle 1, Meal 245-
7 September 2010

-American-
Deep-Fried Wings

* * * *

at 3-Alley Pub

-Itaewon, Seoul-

In a previous post (see 1.231 BBQ Pork Ribs), I mentioned an incident involving the manager of 3-Alley Pub, an obnoxious pig named Albert. I'd been saving the story for this moment, after I'd finally returned to the scene just to get a chance to tell it. But now that I think about it, I don't feel like wasting my time. Suffice it to say that Albert doesn't appear to appreciate very much the patronage of the locals, even though Koreans now seem to comprise at least half the clientele, particularly on Tuesdays, when they have wings for 300 won apiece. His attitude towards Koreans is aloof at best, outright condescending or even contemptuous at times.

Anyway, the wings are fine. But beware of the "insane" level, as shown in the background of the photo; the proud group of macho Korean men I was with this evening, who all claimed to love hot foods, as do most proud macho Korean men, each had a nibble and then nearly threw up. I sampled one of these wings once, once, and it made me dizzy. The restaurant really ought to have a legal disclaimer, you know, like warning people they could die. Seriously.

1.244 Meatballs in Marinara Sauce

MEAL 1.244
6 September 2010

-Italian-
Meatballs in Marinara Sauce

by me

at home

Oksu
Seoul

* *

I am grateful for this meal, even though it turned out kinda lousy, taste-wise, because it allowed me to do away with a handful of leftover ingredients that had been rolling around the fridge and getting on my nerves: random bits of frozen lamb, pork, and beef, half a jar of spaghetti sauce, and miscellaneous veggies. But as I said in a previous post (se 1.017 Spaghetti with Meatballs), I'm just not a meatball guy.

1.242 Pastrami Sandwich

Meal 1.242
5 September 2010

-American-
Pastrami Sandwich

at Puffin Cafe

Hannam
Seoul

* *

The strange thing about this sandwich, which consists of pastrami, melted cheese of some sort, saurkraut, and mustard on wheat, is not that it's called "pastrami sandwich" but that there's another sandwich on the menu called a "reuben sandwich." The reuben is pretty much the same except it has roast beef. There's also a sandwich called "beef sandwich," which apparently features "steak." (No, there's no separate "steak sandwich.") And all of them are under the "panini" section.

I knew I wasn't going to like it, but I ordered it anyway for a couple reasons. The main, immediate reason was that I had been at the cafe for over 4 hours, getting some work done and drinking cup after endless cup of free coffee refills, and anticipated being there even longer, and, not wanting to be a mooch customer, I felt it only fair to order something more than just the cheapest thing on the menu. Located just a couple kilometers from my apartment, Puffin is my destination of choice whenever I have work to do but can't get it done at home (e.g., people are there and awake). It's an old-school cafe, the kind that was once the only place to get real coffee in Korea before the invasion of Starbucks. Back in the day, Puffin was a standout for its food, including American-style brunch items, like omelets and sandwiches, before such things had become chic, before Sex & The City. I've been going to Puffin for over ten years, and it used to be for the food. Used to be. A good mix of the customers used to comprise expats, too. But then, I don't know the when or wherefore, the food got crappy, in every sense: taste, portion, and authenticity. I now go there only for the coffee, which also isn't that great but the refills keep on coming. I guess the second reason I ordered the sandwich, even though I knew I wasn't going to like it and I could've walked across the street to Naked Burger or down a block to Duo Cose, two of my favorite local places (see ), was just to have a reason to write about Puffin here. It's the first time that I've eaten something for the sake of this project that I normally wouldn't.

1.243 Udong


-Cycle 1, Item 243-
4 (Sat) September 2010

-Chinese-
Udong (우동)

1.5

from Toayen [delivery]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Udong is a Korean-Chinese noodle soup.  Flour noodles, mild broth, onions and other basic aromatics, often various seafood.  A staple within the Koreanized Chinese fastfood tradition.  Although it's still always on the menu, the dish seems to have fallen out of favor in recent years, overtaken completely in popularity (for noodle soups) by its spicier though otherwise identical cousin jjambbong; I can't remember the last time I saw anyone other than me, in a restaurant or at home, order one. I still do, whenever I crave broth, because I'm not too good with red heat (well, I can handle heat on the tongue just fine, but then the sweat kicks in).  The name perhaps owes its origins to some terribly botched though ultimately tasty attempt at recreating the ubiquitous Japanese noodle soup by the same name.

Toayen is a neighborhood Chinese delivery joint.  The food isn't very good, but it's the best in Oksu.

The udong from Toayen was terrible.  Broth like water.  

1.241 Franks & Beans & Rice

MEAL 1.241
3 September 2010

-American-
Franks & Beans & Rice

by me

at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * * *

Does it count as dinner if it's at 5AM?

1.240 Garlic Roast Chicken

MEAL 1.240
2 September 2010

-Korean-
Garlic Roast Chicken

at Kkanbu

Sinsa
Seoul

* *

In a previous post, I once railed about the restaurants in Cheongdam, about how they're all style over substance (see . I didn't mention then that this generally true of restaurants throughout the Kangnam area, especially the in neighboring areas of Sinsa, Apkujeong, Nonhyeon; Cheongdam's just the big brother of the bunch.

It was an evening full of culinary mishaps.

MtG had suggested that we check out the traveling Korean-Mexican fusion taco truck called Grill 5 that had been making a bit of noise recently (on the internet, among those who care about crap like this). Based on the original Kogi brand from Southern California, which had spawned copycats across the US, the Korean version was also an exact knockoff: from the menu items, taste (presumably), and the method of tweeting their location for the evening. The Grill 5 guys tweeted that afternoon that they'd be across from Hyundai High School in Apkujeong by 9PM. But they were running late (still hadn't arrived by 9:30).

And we were hungry. So we settled on this new chicken and beer joint near the rendezvous site. In our hunger-induced daze, we were lured by two things: the fact that the place was packed with customers, which is often meaningless in Kangnam where people are dumb enough to eat anywhere with a "fancy" interior design; and the "fancy" interior design, all modern and minimalistic, which should've been a dead giveaway, but we weren't really thinking straight at the time. In any event, we ordered the "garlic roast": a few wings and pieces of breast meat, all dried out from the rotisserie, topped with some kind of mashed garlic. 16,000 won. Ripoff.

Completely disgusted with ourselves, we quickly paid and went around the corner to give Grill 5 another shot. A short line had already formed, idiot customers taking photos of themselves waiting like they were at some gala event. We were the #8 order of the evening. After nearly an hour (including the wait time to order), we stepped up to get our food as they were in the process of wrapping up our order. Then the cops showed up and shut everything down. We asked if we couldn't just have our food, since it was all ready to go. But no. (I won't go into further detail in case I do eventually get a chance to check it out this Grill 5 thing for real.)

Not wanting to leave it at that, we walked down the street to KFC. They had exactly 4 pieces of chicken left: 1 original recipe wing, 1 original recipe breast, 1 spicy crispy wing, 1 spicy crispy breast. We were in no position to be picky. We took it. And ate it.

And went home.

1.239 Oyster Sauce Abalone with Broccoli and Woodear Mushrooms

MEAL 1.239
1 September 2010

-Chinese-
Oyster Sauce Abalone with Broccoli and Woodear Mushrooms

by me

at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * * *

I swear, I was going to lay off the oyster sauce for awhile (see 1.010, 1.077, 1.188, 1.203, 1.222, 1.237). But then my mother-in-law gave us a heap of fresh, live abalone. Other than porridge, this is the only thing I could think of doing with them without learning something new.

The woodear mushrooms didn't really work.