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2.026 Assorted Nigiri Sushi

-Cycle 2, Item 026-
31 (Mon) January 2011

-Japanese-
Assorted Nigiri Sushi

* * *

at Value

-Tsushima, Nagasaki-
JAPAN

with Lee HS, Yun YH,
and various members of Backcountry Camping

On Day 3, dinner was an impromptu scrounge-fest of various ready-to-go sushi and sashimi (and spaghetti) packages purchased at the supermarket and consumed on the premises at the tables in the back corner of the store. With a departure time of 18:30, requiring us to check in by 17:30, we didn't have any time to sit down for anything more formal before leaving, and logistical issues would prevent us from getting something to eat together as a group after arriving back in Korea. So, we took advantage of the well-stocked sushi/sashimi section in the supermarket where we'd shopped for groceries since Day 1.


The best part of grocery shoppping in Japan: the liquor aisle. In addition to an expansive selection of premium sake, the store also had ample inventories and varieties of soju (both Japanese and Korean), whisky (both Japanese and Scotch), and of course beer (mostly Japanese). I scored a bottle of 10-year-old Yamazaki Single Malt at 3,400 yen for my collection back home.



Earlier that day, our final lunch was at the restaurant Tsushima Brasserie, where we'd purchased our sashimi for dinner the night before. It was a plate of tori kara-age, a type of boneless soy-marinated fried chicken, along with side dishes, rice, and miso soup--seriously, do the Japanese eat any soup other than miso? Even I had to complain about the food by this point. Tori kara-age is one of my favorite dishes, and I realize that we were on a budget, but the consistent lack of imagination by the travel agency in ordering from the albeit limited menu choices was disappointing. I mean, we could've had ramen at least once. For the other members in particular, who were accustomed to considering fried chicken more as an accompaniment with draught beer in the evening as opposed to an actual food item, especially a main lunch course after a long night of drinking, it was intolerable.


Still, my first food experience in Japan overall was interesting throughout. I can't wait to go back.


2.025 Assorted Sashimi

-Season 2, Supper 025-
30 (Sun) January 2011

-Japanese-
Assorted Sashimi

* * * * *

from Tsushima Brasserie [takeout]

at Aso Bay Camp

-Tsushima, Nagasaki-
JAPAN

with Lee HS, Yun YH,
and various members of Backcountry Camping

Obviously, it would be inconceivable to have visited Japan and not eaten sashimi. So, we ordered 17 assorted sashimi platters from a restaurant and took them with us on our way back to the campsite. A mere 1000 yen per platter. Five varieties: yellowtail, tuna, halibut, mackerel, and red snapper. Supposedly, all ocean-caught fish, as opposed to farmed. Regardless of origin, it was the freshest, sweetest sashimi that I've had in recent memory, perhaps ever.

Photo: courtesy of Lee Hosup

For dinner on the second night, our team annexed a semi-enclosed structure on-site that housed a number of sinks (for dishes) and several barbecue pits. Temperature-wise, it wasn't that bad, about 0 degrees centigrade, but the piercing winds were painful. In addition to the built-in tables and the electric lighting that we borrowed from the campsite administrative office, the fire that we built in one of the pits made the set-up relatively comfortable. While two other teams braved the outdoors completely, the 4th team gave up the pretense of camping altogether and took refuge in the children's playroom above the restroom building.


Also on the menu that evening, for our team: edamame, barbecued pork bellies, and pork shabu shabu. The edamame was my idea, just to keep it as Japanese as possible. The pork bellies, just because Koreans always have to have pork bellies when camping, especially when there's a fire going. The shabu shabu, which I thought would be overly complicated and unnecessary, actually turned out to be an excellent idea: with the pot of constantly boiling stock, which gave us a welcome source of heat, the shabu shabu method allowed each of us to quickly cook and eat a piece of meat/seafood/vegetables whenever we felt like it throughout the evening; after a couple hours, the resulting indefinable and irreplicable broth was perfect for noodles to finish off the cold evening.

Photo: courtesy of Lee Hosup

I also made sure that the beverages, at least for me, remained strictly local during the trip. While most of the others drank Korean soju, I stuck with Suntory Whisky. In yesterday's post, I alluded to the fact that Koreans tend to stick with Korean food when abroad, and the same apparently holds true with drink. Again, I don't know whether it's because they're unfamiliar with foreign alcohol and don't want to experiment, or it's because they truly prefer Korean booze even when given a choice.



Earlier that day, we had lunch at another local restaurant whose name I never bothered to get. The meal was similar to yesterday's bento, only not in the box. And even smaller in portion, we initially thought the dishes were appetizers. We got what we paid for: the lunch was included in our cheapo tour package that cost 340,000 won for roundtrip airfare, 2 nights of campsite fees, tour bus, as well as 3 lunches. At least they gave us free refills on the rice and miso soup.


After lunch, we spent the afternoon touring other campsites on the island. They were spectacular, particularly the seaside campsite shown in the photo above. Unfortunately, all the good places are closed until the spring.

2.024 Barbecued Sambal-Soy-Soju Shrimp

-Season 2, Supper 024-
29 (Sat) January 2011

-Pan-Asian-
Barbecued Sambal-Soy-Soju Shrimp

* * *

by me

at Aso Bay Camp

-Tsushima, Nagasaki-
JAPAN

with Lee HS, Yun YH,
and various members of Backcountry Camping

I survived--to arrive in Japan, to experience my first ever meal on Japanese soil, to camp out for 2 nights in the dead of winter, and to return safely so that I could write about it here. Although the scope of this blog is generally limited to dinnertime meals, I will take this opportunity to discuss additional foods that we ate throughout the trip; the details about the camping and sight-seeing will be posted on my separate camping blog. In the meantime, check out the Wikipedia entry on Tsushima for background.

Photo: courtesy of Kim Kiho

Just to follow up on something that I mentioned in my previous post, written just a few hours prior to departure, the plane was as bad as I had expected. We took off and landed without incident, but it was scary. On a positive note, the view from my seat of the morning sun was as spectacular as it was scary.


Lunch was part of the package deal, with the restaurants chosen for us. Not a single one was a Korean establishment, which was surprising as virtually every Korean group tour to a foreign country involves at least one if not all of the meals at a Korean restaurant. Partly, this is because Koreans get a kick out tasting their own food overseas, and complaining about it. But mostly it's because Koreans are extremely stubborn in their eating habits and can't really handle "exotic" cuisines very well. Travel-sized kimchi packets and gochujang tubes are sold at airports for those who insist on adding a taste of home to the food when the restaurant isn't Korean. I wonder if Americans ever travel with ketchup packets.


For our first lunch, we had bento, a typical Japanese lunch that consists of a partitioned box filled with rice and tidbits of various items. It was at a small restaurant (they're all small, I think) in the "downtown" area, the name of which I never caught, though I did get a photo of the sign for anyone who can read kanji. I thought the food was pretty good, not quite 4 stars but enjoyable, and everyone else seemed to agree, judging by the fact that all of the boxes were cleared out within 10 minutes.


Still, it didn't stop people from complaining about how salty the food was. That's another thing about Koreans and foreign foods: they think everything is salty. This seems strange, of course, since the Korean diet actually has one of the highest sodium contents in the world, what with all the kimchi. My theory is that the main dishes in a Korean spread, such as the meats or vegetables or stews, are kept somewhat bland, while the kimchi serves as seasoning. In other food traditions, by comparison, which don't have kimchi, the main dishes are themselves seasoned. This wouldn't stop Koreans from eating kimchi (if available) with these otherwise salty foreign foods, at which point they would simply complain that everything is doubly salty.


After a couple hours of exploring the main town, we wandered into a shopping center that had a noodle shop. While the others in the group sat down for a bowl of udon, I decided not to eat anything, for reasons that I can't now fathom, except for a boiled egg (50 yen) and a mug of Asahi draught beer (500 yen). I did get to taste a few of the dishes, and they were pretty good, much more intense than the udons that I've had in Korea or the States. Of course, everyone complained about salty.


Eventually, we were taken to a large supermarket, where we bought groceries for dinner back at the campsite. Having shopped for groceries in a handful of countries other than Korea or the States, I discovered that this newest experience in Japan felt very familiar. Despite everything being written exclusively in Japanese, I found that I could identify almost all of the products, from the fresh vegetables to the meats and seafood and even most of the bottled condiments and packaged goods. Part of it had to do with the inherent similarities between Korean and Japanese food, maybe, but that can't be entirely it because most of my colleagues shuffled around the store in a daze, grumbling that there was nothing to buy. Perhaps I retained something from all those years of shopping in Japanese stores during my sushi infatuation while living in California.


For the purpose of shopping for and paying for and preparing and sharing dinner, our group of 17 was divided into teams of 4-5 members. My team consisted of 5 members, including the only 2 females in the group, one of whom was Yun Yeonhee, a legend in the camping community for her cooking skills. Yeonhee is a close friend and camping buddy whose dishes have been featured three times on this blog (see 1.144 Barbecued Beef Galbi, 1.165 Chicken Porridge, 1.263 Barbecued Chicken Hearts in Sweet-Spicy Red Chili Glaze). So, obviously, my team had a huge advantage come dinnertime, both in terms of drive and know-how. Our grocery bill just for dinner that night came out to about 2,400 yen per person--ouch.

We were the only ones that actually went to the trouble of making a full-course meal. For starters, I made barbecued shrimp marinated in a sambal-soy-soju sauce, along with a salad in a roast-sesame dressing. The shrimp was somewhat of a failure, to me at least, mostly due to insufficient time for the marinade to set in--we were cold and hungry. The same marinade was used to near perfection for strips of pork and beef, which were cooked about an hour later. Unfortunately, I was in no condition or state of mind to take a photo by that point, so the shrimp will have to represent. Yeonhee made rice and kimchi jjigae, which was a great idea, but the quality of the local kimchi rendered the final product a bit iffy in execution. Later, I made a passable yaki-udon for anju. By that time, everyone was crowded around our setup.


Incidentally, one member from a different team brought spices to make kimchi from the local cabbage. I swear, Koreans and their kimchi.

2.023 Yuni Jjajang-Myeon

-Cycle 2, Dinner 23-
28 (Fri) January 2011

-Chinese-
Yuni Jjajang-Myeon

* * * *

from Dongho-Gwan (동호관)
[delivery]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and Nanny 2

Even with 7 prior posts on the general subject (see most recently 1.285 Oryeong Seafood Jjajang-Myeon--shockingly more than three months ago), I still have things to say about jjajang-myeon. The yuni (유니) variation is not a radical departure from the basic version in terms of ingredients; the difference being that meat (typically pork) and onions are minced, as opposed to chopped, giving the sauce a smoother texture. Maybe because the restaurant charges more, around 6,000 won compared to 4,000 at most neighborhood delivery joints, or maybe because the chef has to make it to order, as opposed to just using the basic sauce that's been sitting in a large cauldron since morning, the yuni usually tastes better, a bit "fresher."

By the 23rd meal, I've already blown a large part of my wad, meaning that I've already eaten a lot of standbys and common dishes that will surely come up again, not always by choice, and challenge the "365 unique meals" theme of this season. Jjajang-myeon, for example, is not only the Korean equivalent of pizza or burgers in the States but it's also my personal all-time favorite, so it will be nearly impossible to avoid within the next 342 days. Still, so long as I can continue to present legitimate variations, I believe that the spirit of the endeavor will be maintained.

The reason that I ordered jjajang-myeon this evening, even though I was completely free to save it for another occasion: I'm flying tomorrow to a remote island in Japan for a 2-day camping trip. Back in college, when I flew round-trip at least twice a year between Korea and the States during vacations, I would always have a good meal on the day before departure--just in case. Lately, I'd given up the practice, but I was reminded of it when I learned that we would be taking one of those twin-propellor planes, which gave me pause for thought. To make matter worse, the plane company (I won't dignify it by calling it an actual airline) requested each of us to disclose our individual body weights and insisted that each passenger be limited to 15 kg of luggage, all to make sure that the plane could handle the flight. To make matters worse, snow is predicted for tomorrow. To make matters worse, a fucking volcano erupted yesterday in the general vicinity of our destination. To make matters worse, when I spoke to the travel agency this afternoon and asked if the volcano would be a problem for us, he said, "it shouldn't be a problem."

If it turns out not to be a problem, please look forward to my first post from a foreign land. If it does turn out to be a problem, please know that a large part of my motivation for going on the trip was to expand the horizons of this blog.

2.022 Asadito

-Cycle 2, Dinner 022-
27 (Thu) January 2011

-Paraguayan-
Asadito

* * *

at Comedor

-Itaewon, Seoul-

with MtG

Based on 4 minutes of internet research, "asadito" would appear to be a Spanish term referring to a style of barbecued meat found in certain South American cuisines, though it may have originated from Spain. The only thing I can say for sure is that the asadito at Comedor, a 5-table Paraguayan restaurant in Itaewon, consists of beef and onions and bell peppers, marinated in some undistinguishable and unremarkable sauce, grilled on wooden skewers, topped with overpowering amounts of dried oregano, and served with french fries and a balsamic vinaigrette salad. The salad was okay.


In the interest of full disclosure, the original objective of this evening's foray into Itaewon was to try the new Taco Bell that had opened a few months ago. We actually did have a couple items, but the experience was so thoroughly unsatisfying--in terms of taste, service, and volume--that we left after a few minutes in search of better eats elsewhere. Comedor, which by virtue of its location directly across the alley from my favorite bar in Itaewon (i.e., The Wolfhound) has been on my radar for quite some time, caught our attention. For purposes of this blog, I went with the asadito as the official meal not only because it really was the main course for the evening but also for its novelty.

Incidentally, I thoroughly intend to revisit Taco Bell just for a second opportunity to rant about it.

2.021 Pan-Fried Tilapia with Oyster Mushroom (Mussel-Saffron) Risotto

-Season 2, Supper 021-
26 (Wed) January 2011

-Italian-
Pan-Fried Tilapia
with Oyster Mushroom (Mussel-Saffron) Risotto

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

The risotto portion of the meal made use of the left-over stock/broth from the mussel dish a couple days earlier (see 2.019 Mussels and Oyster Mushrooms in White Wine-Saffron Broth ...with Spaghetti), which I couldn't bear to let go to waste.

While the tilapia fillet wasn't remarkable per se, it is an unusual fish to find here in Korea. Koreans eat a lot of fish, traditionally more so than the beef or pork featured in the table-side barbecue that the nation's cuisine has become internationally famous for in recent years. Living on a relatively small land mass, the majority of which is mountainous, a peninsula with close access to the abundant riches of the Pacific Ocean, the people were naturally inclined towards a seafood diet. However, the fish sold in mainstream markets are surprisingly limited to a handful of smaller species, such as mackerel, silver tail, yellow croaker, and certain varieties of flatfish. I have never in my life seen any kind of, for example, deep-sea fish available for sale, except maybe for tuna, which is almost exclusively sold as sashimi, not for steaks or other cooking purposes. Even salmon is relatively new and rarely accessible outside of Costco. I found the tilapia, frozen and shrink-wrapped, in one of the markets catering to foreigners.

2.020 Dubu Kimchi

-Season 2, Supper 020-
25 (Tue) January 2011

-Korean-
Dubu Kimchi (두부김치)

* * * *

at Gi-Bun-Jo-Ge (기분좋게)

-Sinchon, Seoul-

with Kim IT, Lee HS, MtG

In two prior posts on this dish last season (see 1.176 Dubu Kimchi, 1.341 Dubu Kimchi), I failed to mention that it's more commonly enjoyed as an accompaniment to alcohol rather than a meal in itself. Along with their booze, Koreans almost always have something to eat, which is called anju (안주). Most restaurants and drinking establishments make the majority of their profits from anju sales, given the relatively cheap cost of alcohol (e.g., 2,500 won for a 500-cc mug of draught beer). In fact, many restaurants and drinking establishments won't even serve alcohol without an order of anju. The exceptions to this general rule are western-style bars that primarily sell imported beer, wine, whisky and other hard liquor at exorbitant prices. In any event, dubu kimchi is a popular anju that pairs well both with beer and soju.

This evening, we got together to watch the soccer match between Korea and Japan in semi-finals of the Asian Cup. Another thing about most/many restaurants and drinking establishments is that they have large televisions or projectors for showing international sporting events (e.g, Olympics, World Cup) featuring the national team. For the more important events, the better places are packed with fans who have either reserved a table or arrived hours ahead of time. Korea vs. Japan, regardless of the sport or the stakes involved, is always a big deal. It was a last-minute thing for us, so we were lucky just to get a seat anywhere with a line of sight to the screen.

The game was one of the most unusual I've ever seen. Tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, Japan went ahead 2-1 in the first 15-minute overtime, but Korea equalized at the 14:59 mark in the second overtime, literally at the last second. Amazing. We couldn't stop screaming in celebration. My wife, sleeping at home at the time (around 12:30 AM), was abruptly awoken by all the screaming from the neighbors. Then, in the penalty shootout, Korea missed all three of their attempts. Japan's 3rd goal, after missing one, mathematically precluded the need to continue. Not only did one team fail completely but both teams combined for 3 out of 7. Strange.

We all went home rather subdued, voices rendered hoarse for nothing. Ironically, the name of the bar, Gi-Bun-Jo-Ge (기분좋게), is something of an adverb that loosely translates to "happily" or "in good spirits."

2.019 Mussels and Oyster Mushrooms in White Wine-Saffron Broth ...with Spaghetti

-Season 2, Supper 019-
24 (Mon) January 2011

-Italian-
Mussels and Oyster Mushrooms
in White Wine-Saffron Broth
...with Spaghetti

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

In my limited experience, I've found mussels easy to cook but difficult to photograph. No matter the angle, they all seem to be hiding. My lack of skill in food styling was the main culprit, of course, but the lousy iPhone 3GS camera didn't help.

The spaghetti was an afterthought, but a good one. Though somewhat watery, the broth made an excellent pasta sauce, not unlike a vongole.

2.018 Abalone-Zucchini Scampi with Penne in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce

-Cycle 2, Item 18-
23 (Sun) January 2011

-Italian-
Abalone-Zucchini Scampi
with Penne in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Abalone for the 3rd straight day. What unbridled extravagance! Actually, the in-laws received a box of them as a gift last week for the upcoming Lunar New Year and threw us a few in the season's spirit of charity to the destitute. That was Friday. Yesterday evening, at the restaurant, was a coincidence. Tonight, I wanted use up a few more while they're still fresh. A few stragglers were thrown into the freezer, so expect abalone porridge in the near future. Frankly, I think abalone is one of the most overrated and overpriced ingredients on the market. But I'll take them if free.

As for tonight's meal, it was really 2 separate dishes combined into 1. The first was thinly sliced abalone and zucchini sauteed scampi-style in garlic, butter, and white wine. It turned out so well--perfectly, in fact--that I should've used it as a sauce for the pasta and smugly given myself a 5-star rating. But I had already made a separate sauce, an exquisite tomato-based sauce developed during Cycle 1 (see generally 1.340 Spaghetti Nero di Seppia with Black Olives in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce), with carrots, celery, cabbage, onion, and bell pepper, along with the rind of a parmesan wedge, all simmered for over 2 hours and then blended into creamy goodness, a sauce worth 5 stars on its own. But blind ambition and inexperience tempted me into thinking that the two together would be even better, you know, like synergy. They weren't. The heavier tomato sauce overwhelmed the austerity of the scampi, while the buttery scampi dampened the vibrancy of the sauce.

Courtesy of Dominic, now taking his own food photos