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1.328 Pork Schnitzel with Tater Tots and Saurkraut

-Cycle 1, Item 328-
29 November 2010

-Austrian-
Pork Schnitzel with Tater Tots and Saurkraut

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

In my on-going struggle to do right by this dish,
(see most recently 1.210 Pork Schnitzel with Tomatoes and Black Olives in Balsamic-Basil Vinaigrette), I've attempted to make the overall meal a bit more authentic by including a form of potato and some saurkraut, both of which are typical accompaniments to Austrian and German cuisine. Of course, I doubt tater tots per se are typically on the menu, but it's the best I could do on short notice. And the saurkraut, of course, was from a jar. Next time, I swear I'll look into making that green sauce, whatever it was, that I had in Frankfurt.

1.327 Asahikawa Ramen

MEAL 1.327
28 November 2010

-Japanese-
Asahikawa Ramen

at Sapporo

I'Park Mall
Yongsan
Seoul

* * *

I have yet to be impressed by any non-instant Japanese ramen (I'm a huge fan of instant Japanese ramen, by contrast). Tonight was no exception. Though it wasn't entirely awful, the meal on the whole was generally unsatisfying, both in terms of taste and quantity, such that we ended up ordering a pizza from Papa John's as soon as we got home.

1.326 Meatball Sandwich, Buffalo Chicken Burger with Fries

-Cycle 1, Dinner 326-
27 (Sat) November 2010

-American-
Meatball Sandwich,
Buffalo Chicken Burger with Fries

* * * *

from Naked Grill
[delivery]

-Hannam, Seoul-

at home


Having covered Naked Grill in 2 prior posts (see 1.089 "Naked Burger" with Fries; 1.291 Chicken Taco), I am now convinced with tonight's 3rd experience that the restaurant knows its business. As I said before, the food isn't awesome, just reliable, and done properly with respect to the basics, which is the least that one could ask for in a cheap corner diner, but something that's nearly impossible to find here in Korea. Case in point, the squishy roll used for the meatball sandwich made the whole thing taste/feel authentic, even though the meatball part of it was merely decent. Same with the buffalo chicken burger's toasted bun; the chicken, a deep-fried breast topped with that spicy-tangy sauce associated with buffalo wings, merely decent. Their fries, on the other hand, were awesome without qualification, as usual.

1.325 Bulgogi


-Cycle 1, Item 325-
26 (Fri) November 2010

-Korean-
Bulgogi

3.5

at Seoul Bulgogi

-Changcheon, Seoul-

Seoul Bulgogi, as the name would suggest, is a restaurant specializing in bulgogi (see generally 1.003 Bulgogi).  Located in Mapo, more or less near Hongdae, it serves the classic dish the old-fashioned way: over oak coals on a perforated brass dome designed specifically for bulgogi that both allows the meat to cook crisply and also captures the runoff juices in a moat-like receptacle circling the base of the pan, which may be spooned over rice or sipped directly as a broth.  Just the pan itself was a welcome sight, something I haven't seen in at least a decade.
Having stated previously that bulgogi has become something of a rarity on the domestic Korean restaurant scene, "limited to expensive specialty restaurants where a serving of 150 g can run in excess of 50,000 won, [or] restaurants catering to tourists," I'm happy to stand resoundingly corrected by the prices here: 15,000 won for a 300-gram serving, 85% cheaper than I'd previously mentioned.  The meat was accompanied by a heaping platter of veggies and glass noodles, along with complimentary bowls of muu guk (see generally 1.322 Muu Guk).  Most importantly, of course, the food was excellent, coming very close to 4.0.  No wonder that the restaurant was packed, the clientele strictly local.

Address: Seoul Mapo-Gu Changcheon-Dong 15-4 (서울시 마포구 창천동 15-4)

1.324 Toasted Bagel Sandwich with Fried Egg, Lettuce & Tomato


-Cycle 1, Item 324-
25 (Thu) November 2010

-American-
Toasted Bagel Sandwich with Fried Egg, Lettuce & Tomato


* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Without question or qualification, my favorite sandwich of all time: fried egg, lettuce and tomato, with mayo and dijon mustard, on a toasted plain bagel. I was introduced to this simplistic marvel during my freshman year at Columbia University in New York City, by one of my fraternity brothers, seated at the counter of a 24-hour diner in front of campus, sometime after midnight, a bit hungry but wary of the typical diner fare.  Sam, the fraternity brother, didn't bother with the menu and instead instructed the server to make this sandwich (the dijon mustard would be my own embellishment/improvement, added a few years later).  Before that moment, I had never seen anyone custom order food that wasn't written on the menu, so already I was impressed.  The sandwich was a revelation.

Incidentally, the diner was Tom's Restaurant, an otherwise unassuming and not particularly appealing establishment that lives as pop culture icon, first by serving as the inspiration for the song, "Tom's Diner," by Suzanne Vega, who attended Barnard College, which is Columbia's sister school and located across the street, and later by its entrance being featured regularly on Seinfeld as the diner where the characters frequently hung out.

The sandwich tonight only rated 4 stars tonight because the tomato wasn't ripe, the lettuce was kinda old, and frankly I'm not that easily impressed anymore.  Looking at the photo, even the colors are off.  At least I got the fried egg just right, with the yolk half cooked and oozing out.  That's important.  I made something similar on 2 previous occasions (see 1.104 Fried Egg and Tomato Sandwich; 1.110 BLT, BFELT Sandwiches), but the first without the crucial lettuce, the second with the unwelcome addition of bacon, and both with ordinary white bread, which isn't really an adequate substitute for the bagel.  Sad that all the elements were in place this time, but their poor quality spoiled the party.

----

On a totally unrelated note, I stopped by a neighborhood grocery store that specializes in imported goods (a lot of foreign embassies are located in my neighborhood) to get ingredients for a pumpkin pie that I was planning on baking and taking to a gathering tomorrow evening.  No particular reason that it had to be pumpkin pie, except that it's the only thing I know how to bake.  The store was sold out.   The storekeeper looked at me with a regretful face and said, "Well, you can't expect there to be any left by this time. You should've come earlier in the week."  I would imagine that 95% of Koreans have never even heard of pumpkin pie, much less eaten it, so why the hell would there have been a sudden run on pumpkin pie ingred---ahh, it's Thanksgiving weekend in the States.  I really have lost touch with American culture.

1.323 Ddeok Mandu Guk [includes recipe]


-Cycle 1, Item 323-
24 (Wed) November 2010

-Korean-
Ddeok Mandu Guk [includes recipe]

2.5

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Ddeok mandu guk (떡만두국) is a Korean soup ("guk").  As the name would suggest, it consists of rice cakes ("ddeok") and dumplings ("mandu") (see generally 1.067 Mandu Jeon-Gol).  Without the rice cakes, it would be "ddeok guk."  Without the dumplings, it would be "mandu guk."  All three varieties are equally common, usually depending on personal taste. The composition of the dumplings and the base of the broth differ from kitchen to kitchen, but I would wager that most are pork dumplings and beef stock.  Additional components may include zucchini/squash and egg ribbons, as here, along with sliced scallions and crushed laver for toppings, as here.

Personally, I don't like any of the three, but the dish is easy to make, quickly, cheaply, for any number of people, thanks entirely to the product Beef Bone Stock by the food company Ottogi (오뚜기), the king of semi-instant foods (see generally company website).  It's a stock made from boiling beef bones, giving it a slightly viscous texture and milky white color.  Packaged in a foil bag similar to an oversized Capri-Sun, the smallest size (350 ml) serves 2.  Foolproof.

----

Recipe for Quick Ddeok Mandu Guk
(serves 2)

350 ml Ottogi Beef Bone Stock
1 cup water
1 clove minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon light soy sauce (more will make the broth too dark; in fact, Koreans typically use a special soup soy sauce (guk ganjang (국간장)) that's nearly colorless)
black and/or white pepper to taste
2 cups sliced rice cakes
2 cups mandu of choice (smaller ones work better)
1/2 cup sliced zucchini
1 beaten egg
1 sheet seasoned dried laver
1/4 cup sliced scallion
salt to taste

1.  Combine the stock and water in a medium pot on high.

2.  As it comes to a boil, add the garlic, soy sauce, pepper, rice cakes, mandu, and zucchini.

3.  Lower the heat and simmer for about ten minutes until the rice cakes are soft and the mandu are cooked through.

4.  At the last second, swirl in the egg to make ribbons.

5.  Ladle the soup into 2 large bowls, then top with crush laver and sliced scallions.

6.  Add salt to taste (do this at the very end because the seasoned laver will contribute some saltiness).

1.322 Muu-Guk


-Cycle 1, Item 322-
23 November 2010

-Korean-
Muu-Guk

* * * *

by Nanny 2

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

It's called muu-guk (무우국), which literally means "radish" (muu) and "soup" (guk), but, like so many Korean dishes, the name is something of a misnomer as the primary ingredient is beef. A classic comfort food, often served as part of the multi-course meal offered in ancestral rites (see 1.021 Jesa Spread), the soup is prepared by boiling beef for several hours in water, then adding slices of radish, leeks, salt, pepper, and a touch of soy sauce. Done. But its very simplicity is what makes the soup difficult to do well. The main thing, the only thing, is the beef, quality beef, preferably brisket.

Our nanny, who isn't always the best cook, somehow managed to get this one right. And my boy, who hasn't been eating well recently due to illness, couldn't get enough.

1.321 Beef & Mushroom Lasagna


-Cycle 1, Item 321-
22 (Mon) November 2010

-Italian-
Beef & Mushroom Lasagna

1.0

by Mom

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Not only was this relatively the worst thing that I've ever tasted from my mother's hand, it was quite possibly the only bad thing that she's ever made me (although I'm sure I didn't enjoy everything of hers while growing up, my culinary memories only extend back to early adolescence, by which point she must've gotten her act together). My mother doesn't do things half-assed; even the simplest meal consisting of left-overs is an event (see for example 1.021 Jesa Spread; 1.040 Seafood Shabu Shabu; 1.168 LA Galbi). I suspect that she'll cook something but throw it out if it isn't to her complete satisfaction. So I really don't know what happened here, a lasagna in form but not in any other way. What's even more peculiar about the whole situation was that she had called me the night before and announced that she had made lasagna, and then brought it over to our apartment this evening, all unusual because she hasn't made lasagna in years and she never makes any such announcement about her own cooking and she hasn't been to our apartment in months and she has never brought over food in the entire 4+ years that I've been married. Whether that had raised my expectations to unattainable levels, I'm not sure, but I was certainly disappointed. Still, I must've been overjoyed to have mom's home cooking for the first time in a long while, because I finished it all.

1.320 Stir-Fry of Abalone & Beef & Broccoli & Pine Mushrooms

MEAL 1.320
21 November 2010

-Korean-
Stir-Fry of
Abalone & Beef & Broccoli & Pine Mushrooms

by my mother-in-law at their home

Apkujeong
Seoul

* * *

Somehow, I managed to put 306 meals between this one and the last time I had to eat dinner cooked by my mother-in-law (see 1.013 Spicy Cod Stew). I might have bypassed tonight to keep the streak alive, but she'd busted out all the fancy ingredients in her freezer, so I didn't have the heart to decline. I gotta blame the kid, who's recent affliction with what appears to be hand-foot-mouth disease set the wheels in motion: the swollen gums have really killed his appetite of late, rendering him incapable of eating much more than ice cream for the past few days, which got his eager beaver grandmother (i.e., the mother-in-law) all frantic and desperate to come up with some kind of magic cure-all to replenish her grandson's nutritional deficits, the result being a stock made from three of the most expensive food items available in Korea: abalone, domestic beef (hanwoo), and pine mushrooms. She then made a stir-fry with the left-over ingredients. While I have nothing against any of these on its own, I'm not sure how well they work together. It's like a French chef tossing, say, truffles, caviar, and foie gras into the same pot. My kid didn't eat the stock, but I ate the stir-fry. At least her heart is in the right place.

1.319 Mozzarella & Pesto Pizza

MEAL 1.319
20 November 2010

-Italian-
Mozzarella & Pesto Pizza

by Pizzeria Italiana
[instant]

Oksu
Seoul

* * *

Having now tried the 3rd in the line of these frozen pizzas to be featured on this blog, I'm beginning to suspect that I must've been extremely hungry and in a generous mood when I raved about them the first time around (see 1.292 3 Cheeses & Onions Pizza), because my subsequent reactions are getting progressively less enthusiastic (see 1.299 Pizza with Muenster Cheese, Black Olives, Mushrooms, and Onions). Either that or I happened to have tried the best one first and worked my way down. I still maintain that they're pretty good as far as frozen pizzas go, especially at the low price of 6,000 each. But without the benefit of my pan-heating technique, using only a microwave, probably not really worth it.

1.318 Pork Spring Rolls

MEAL 1.318
19 November 2010

-Chinese-
Pork Spring Rolls

by me at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * *

Reorganizing my freezer for the first time in months--nannies just don't respect my immediates/veggies&grains/seafoods&chicken/red meat shelving system, so I have to reestablish order every so often--I discovered a ziplock bag of hand-made spring rolls tucked away in back of the third shelf, the seafood shelf, which seemed odd because I couldn't recall having made seafood spring rolls in recent times. I was also a bit skeptical that they would be edible, as I couldn't even begin to image how old they were, though probably around 3 months, typically the maximum time that elapses between freezer reorganizations. So I made a test run in a small wok with a bit of oil to determine composition and comestibility. Pork and yes.

1.317 Mom's Salsa Beef


-Cycle 1, Item 317-
18 (Thu) November 2010

-Mexican-
Mom's Salsa Beef

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

This is a quick-fix Mexican-style dish (though I wouldn't claim any degree of authenticity).  It consists of beef chunks and green beans stewed in salsa from a jar, best when wrapped in hand-torn bite-sized pieces of steamed flour tortillas (salsa + tortillas = Mexican, I guess).  The next morning, leftovers may be combined with scrambled eggs for awesome breakfast burritos (another dish of dubious Mexican origins).  One of the first dishes that I learned to cook from my mom, I often made it on "special occasions" for guests during college.  Like pasta in canned clam chowder (see most recently 1.311 Casarecce in Clam Chowder), it's extremely simple and much better than it sounds. 

1.316 Grilled Pork Neck


-Cycle 1, Item 316-
17 November 2010

-Korean-
Grilled Pork Neck

2.5

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

I'm calling it "pork neck," because I don't know what this particular cut of meat is called in English--in fact, I don't remember ever having seen much less eaten it outside of Korea--and I couldn't find a plausible translation of the term hangjeong-sal (항정살) in various on-line dictionaries, though I did run across one of those butcher shop cross-sectional diagrams of a pig with the body parts delineated and labelled by name, and what appeared to be the upper neck region was labelled hangjeong-sal. As the photo suggests, the meat is somewhat sinewy, grainy, textured like beef flank or skirt. Even when grilled to a crisp, it retains a distinct chewiness, a bite that some prefer over the tenderness of fatty pork bellies (see 1.183 Grilled Samgyeop-Sal) or well-marbled beef (see 1.114 Barbecued Ribeye). I wouldn't say that I prefer it over other cuts, but it's a welcome change every once in awhile.

1.315 Clam Sundubu Jjigae


-Cycle 1, Item 315-
16 (Tue) November 2010

-Korean-
Clam Sundubu Jjigae

2.5

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Sundubu jjigae is a Korean tofu stew.  While tofu is ostensibly the main ingredient, the flavor profile is shaped largely by pork or clams (as here), one of which will most certainly be included.  Sightings of vegetarian versions have been rumored but are likely to be urban legend.  Veggie add-ons vary, but zucchini and mushrooms are common.  A raw egg is often dropped in at the last minute to be parboiled for oozy goodness (as here).  It's almost always served with steamed rice (as here).  The name of the dish breaks down to "sun (순)," which means "pure/soft;" "dubu," which is how "tofu" is pronounced in Korean; and "jjigae," which more or less means "stew" (see generally 1.027 Kimchi Jjigae and Pan-Fried Hairtail).  Difficult to believe that 314 meals went by before I got around to discussing this dish, one of my favorites.

In Korean cuisine, most tofu falls into one of three categories: firm, the type featured in stir-fries or sauteed on its own (see 1.176 Dubu Kimchi; 1.267 Sauteed Tofu); soft, the type found in soups and stews (see 1.174 Doenjang Jjigae, 1.301 Kimchi Jjigae); and silky, "sun" (순)" in Korean, the type found exclusively in the eponymous stew discussed in this post, but not in any other stew or in any other dish. Apparently, sundubu is made for sundubu jjigae.

My quality of life improved the day that Pulmuwon, a Korean food company, released their packaged sundubu jjigae sauce. Within 10 minutes: sweat garlic and onions in oil (ground pork here, if that's your thing), add sauce, add water, add veggies (clams here, if that's your thing, but not if you've already added ground pork earlier, please), add tofu, add egg.  Done.  It's flawless.

(Unfortunately, I've had a cold for the past week, so nothing really tastes right these days.)

1.313 Spaghetti Nero di Seppia alle Ersatz Vongole

-Cycle 1, Dinner 313-
14 November 2010

-Italian-
Spaghetti Nero di Seppia alle Ersatz Vongole

by me

at home

Oksu
Seoul

*

First of all, what I can't believe is that some people can't believe it's not butter. Referring of course to a certain brand of margarine, I tried for the first time in my life to prepare a dish calling for butter with a butter substitute, and man did it suck. I didn't want to use margarine, but I was out of butter.

And the reason I even had the margarine at all was that it had come as a freebie tie-in with some other dairy product that I was buying at the supermarket. (Korean supermarkets often give away products by taping them to other products, either as a marketing promotion or, presumably, a way to dump inventory that's not selling and/or nearing the date of expiry).
At the time, I couldn't recall ever having tried margarine in my life, though I'm sure that my mother fed it to me as a child growing up in the 80s, back when it seemed like a reasonable alternative to the real thing; in any event, I had no concept of what it tasted like, but the name of the product suggested that it tasted like butter, and, though I was somewhat skeptical about how much it tasted like butter, I figured it might come in handy someday, so I stored it in the fridge, just in case. That case happened last night. Discovering the butter shortage, I snapped my fingers proudly in recognition of my foresight in keeping the emergency margarine on hand.

As soon as I opened the package, however, I knew something was wrong. It didn't smell right. A small tasting sample confirmed my suspicions. With an unpleasantly light texture, which reminded me of the Vaseline in the small tube intended for chapped lips, it was unnaturally sweet, like saccharin, and left an unsavory chemical aftertaste. Although a good clam sauce doesn't really need butter, and the sauce in question was passable at that point, I tossed in a half-tablespoon of the margarine for the sake of experimentation, wondering if maybe the cooking process would somehow smooth it out, maybe just enough to give the dish a buttery nuance. The cooking made it worse, the ungodliness intensified.

I managed to eat the pasta itself, but tossed out the sauce, along with the rest of the margarine.

Even before all that, I had initially discovered that I was out of white wine, forcing me to substitute with rice wine--for the sake of experimentation, har har--which meant that I was already in experimentation mode by the time the margarine issue came up. The two types of wine taste nothing alike, not that they're even supposed to, but the substitution worked surprisingly well. I suspect that the substitution wouldn't work in the other direction, however, what with grape wine being denser, sweeter, more acidic, and more fragrant. Anyway, that minor success put me in the mood for further risk.

Incidentally, I went for vongole at the outset, despite the absence of white wine and butter, because I had already put the pasta in the boiling water, and I had some not-so-fresh clams that needed to be used, and I didn't feel like doing another canned cop-out.

For the record, my vongole is usually pretty good (see 1.069 Spaghetti alle Vongole), although recent attempts would suggest otherwise (see 1.293 Linguine alle Vongole with Asparagus).

1.314 Ojingeo Twigim & Ddeokbokki


-Cycle 1, Item 314-
15 (Mon) November 2010

-Korean-
Ojingeo Twigim & Ddeokbokki

2.0

from (unnamed) food cart (near exit 4 of Oksu Station) [takeout]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

Twigim (튀김) is a broad category of deep-fried foods, Korean style.  It's very similar to Japanese tempura, but the coating is a bit denser/thicker and not very flaky.  The term literally means "deep-fried."  They're especially popular at food carts on the street, where varieties typically include hashed veggies, sweet potatoes, boiled eggs, and the ubiquitous and most popular squid ("ojingeo (오징어)").  The items are cut into bite-sized pieces and dipped in soy sauce or mixed with ddeokbokki sauce.  Most carts charge around 2,000 won for three of any type, a price that's held for over a decade, though I strongly suspect this will rise everywhere soon enough.  I've always been a bit hesitant about the deep-fried offerings at these tents, which invariably lay out the already fried goodies in piles right along the counter, very rarely covered by anything, right in front of where diners are eating and talking and spraying their spit over the food, right in the open air for flies and dust and all manner of urban contaminants to get right at them.  Granted, the food is re-deep-fried upon order, which would hopefully kill anything unsanitary, but still.

On this occasion, I asked that they leave the squid intact, thinking the whole pieces would make a better photo. The proprietor of the tent looked at me strangely and asked, "How are you going to eat them? They're too big." Not bothering to explain about photographic esthetics, I simply replied, "I have scissors, too." She said, "Well, I'm sure you do, but why would you not want me to cut them for you right now?" This went on for a few more exchanges until I finally mentioned the photo, which then led to another round of communication. In the end, looking at the photo, I'm not sure if it was really worth the trouble.

1.312 Fried Chicken

-Cycle 1, Dinner 312-
13 November 2010

-Korean-
Fried Chicken

* * *

from Torre Ore
[delivery]

-Oksu, Seoul-

When asked, the kid expressed a desire for fried chicken. I never argue against a proposal for fried chicken. And lest anyone question the parental judgment in feeding fried chicken to a 3-year-old for dinner, we also gave him a slice of pumpkin pie and ice cream for dessert. That's protein from the chicken, omega-3 fatty acids and phenols and vitamins from the olive oil (in which the chicken is fried), carbs from the breading of the fried chicken, fiber from the radish cubes, even more vitamins from the pumpkin in the pie, and dairy from the ice cream. Oh, and he got a cup of Power-C Vitamin Water for good measure (the wife drank the Coke, which came with the chicken).

Incidentally, this was the first time in perhaps a decade that I've had fried chicken without an alcoholic beverage of some sort. I've been sober since November 3. 12 days and counting. I'm going for 50 days, which puts me on the wagon until December 23, just in time for the holidays.

1.311 Casarecce in Clam Chowder

MEAL 1.311
12 November 2010

-American-
Casarecce in Clam Chowder

by me at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * * *

In a prior post very early on, I discussed a variation of this semi-instant dish (see 1.047 Fusilli with String Beans in Clam Chowder) but neglected then to mention that the key to pulling it off is the addition of some sort of fresh vegetable. Something crunchy, like celery, which provides textural contrast to the soft creaminess of the sauce, is particularly effective. Corn also adds a sweetness that works well with the rich cream. And fresh parsley for a touch of brightness to balance out the heavy.

1.310 Grilled Chicken Tacos

MEAL 1.310
11 November 2010

-Mexican-
Grilled Chicken Tacos

by me at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * * *

I'm struggling with corn tortillas. A few days ago, in my attempt at making enchiladas, they disintegrated on me during the baking stage (see 1.307 Beef Enchiladas). This evening, I experienced the opposite problem for my tacos: after warming them up on low heat in a pan with a drop of olive oil, they turned crispy and crumbly, not soft and chewy like I was hoping for, like those from a taqueria. Maybe it's the tortillas themselves, sold frozen and nearing their date of expiration; although flour tortillas are now sold in mainstream supermarkets here, the corn variety is still relatively rare, and thus pickings are slim.

Aside from that, the tacos turned out okay. The salsa was from a bottle, but I improvised the cabbage topping with lemon juice, cumin, and cilantro. At the very least, it tasted vaguely Mexican.

1.309 Kimchi Jjigae


-Cycle 1, Item 309-
10 (Wed) November 2010

-Korean-
Kimchi Jjigae

* * *

at The Kimchi Jjigae

-Shinchon, Seoul-

In what I hope will be the final chapter in the The Kimchi Jjigae kimchi jjigae saga (see 1.279 Kimchi Jjigae), at least for this year, I present the dish as it's meant to be eaten at the restaurant. Steamed rice is served in a large bowl, along with a plate of shredded dried laver (i.e., seaweed), to which the kimchi and pork and tofu from the stew is added and mixed together. Down-to-earth, comforting. It would normally rate higher, 4 stars, but I've had this same dish from this very restaurant--at the restaurant, at home, at campsites--so many times in the last few weeks that my reaction at this point is understandably indifferent.

I wasn't planning on going back for awhile, but I had some camping gear belonging to the owner that I had to return, so I dropped by after work. Predictably, a few members of the cult were already there. I ate some of their leftovers.

1.308 Quarter Pounder Cheese

-Cycle 1, Dinner 308-
9 November 2010

-American-
Quarter Pounder Cheese

at McDonald's

Apkujeong
Seoul

* * * *

I gotta say it: "They got the metric system--they wouldn't know what the fuck a 'quarter pounder' is." When I walked into McDonald's this evening, just to get a Diet Coke, and saw that the Korean branch of the company had finally seen fit to offer the Quarter Pounder with Cheese, removing the "with" from the name, the first thing that popped into my mind was that quotation (if you don't recognize it, forget about it). And I ordered one, for maybe the 2nd time in my entire life, just for the chance to talk about it here. (When I first visited Paris, I also got a "Le Big Mac"--again, if you don't recognize....)

Not that there's really a whole lot to discuss. Surprisingly, though, it was much beefier than I'd remembered, meaning that I could taste the beef--good beef--not just condiments. McDonald's is my favorite all-around fast food joint, but nothing there usually tastes like real food. Chicken McNuggets, my favorite single fast food item, doesn't taste like real chicken. Anyway, the Quarter Pounder with Cheese, which actually tasted like a real burger.

They're also offering the Double Quarter Pounder Cheese.

1.307 Beef Enchiladas

MEAL 1.307
8 November 2010

-Mexican-
Beef Enchiladas

by me at home

Oksu
Seoul

* * * *

As the photo suggests, the poor babies lost their form somewhere along the way, the corn tortillas disintegrating into mush. Still, aside from the loss in texture, it tasted like enchiladas. Not bad for a 1st try, especially one that was completely from scratch--even for the beef, I took a whole ribeye steak and chopped it in a food processor, nearly to the point of "ground beef" but stopping short so as to leave a bite. In fact, I think the chewy chunks of meat balanced out the mushiness of the disintegrated tortillas.

1.306 Grilled Samgyeop-Sal

MEAL 1.306
7 November 2010

-Korean-
Grilled Samgyeop-Sal

by me at home

Oksu
Seoul

* *

Featured directly on no less than 6 previous posts, starting with the 5th meal of this project (see 1.005 Barbecued Samgyeop-Sal), I decline to comment further on pork bellies except to say that tonight's disaster convinced me that fresh domestic pork does taste differently (i.e., juicier, sweeter) than its frozen imported counterpart, which is what we had this evening. Even in the photo, the meat looks all dried out. That first meal also consisted of frozen imported meat, but on that occasion the sides made up for it. This was the last time I try to save a few lousy hundred won on pig.


1.305 Shrimp in Chili-Sauce

-Cycle 1, Dinner 305-
6 November 2010

-Chinese-
Shrimp in Chili Sauce

* *

at Dong-Cheon-Hong (동천홍)

-Samseong, Seoul-

Mildly impressed by our previous visit (see 1.257 Tofu with Crab), we gave this restaurant another shot but this time with far less impressive results. The chili-sauce shrimp was part of a course meal, all of which was sub-par. I don't even know why my parents ordered the set menu, something I've literally never seen them do. Having arrived late, which means I was actually on time, I didn't have a choice.

But the problem was that the set menu included only spicy items that Dominic couldn't handle, his grandparents lacking the instinct to think about these kinds of things, so I asked the waiter if the kitchen could whip up a plate of deep-fried shrimp without any sauce. Aside from the fact that the deep-fried shrimp were really awful and desperately needed sauce, any sauce, even warm water would've been an improvement, they charged us 37,000 won for it. 37,000 won. WTF? The course meal was only 25,000 won per person. Was the odd number supposed to make me think it was based on some bonafide calculation? I said, "That's a lot, isn't it?" He said, "We gave you a lot." I thought about arguing--under normal circumstances, this kind of thing would be a fastball for me to drive way the fuck out of the park--but what with my parents and the kid and the wife, I just shook my head and paid and left. When I later mentioned it to my father, man, did he start yelling at me, as if I'd been the one to charge myself. In any event, the chapter on this joint is closed.

1.304 Fettuccine in Milky Clam Sauce with Bacon and Mushrooms

-Cycle 1, Dinner 304-
5 November 2010

-Italian-
Fettuccine in Milky Clam Sauce
with Bacon and Mushrooms

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

This is the simplest, cheapest, quickest, convenientest, and tastiest pasta dish in my repertoire. Because it involves canned clams, I differentiate the dish from my pasta alle vongole, which I make with fresh clams.

It's simple because, at a minimum, the recipe only requires 8 ingredients: pasta, canned clams, onion, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano.

It's cheap because, the two main ingredients (pasta and clams) can be purchased for less than 6,000 won (much less in the States), for 1-2 servings; even if a person doesn't already have the other items, they're not too pricey either.

It's quick because the sauce can be prepared--including the time it would take to open the can of clams--faster than 15 minutes to cook the pasta--including the time to boil the water.

It's convenient because everything in the recipe is either, typically, on hand (e.g., garlic) or can be pantry stored indefinitely (e.g., pasta, canned clams).

It's tasty because it is.

----

Recipe for Pasta in Clam Sauce (serves 1-2)

200 grams long pasta
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
salt, pepper, herbs (e.g., oregano, thyme, basil, parsley) to taste
1 can chopped clams

1. Cook pasta in well-salted boiling water until al dente. (For whatever reason, I've always preferred a long pasta, such as linguine, for this dish, but I suppose anything would work. As for the amount, 150 grams of pasta is a healthy single serving for a hungry man. The amount of sauce that results from this recipe is a bit too much for one person, but not quite enough for two, unless the pasta accompanies other dishes.)

2. Chop onions, mince garlic, and saute in pan with oil on medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes.

3. Drain clams from juice, reserve juice, add clams and seasonings, and saute for 2-3 minutes.

4. Add clam juice to pan and saute for 1 minute.

5. Drain pasta, add to pan, and cover with sauce.

This basic recipe got me through college and law school. Ideally, when I have the time and ingredients, I add minced celery and sliced mushrooms to the initial mix at Step 2, some white wine and butter at Step 4, and fresh chopped parsley just prior to serving.

This evening's version was new in 2 respects. First, I started off with bacon, rendering it to a crisp, setting aside the bacon, which would later be brought back as a garnish, and using the fat for sauteeing the vegetables. While the bacon fat did add an interesting dimension to the flavor profile, I found that I didn't like the way it felt in my mouth, a bit thick, especially as the plate began to cool down to room temperature. Maybe I used too much. Second, wanting to stretch the sauce into more servings, but not having any white wine or cream, I added half a cup of whole milk. This is an old trick I've done with other dishes, and it worked here.

1.303 Grilled Beef Rib-Meat

-Cycle 1, Dinner 303-
4 November 2010

-Korean-
Barbecued Beef Rib-Meat

*

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

This meal received 1 star because the meat was slightly off, perhaps even beyond the point of safe eating. I actually finished it all, and it was quite a healthy portion, pun ironically intended, despite the unwholesome flavor and risk to my well-being, because I was hungry, starving, not having eaten in over 36 hours.

For the uninitiated, the setup involved a portable gas stove connected to a propane canister and a portable 2-tier grill that's placed on the stove. The 1st tier of the grill is a screen that diffuses the flames from the stove below, creating an even heat source, and catches the fat or other juices that drip from the 2nd tier on top, preventing the stove from getting soiled. It works like a charm, employed by many if not most solo campers here in Korea (see 1.144 Barbecued Yang-Nyeom Galbi-Sal). Of course, the smoke generated from the process renders indoor usage highly unadvisable. I hadn't really considered the smoke issue as I was getting it all ready; after the first four pieces of meat, I shut it down and switched to a frying pan for the remainder.

1.302 Tonkatsu


-Cycle 1, Dinner 302-
3 November 2010

-Japanese-
Tonkatsu

* * *

at The Kimchi Jjigae

-Sinchon, Seoul-

Tonkatsu is a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet, Japanese style. The name derives from the Japanese word for pork or pig (ton) and the Japanese pronunciation of the English word "cut" (katsu).  

I'm not sure when or where or how the dish came about, but I strongly suspect that it was the result of frequent cultural exchanges between Japan and Germany in the early 20th century (that dynamic duo would eventually accomplish even greater things during the 1940s); one particular item given to Japan by Germany may have been the schnitzel, a dish of breaded, pan-fried meat cutlets, usually veal but also pork (an Austrian dish by origin, but Germany was inclined to appropriate things back in those days). I discussed schnitzel on several occasions in the past (see 1.002 Pork Schnitzel with Garlic Mashed Potatoes for details, and 1.075 Pork Schnitzel with Black Olives in Marinara Sauce for better photo).

The Austrian and Japanese counterparts are essentially the same, though the former has more herbs and spices in the breading, whereas the latter is usually a bit thicker and plain on its own but served with a brown, worchestershire-based sauce. Wikipedia has a decent description (see entry for Tonkatsu), though its sources appear to be as dubious as mine are speculative.

Here in Korea, tonkatsu is now totally mainstream, like Japanese curry or oden (fish cakes), available in every beer bar, corner restaurant, and supermarket. In most cases, the offerings are weak, a sliver of dry meat overfried in a thin, oily breading-like covering. Recently, new specialty restaurants have been making tonkatsu more "authentically" Japanese, with thicker, juicier cuts of pork, and breading that's light and flaky, like tempura.

What I had for dinner this evening falls within the "sliver of dry meat overfried in a thin, oily breading-like covering" category.

It was totally unplanned. In fact, I really shouldn't have been anywhere near it. Just two days earlier, I had eaten dinner with some camping buddies in Sinchon (see 1.300 Deep-Fried Pork Riblets), also an unplanned event. Four days earlier, I had eaten dinner with the same group at a nearby campsite (see 1.298 Barbecued Samgyeopsal), also an unplanned event. A week before that--I could go on for months, but you get the idea. It's like a goddamn cult, not that I don't appreciate their company--I suppose all cult members, by necessity, would have to appreciate each other. I didn't really expect to see them again for awhile--we usually take a long break, say, 3 days, in the middle of the week--but then, goddamn it, MtG announced that he was taking his new, mysterious, though reportedly hot girlfriend to The Kimchi Jjigae (see 1.279 Kimchi Jjigae), the restaurant owned by one of the other members, where we'd all met up 2 days earlier, where I'd obtained the kimchi for my meal just yesterday. I felt obligated despite my better angels to see her while I had the chance. Thus, I shut everything down and ran to The Kimchi Jjigae. Two other members also showed up. The girl, who turned out to be quite hot, apparently had been warned about us, so she appeared to take the cult thing reasonably well.

A-N-Y-W-A-Y, I hadn't had dinner until that point, around 10:30PM, so the owner whipped up a quick plate of his tonkatsu. Not so great, but hard to complain about at 4,000 won, even more so when it's free, as was the booze, as usual. (I was so hungry that I'd cut everything into pieces before remembering to take a photo.)

As I write this in my office at 7PM the following day, wondering what I should eat for dinner today, the call has just come out: they're gathering again at The Kimchi Jjigae. I kid you not. For now, I resist.

1.301 Kimchi Jjigae


-Cycle 1, Item 301-
2 November 2010

-Korean-
Kimchi Jjigae

* * * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

After dropping by the funeral vigil being held for my dissertation advisor's father, an event that I discussed in yesterday's post (see 1.300 Deep-Fried Pork Riblets), I went back my friend's restaurant, where 3 additional camping buddies had converged, having heard that 2 of us had already gathered earlier that evening and, apparently, not wanting to be left out in case something noteworthy happened, like, say, drinking. To make a long story short, I ended up going home with a 10-kg bag of kimchi, the very same kimchi in the kimchi jjigae (김치찌개) served at the restaurant The Kimchi Jjigae (see 1.279 Kimchi Jjigae).

So, for the first meal of the final stretch of Give Me This Day, Cycle 1, 65 meals left to go, I attempted to recreate the dish per the owner's instructions, a process that is totally unlike my own (see 1.027 Kimchi Jjigae, Sauteed Hairtail), seemingly counterintuitive, but infinitely better, maybe the best that I've ever had, albeit with a few personal adjustments.

----

Recipe for My Version of The Kimchi Jjigae's Kimchi Jjigae
(serves 2)

4 cups water
400 gm kimchi [a]
100 gm pork [b]
100 gm tofu
5 cm leek (white part)
1/4 tsp white pepper
tiny pinch of MSG [c]
tiny pinch of red chili powder [d]

1. In a pot over high heat, bring the water to the boil.

2. Meanwhile, cut the kimchi [e], pork [f], and tofu into bite-sized pieces and julienne the leek.

3. Add the kimchi to the pot and boil for 10 minutes.

4. Add the pork + tofu + white pepper + MSG and boil for 5 minutes.

5. Remove from the heat, garnish with the red chili powder + leek, season with salt if necessary [g].

6. Serve with steamed rice and lettuce wraps.

[a] This recipe's simplicity, which eliminates the common first step of sauteeing the kimchi in sesame oil to intensify the flavors and thus results in a bright and light and refreshing broth, will only work if the kimchi itself is of the best quality. The restaurant's stock is made by kimchi artisans in some countryside factory for use in stews and other speciality dishes.

[b] My first deviation from the original recipe is the type of pork. Whereas the restaurant uses the fattier (and cheaper) pork shoulder, I used the leaner (and pricier) pork neck, which I happened to have on hand. Because the meat is cooked for just 5 minutes, just enough time for a trace of the pork flavor to permeate into the broth, the fat content is important only as a matter of preference when it's eaten later on. Any cut will do.

[c] It's all about the MSG, something I'd sworn never to use. A mere pinch, maybe half a pinch. I did the before-and-after taste test, two samples just 5 seconds apart, sans MSG and avec. What a difference.  Even if I were squeamish about MSG, the kimchi itself contains MSG anyway.

[d] The red chili powder, though it does contribute a bit of heat, is more for color than taste. The restaurant adds a pinch of ultra-hot green chili powder for extra heat (the kimchi being relatively mild), but I'm not a fan of hot.

[e] As noted in my own recipe, I prefer to remove most of the kimchi fillings, but that's optional. The restaurant doesn't.

[f] The restaurant starts with large chunks of pork that are cut into pieces with scissors just prior to eating.

[g] As with any kimchi jjigae, the ultimate taste depends on the given batch of kimchi, some of which are saltier than others, especially at different stages of fermentation.  This is why it's really impractical to give a recipe for kimchi jjigae with precise measurements--it just takes experience to know how much seasoning is enough. 

1.300 Deep-Fried Pork Riblets

MEAL 1.300
1 November 2010

-Chinese-
Deep-Fried Pork Riblets

at Shinchon Yang Ggochi^

Shinchon
Seoul

* * *

My dissertation advisor's father died in the morning, which meant I was looking forward to a couple sleepless nights at the vigil traditionally held for the deceased and attended by immediate family members, close friends, and, in the case of professors or company executives or other so-called VIPs with a contingent of underlings, underlings. I discussed this process in a post about 2 months ago, when a friend's father had passed away (see 1.246 Funeral Spread). On this occasion, the funeral services are being held at Yonsei University's Severance Hospital. By happy coincidence, a camping buddy of mine owns a restaurant within a few minutes' walking distance of the hospital, a restaurant that I discussed in a previous post (see 1.279 Kimchi Jjigae). Faced with the choice of either a funeral spread or kimchi jjigae, I thought I'd stop by the restaurant along the way to the hospital in hopes of scoring some of the latter. When I arrived, however, he was frantically struggling to handle the sudden arrival of a 50-person party, some kind of student group celebrating something or other. With only himself and a single server on duty, orders weren't being taken, food wasn't getting served, tables weren't being cleared. I took off my jacket and tie, donned an apron, got to work--making use of a skill set first developed at my mom's cafe during my high school years and later honed at my uncle's sushi restaurant when I was in law school. I still had the skillz, apparently. Crisis averted, and now wanting a break from kimchi jjigae, we went upstairs for a quick bite at a Chinese lamb skewer joint, much like the ones I discussed before (see 1.218 Lamb Skewers). I eventually made it to the vigil.

The ribs were unremarkable, though unusual for their cross-cut form. Not a particularly noteworthy dish for this 300th meal milestone.