2.054 Mini Burgers

-Cycle 2, Dinner 54-
28 (Mon) February 2011

Mini Burgers

* * * *

at Yaletown

-Sinchon, Seoul-

with Cho J, MtG, Kim IT,
Kim KH, and Lee HS

Burgers done right, each "mini burger" containing 50 grams of beef and just the right amount of melted cheddar cheese and "cajun" sauce on perfectly toasted buns. The only thing lacking was a vegetable, perhaps an onion slice or leaf of lettuce, that would've helped cut the extremely rich flavors of the other ingredients. At 8,900 won for the set, not expensive, though certainly not cheap.

Yaletown is a burger joint cum bar. It's located near the main entrance to Yonsei University, just a block away from The Kimchi Jjigae. With an owner and staff who speak perfect English, and a constant stream of American sports from the beam projector, the restaurant clearly caters to expats and other English-speaking clientele. It was my 2nd time there, though the 1st to try the burgers.

To celebrate my graduation from graduate school, my friends took me to Yaletown, figuring that I would prefer American food and drink over the Korean offerings that we usually have when in the neighborhood. They were right. Burgers and Jack Daniel's. It was perfect.

Next time, I'll try a full-sized burger. I look forward to it.

2.053 Oryong Haesam

-Cycle 2, Dinner 53-
27 (Sun) February 2011

Oryong Haesam (오룡해삼)

* *

at Dong-Cheon-Hong (동천홍)

-Sinsa, Seoul-

with the Wife

In a prior post, I once waxed nostalgic about the times I'd spent at Dong-Cheon-Hong (동천홍), a Chinese restaurant located half a block away from my wife's "post-partum recovery center" in Sinsa (see 1.257 Tofu with Crab). The memories were evoked upon a visit to the restaurant chain's new location in Samseong.

Then, in a subsequent post, I described the horrible second visit to the Samseong location and declared that that particular branch was banned for life (see 1.305 Shrimp in Chili Sauce).

This evening, returning to the original restaurant in Sinsa for the first time in years, the wife and I were extremely disappointed. First of all, the oryong (오룡) dish that we'd ordered, which is basically a minced-shrimp meatball that's wrapped in sea cucumber and deep-fried, was oily, flavorless, and needlessly spicy--just barely edible. In Cycle 1, I described a jjajng-myeon (짜장면) that included these meatballs done right (see 1.285 Oryong Samseon Jjajang-Myeon). To make matters worse, the dish cost 60,000 won, a ridiculous but typical price for seafood dishes at Chinese restaurants here.

Incidentally, the decision to order something expensive tonight was influenced by the wife's birthday, which was yesterday. We would've gone out for something fancy on the day of, but her recent dental work preventing the act of chewing limited our choices. She opted for the normally reliable and non-intensive gom tang (곰탕), as discussed in yesterday's post, but that turned out to be a failure. Not wanting to spend the special weekend without eating something good, she turned to the pricey portion of the menu as soon as we'd sat down at Dong-Cheon-Hong this evening.

2 things:

1. I will never again pay more than 25,000 won for a single dish at any local Chinese restaurant.

2. I'm placing the entire Dong-Cheon-Hong chain on probation (which should have them quivering in their boots). I'm willing to give the original location a final chance out of respect for its history of excellence, but only if the opportunity were to arise out of unforeseen and/or unavoidable circumstances.

2.052 Gom Tang

-Cycle 2, Dinner 52-
26 (Sat) February 2011

Gom Tang (곰탕)

* * *

at Naju-Gwan (나주관)

-Seongnae, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and the In-Laws

The third variation of beef tang (탕) to be discussed in this blog, the other two consisting of stocks made from bones (see 1.283 Galbi Tang, 2.007 Ugeoji-Sagol Tang), gom tang (곰탕) is the purest form. Its clear stock, made by boiling boneless chunks of beef for several hours, usually brisket or other lean cuts, as well as tripe for extra flavor, after which the fat is skimmed off the top, is minimally seasoned with a touch of soy sauce, salt, and black and/or white pepper. The beef is thinly sliced and returned to the broth, both of which are ladled into individual bowls, topped with sliced leeks, and served with rice and kimchi.

This restaurant normally offers a pitch-perfect broth, served without any additional seasonings to allow the diner to adorn the soup by personal preference. Inexplicably, however, somebody in the kitchen tonight decided to take matters into his own hands and added about 10 tablespoons of white and/or red pepper to each bowl. I should've complained and demanded a new serving sans spices, but Dominic was acting up, and I wasn't really in the mood to argue about the food.

2.051 Crispy Chicken and Shredded Leeks in Sweet Chili Sauce

-Cycle 2, Dinner 51-
25 (Fri) February 2011

Crispy Chicken and Shredded Leeks
in Sweet Chili Sauce

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

A totally unplanned dish. It started with a few pieces of unused chicken from yesterday's (chicken parmigiana) dinner prep, which I cut into thin strips and lightly deep-fried with the unenthusiastic intention of incorporating them into some kind of reliable if predictable Chinese stir-fry in oyster sauce with vegetables. As I was reaching into the fridge for the oyster sauce, however, the sight of a Thai sweet chili sauce prompted me in another direction altogether. To balance out the sweetness of the sauce and the savoriness of the chicken, I added some shredded leeks and sliced green chili peppers for spice. More of an appetizer than a main, it could also work as a salad with fresh greens.

2.050 Chicken Parmigiana with Black Olives and Spaghetti

-Cycle 2, Dinner 50-
24 (Thu) February 2011

Chicken Parmesan with Black Olives and Spaghetti

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Dominic

Parmigiana-style dishes involve breading a thin piece of meat (e.g., chicken) or vegetable (e.g., eggplant) in a mixture of egg, flour, and parmesan cheese, which is then pan-fried in oil and butter, layered with tomato sauce and more cheese, often mozzarella, and finally baked.

Interestingly--or not--the name "parmigiana" may not have anything to do with the region Parma in northern Italy nor the cheese Parmigiano-Reggiano (i.e., parmesan, in English) that comes from Parma. The prevailing and most seemingly reasonable theory aligns with the latter, as parmesan is an integral part of the dish. In the United States, it's called "chicken parmesan," which leaves little room for debate. Most seem to agree that parmigiana dishes hail from the south, either Campania or Sicily, with no relation to Parma. At least one author, according to Wikipedia, offers the following alternative explanation:

"This is an ancient Sicilian dish which, in all cookbooks, is erroneously stated as obtaining its name from Parmesan cheese, which is one of the ingredients. Nothing could be further from the truth. The name "parmigiana" does not derive from that of the cheese but is the Italianization of the Sicilian dialectal word "parmiciana", which refers to the slats of wood which compose the central part of a shutter and overlap in the same manner as the slices of eggplant in the dish." See Wikipedia's entry on chicken parmesan here.

Whatever its etymological origins, my first attempt at the dish was hit-and-miss. I tried a recipe from Cooking Light, an American magazine devoted to "healthy" cooking, so the reduction of salt and outright omission of butter eliminated the possibility of realizing the dish's full potential. Even if I were tempted to make it again, I'd probably start with the recipe for schnitzel that I've used on many occasions featured on this blog (see 1.002 Pork Schnitzel with Garlic Mashed Potatoes), followed by the layering and baking steps. As far as presentation goes, next time, I'll endeavor not to drop the chicken on the way from the baking pan to the plate.


In one of the comment threads from a few days back, I suggested to Lisa, my NUMBER ONE FAN, that we "synchronize" our cooking efforts by making the same predetermined dish, starting with chicken parmigiana. She agreed. Thanks, Lisa! Because she lives in Los Angeles, however, the extent of the mutual experience will be limited to electronic correspondence and digital photos, for now.

About her dish, which she called "chic parm," she wrote: "Mine was provolone. Store-bought breadcrumbs and olive oil/garlic pasta sauce by Bertolli. I'd give mine 4 stars."

From the photo, one obvious difference is that Lisa placed the sauce on top of the cheese, whereas I had layered the sauce directly over the chicken and the cheese on top of the sauce. Now that I think about it, her method is superior in that it would provide the triple benefit of (i) allowing the chicken and cheese to merge into a cohesive unit, which would then (ii) protect the integrity of the crispy breading from the wet sauce and (iii) facilitate plating and presentation, particularly if the sauce were added after removing the chicken-cheese entity from the pan and placing it on the plate. By contrast, my method resulted in a soggy piece of chicken with the cheese sliding off and doing its own thing--again, the whole mess fell apart as I was scooping it out of the baking pan. In my defense, I'd been following the steps in the recipe, though I probably should've known better. I'll definitely try Lisa's way next time.

I hope this will become a regular feature on this blog, open to welcome participation from Lisa or any of my other readers.

2.049 Jeonbok Juk

-Cycle 2, Item 49-
23 (Wed) February 2011

Jeonbok Juk (전복죽)

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

In the last post on jeonbok juk, I noted that my home care regime for a sick family member invariably involves this "alimentary panacea" (see most recently 1.187 Jeonbok Juk).  This time, no one is really ill, but my wife got braces (!!) a few days ago, so she can't really chew anything.

The fact that the dish hasn't been featured as an official dinner in the past 226 days simply means that I personally haven't eaten it for dinner during that time, not that the family has enjoyed perfect health for over 7 months, but it's a pretty good sign.

With respect to presentation, I just discovered the use of oil as an effective garnish. I'd seen professional chefs drizzle olive oil on their finished dishes but never thought about doing it myself. Here, it was sesame oil, which I'd previously mixed into the porridge as the final cooking step just prior to plating.

So long as I'm discussing garnish, I've decided that chopped scallions aren't just a pretty a topping but an essential element to this dish. Not only do they add a welcome crunch to an otherwise mushy texture, they also brighten and balance out the heavy flavors.

2.048 Sae Jogae Shabu Shabu

-Cycle 2, Item 048-
22 (Tue) February 2011

Sae Jogae Shabu Shabu

* * * *

at Geum-Seong-Ho Su-San (금성호수산)

-Namdang, ChungCheongNam-

with Wife, Dominic, and my parents

In Korean, these cockles are called "sae jogae" (새조개), "sae" meaning "bird" and "jogae" meaning "clam," because they feature a pointy appendage said to resemble a bird's beak. Using the appendage like a limb to scuttle around the ocean floor, they require a lot of space to move around, so they're not amenable to farming and don't transport very well or survive in tanks for very long once caught. As such, the clams are generally available only along the western coast, where they're caught and sold within a day or two.

At local restaurants, the most popular method of eating sae jogae is to dip them one at a time in boiling broth along with various vegetables, shabu shabu style. First, the clams are shelled and gutted, leaving only the white flesh. I found the clams to have a delicate flavor-texture tandem that was a bit fishy-slimy when undercooked, bland-rubbery when overcooked, but pleasantly sweet-chewy when done just right--a differential of about 10 seconds between the extremes. Initially, we were skeptical about the broth, which appeared to be nothing more than plain water, but the proprietor of the restaurant reassured us that the richness and saltiness of the clams would act as seasoning soon enough. She was right; in fact, we later added plain water because the broth had become overseasoned. The meal included free refills on the vegetables, as well as a complimentary plate of various raw shellfish and other sides. And of course, a Korean shabu shabu meal wouldn't have been complete without a batch of noodles cooked in the remaining broth at the end: here, a choice of either kal-guksu or ramyeon (Shin, naturally); we tried both and unanimously preferred the former.

The cost of the meal is based on the market price of the sae-jogae, which was 50,000 won per kilogram this evening but fluctuates depending on the season. Each kilogram yields 600 grams of edible meat, according to the proprietor. An order of 2 kg was sufficient for the 4.5 of us. Add 3 servings of noodles at 2,000 won per serving and a couple bottles of soju at 3,000 won per bottle, and the grand total was 112,000 won. Not bad.

It was my mother's birthday. I don't know where she got the idea, but she suggested that we all take a road trip down to the coast to have these clams for dinner at some famous restaurant. After the 140-kilometer drive through 3.5 hours of traffic, we arrived to discover that the restaurant had already sold out of their clams for the day, an occurrence that's actually quite common, or so we were told. Fortunately, they were kind enough to phone around and find a neighboring restaurant that had clams to offer. It was a stall in a long row of identical establishments along the waterfront with a view of the ocean. Although we couldn't compare the experience to the one we had hoped to have at the famous place, we were content with what we got. Even better, they offer day-of delivery service for the same price, albeit without all the freebies, which would still be cheaper than going there to get it, given the cost of fuel and tolls, not to mention time. I have their number, just in case.

2.047 Meatloaf in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce

-Cycle 2, Dinner 47-
21 (Mon) February 2011

Meatloaf in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Something about meatloaf--the way it looks, the way it feels, the way it tastes, the name--prevents me from getting overly excited about it.

2.046 Baeksuk

-Cycle 2, Dinner 046-
20 (Sun) February 2011


* * * * *

at Bae-Bat-Jip (배밭집)

-Gwangju, GyeongGi-

with Wife, Dominic,
Cho JH, Kim IT, Kim KH, Lee HS, MtG, and Yun YH

Baeksuk (백숙) is a classic Korean comfort food consisting basically of a whole chicken boiled in water with minimal seasonings. The dish was featured in this basic form in three prior posts during Cycle 1 (see 1.022 Baeksuk, 1.033 Baeksuk, 1.173 Baeksuk).

At this restaurant cum farm, the chef cum farmer's wife took it to the next level. First, the chicken itself was a free range bird with the distinctive gaminess and chewiness absent in its factory-raised counterparts. I didn't see any chicken coops on site, but I like to imagine that it came from a chicken farm nearby. Second, with the exception of the head, the entire animal was present in the pot, including all the innards and the feet. Third, it was cooked in a pressure cooker, which preserves the texture of the meat by steaming the chicken in intense heat without the violent turbulence of boiling water that causes it to lose integrity and fall off the bone--not a desirable characteristic in baeksuk. Finally, the chicken was served in a richly flavored broth as an integral part of the meal, along with potatoes and leeks. Perhaps it was a bit overly extravagant for baeksuk, the name of which literally means "white" (baek) "cooked" (suk) and refers to the notion that it's supposed to be a chicken prepared simply, without spice. Anyway, the remaining broth was ultimately used to make porridge. The sides were excellent, as well. All for 40,000 won. Outstanding. (We ordered other dishes, but I'll refrain from comment in the interest of brevity.)

The restaurant was one of the most unusual places where I've had the privilege of dining. It was on an actual farm inside a greenhouse with dirt floors. Very cool.

By dinnertime, the group was complete. Earlier that morning, the morning after camping out at Hosu San-Jang (호수산장), we were joined for breakfast at the campsite by one missing member of our group, Iktaek, who had been unable to participate in the previous night's festivities because he had had to attend to his restaurant in Seoul. Despite taking the bus and a taxi to get there, he brought his signature kimchi jjigae with him and cooked it for the rest of us. The baeksuk place was his idea. Hosup and Yeonhee, who had been on away on a separate camping trip that the rest of us had written off as being both too far away and too strenuous, folded their tent early and hightailed it to join us in time for dinner.

2.045 Pan-Fried Pork Bellies: Dipped, Topped, and Wrapped

-Cycle 2, Dinner 045-
19 (Sat) February 2011

Pan-Fried Pork Bellies:
Dipped, Topped, and Wrapped


by Kim KH, Cho JH, and MtG

at Hosu San-Jang (호수산장)

-Yeoju, GyeongGi-

with Kim KH, Cho JH, and MtG

A lot of firsts.

It was the first camping trip of the new year with my family, an event that came about when the wife suddenly volunteered to go--also a first. Originally, the plan had involved just me and a few members of our camping group, including MtG, Kiho, and his wife, Jinhee. With Dominic, we were a party of six.

At dinnertime, the meal consisted of a few random dishes, each prepared by one person or another, all okay but nothing notable. The eating was limited to human proportions due to the absence of our other members: Yeonhee, the camping legend famous for her elaborate campsite banquets; Hosup, the loving husband who lugs all that food to the campsite; and finally Iktaek, the bon vivant who eats all the food and demands more of it.

The Setup. Around midnight, however, things got interesting. The wife and kid had already retreated to the warm confines of our tent and retired for the night hours earlier. With the temperature now below zero and the firewood depleted, the remaining four of us moved our setup into Kiho's "living room" tent, which is sufficiently large enough for at least ten adults to walk around in. We were down to a bottle and a half of soju, just enough for a night cap. Whether intentionally or not, nobody had packed a lot of booze on this trip--a first--so we were all more or less sober by this point--definitely a first. For anju, Jinhee busted out a pile of pork bellies that she'd been reserving for this very type of just-in-case scenario.

The Grill. On this trip, I had packed for the first time a recent gear acquisition: the VHS Grill, so called because it can be disassembled and stored in a VHS case. None of us had ever used it before, but we found its size to be ideal for a variety of tabletop uses, employing either charcoal or small pieces of firewood, such as keeping the hands warm, heating sake in a kettle over coals, barbecuing skewers, and frying small items in a pan.

The Pan. Over the red-hot embers brought inside from the dying campfire outside, MtG fried the meat on my miniature cast iron griddle (that I'd been using as an ashtray), one bite-sized piece at a time. I'm sure that others have used the griddle for this same purpose, but it was a first for us. In addition to preventing flare-ups caused by dripping fat, the griddle cooked the pork bellies to crisp perfection. The entire time, he was so beside himself with amusement that he kept giggling.

The Dip. A first for me, I discovered the joy of dipping pork in a warm brown sludge concocted basically by boiling fermented anchovy paste in soju. Pure anchovy paste, or myeolchi-jeot (멸치젓), smells as bad as it looks, not really intended for direct consumption but added in tiny amounts as a seasoning to kimchi and other strongly flavored Korean dishes. Kiho had made a batch by trial-and-error after sampling the offerings from various restaurants. Prior to this evening, I didn't have an inkling that this kind of sauce existed; if asked, I would've denied that it could possibly work. But the sharp stinging saltiness of the fish complemented the greasy richness of the pork.

The Toppings. After dipping, the pork was topped with a slice of raw garlic, a slice of ultra hot green chili, and a dab of the fermented bean paste called doenjang (된장), all courtesy of Jinhee. Although I'm intimately familiar with doen-jang as a base for soups and stews, many of which have been featured on this blog (see generally 1.174 Doenjang Jjigae), it was my first time eating the paste in its unadulterated form. Moreover, this particular doen-jang was hardcore, made by an old nun in a countryside abbey, intense in flavor, some would say "stinky," compared to the relatively mellow mass-produced versions similar to Japanese miso found in supermarkets. I also generally dislike raw garlic and hot green chilies. But again, it all worked together.

The Wrap. Finally, the dipped and topped pork belly slices were wrapped in leafy greens that nobody knew the names of, also courtesy of Jinhee. All gorgeous, particularly that purple beauty that was amazingly rich and bittersweet--another first for me.

This was very likely the best pork experience that I've ever had in my life. And so unexpected. Part of it may have been the location, the atmosphere, the ridiculous mini pan, the novelty of it all. But what is eating if not an experience?

With respect to the blog, this is the first entry to credit more than 1 cook, the first 6-star rating of Cycle 2, and the first 6-star rating outside of a restaurant environment.

2.044 Oyster Sauce Noodles with Stir-Fried Pork Bellies, Asparagus, and Bean Sprouts

-Cycle 2, Dinner 044-
18 (Fri) February 2011

Oyster Sauce Noodles
with Stir-Fried Pork Bellies, Asparagus, and Bean Sprouts

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Dominic

Essentially the exact same dish that I made once during Cycle 1 (see 1.237 Oyster Sauce Noodles with Stir-Fried Pork Bellies and Bean Sprouts), only this time I committed the cardinal sin when it comes to cooking with bean sprouts: overcooking the bean sprouts.

2.043 Braised Pork Spare Ribs in Tomato-Red Wine Broth

-Cycle 2, Item 43-
17 (Thu) February 2011

Braised Pork Spare Ribs in Tomato-Red Wine Broth

* *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic
... and MtG

Initially, I categorized this as French, primarily because braising big pieces of pork in tomatoes and red wine seems like something the French would do. However, because the dish included such spices as cinnamon, allspice, and cloves, all of which suggest Central America, and because a Mexican hot sauce ultimately proved essential in the final presentation, I've decided to credit the dish to Mexico. The recipe doesn't indicate origin. [Note: since this original posting, I've created a separate "miscellaneous" category.] [Note: since the last note, I've done away with the "miscellaneous" category and recategorized this as French, which I've learned does use all those supposedly Central American spices.]

I got the recipe from a recently acquired cookbook, Meat: A Kitchen Education, by James Peterson. But rather than discussing the finer points of sauces and seasonings and other issues pertaining to flavoring, the book focuses more on the methods of cooking meat--e.g., braising, roasting, grilling--i.e., which method is best for which cuts of meat--e.g., ranging from beef to venison to even foie gras. So far, it's been a fun read, but we'll have to see how good it is in practice.

Getting back to this evening's dish, I knew I wasn't going to like it because I don't like any of the constituent spices, much less all of them combined. But the recipe was specifically for spare ribs, and spare ribs are what I had on hand. In any event, I just wanted to give the method of braising a first try--here, stove top braising in a dutch oven--to get a feel for it, to see how the meat texture would turn out, not so concerned with taste. After 2 hours, the ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, but a bit dry in some places. As for the broth, I ended up adding a liberal amount of milk and sugar to soften it up a bit. MtG, who showed up later in the evening to sample my newest creation, had the idea of dousing it all in Tapatio hot sauce, which improved the situation considerably. At this point, the dish clearly tasted Mexican.

2.042 Chicken Yakisoba

-Season 2, Item 42-
16 (Wed) February 2011

Chicken Yakisoba

* *

at Yaki-Star

-Sinsa, Seoul-

with Dominic

Yakisoba is a Japanese stir-fried noodle dish.  The term simply breaks down into "yaki," which means "fried" (or "stir-fried" really), and "soba," a type of noodle made from buckwheat, even though the dish almost always features flour-based noodles.  Along with the noodles, the dish typically consists of sliced vegetables and meat in a sweet soy/oyster/worcestershire sauce.  It's a common item found in casual Japanese restaurants.  Although I've never made it myself, it seems like one of those dishes that would be difficult to get terribly wrong.

This place managed to get it wrong, terribly, but I won't waste my time going into specifics.

I had my suspicions, given the restaurant's complete emptiness at dinner time, despite its prime location on the main thoroughfare near Apgujeong Station and the CGV movie theater. Opened a couple months ago, it can't help but be noticed by anyone passing by the area, as I do every time I pick up my kid from daycare. Welcoming the addition of a casual Japanese restaurant nearby, which are inexplicably rare in Seoul, I'd been meaning to give it a shot. But wondering what was keeping the customers away, I ordered a single entree to be shared by my kid and me, a trial run based on what seemed to be the safest item on the menu. After one bite, Dominic said he wanted Chicken McNuggets instead.

Incidentally, I was also bothered by their use of disposable service products. The bowl was cardboard/paper. The utensils were plastic. The water, as well as the side dish of pickled radish, came in those plastic cups with the tear-off foil lids, like on airplanes. When I asked for more water, each cup being a tiny 200-ml size, they gave me additional cups. So much waste. I can understand the unfortunate necessity of using disposables in a "fast food" restaurant with high turnover and limited facilities and minimal staff, or on an airplane, or for takeout, but it felt ridiculous under the circumstances.

Moreover, based on the design of the products, I got the impression that it was a marketing gimmick. At another noodle joint that I ran across recently, they served the food in those old-school paper containers once used by Chinese restaurants in the States, even for dine-in customers. When I was in college, I bought Chinese takeout for a visitor from Korea, who was disappointed that the food came in the styrofoam boxes--in fact, she said that the styrofoam defeated the very purpose of the meal, which she had been hoping would recreate the scene in American movies with people eating out of the white containers featuring the red castle printed on the side.

2.041 Shrimp-Shiitake-Broccoli Scampi

-Cycle 2, Dinner 041-
15 (Tue) February 2011

Shrimp-Shiitake-Broccoli Scampi

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic,
and the family of Dominic's "girlfriend"

The term "scampi" can refer to various things: (i) a specific species of prawn (i.e., Nephrops norvegicus, aka langoustine), (ii) shrimp in general (e.g., as a menu category in Italian-American restaurants), or (iii) to a style of preparation that involves garlic, butter, white wine, and usually shrimp of some sort. Hence, my abalone and zucchini dish from a few weeks back (see 2.018 Abalone-Zucchini Scampi with Penne in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce) made use of the broader third definition relating to method as opposed to ingredient. The same goes here. And so long as it's just about method, I see no reason why vegetables shouldn't play a prominent role, as they often do in my own versions, even though I've never encountered a scampi dish in a restaurant that featured vegetables. I could make an entire meal out of just broccoli in the scampi style, whatever the dish would be called.

My 3-year-old boy has a girlfriend of sorts, a classmate at daycare. Her name is Hye-In (혜인). They call each other "yeobo" (여보), a term of endearment equating more or less to "dear" that's used exclusively by married couples. I have no idea where Dominic picked it up, because my wife and I never use it. Anyway, the girl's father has been at me for awhile to get together for drinks, you know, like between future in-laws, so I just invited them all over for dinner.

During the meal, I was reminded of how isolated Korean kids can be when it comes to food, growing up on an exclusively Korean diet. It's intentional, that isolation, derived from a cultural belief that anything beyond rice and soup and kimchi is unwholesome at best, decadent at worst. To this day, my mother-in-law disapproves that I feed Dominic pasta, even organic wholewheat pasta in marinara sauce made from fresh tomatoes, which she categorizes as Western junk food. In Hye-In's first Italian experience, she nibbled at the shrimp but couldn't handle the broccoli, all a bit too garlicky or buttery for her uninitiated taste buds apparently. She also had some trouble with the crab and asparagus risotto, especially the asparagus, all a bit too rich perhaps. Those two dishes had been prepared specifically with the kids in mind, but maybe it was unfair to assume that other toddlers are as gastronomically flexible as Dominic.

2.040 Roast Chicken Quarters

-Season 2, Dinner 040-
14 (Mon) February 2011

Roast Chicken Quarters

* * * *

at Costco

-Yangjae, Seoul-


By myself, eating chicken straight out of the container from a shopping cart in the basement of a warehouse store, paper towels for napkins... Happy Valentine's Day.

2.039 Kimchi Mari Guksu

-Season 2, Dinner 039-
13 (Sun) February 2011

Kimchi Mari Guksu

* * *

at Bon-Ga (본가)

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and my parents

This dish, specifically the one at this restaurant, was featured on two prior posts last season (see 1.011 Kimchi Mari Guksu), so I won't describe it again here. Looking back, it's probably the single dish, the one at this restaurant, that I've eaten in whole or at least tasted on the most occasions in recent years. After all, it's the best menu item at our favorite neighborhood restaurant.

And now, my father insists on it every time he's in the neighborhood. The problem is, the restaurant only has a handful of menu options, so I need to be careful not to get stuck having to repeat myself.

Anyway, the noodles are usually excellent, but something was off tonight. Even Dominic, who isn't very familiar with the dish, it being a bit spicy for a 3-year-old, declared after one bite that the noodles were "boring."

2.038 Pan-Seared Ribeye Steak with Beurre Maitre d'Hotel

-Season 2, Dinner 038-
12 (Sat) February 2011

Pan-Seared Ribeye Steak
with Beurre Maitre d'Hotel

* * * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

My first compound butter, beurre maitre d'hotel, nothing more than butter and parsley and lemon juice. So simple. So awesome.

At the supermarket, I was fortunate to discover that hanwoo (Korean beef) ribeye was on sale at 5,000 won per 100 grams (about $20 per pound). With the recent outbreak of FMD across the country, media reports offer conflicting accounts as to whether local meat, both beef and pork, has experienced price hikes due to tight supply or cuts due to diminished demand. Either way, 5,000 won is pretty cheap by Korean standards. I've seen top-quality beef sell for more than quadruple that price. The steak here, about 400 grams (about 14 oz), cost 20,000 won just for the meat itself.

To the guy behind the counter, I requested 4 cuts, each 3 cm thick. He paused, a strange look on his face, not quite sure if he'd heard me correctly. When I confirmed, he asked what I was planning on doing with them. "Steak." Now even more puzzled, he pointed to a tray of pre-cut ribeyes, each about 1 cm thick, and explained that they were "steak size" and suggested that they would be easier to cook. In the end, after reassurances on my part that I could handle the thickness, he shrugged his shoulders and complied with my order, though apparently unconvinced that anyone in his right mind would want a piece of meat that big.

2.037 Hawaiian Pizza

-Cycle 2, Dinner 037-
11 (Fri) February 2011

Hawaiian Pizza

* *

from Papa John's Pizza

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Dominic

Another one of my guiding principles on eating is to avoid dishes that include fruit, which I despise in general but even more so as an ingredient, especially cooked. Citrus (e.g., lemon) juices and zests are welcome, though absolutely not the flesh thereof. Nuts also.

Thus, I've never liked "Hawaiian Pizza." I once tasted a decent version with high quality Canadian bacon, but the typically cheap ham used by delivery joints makes it intolerable, as here.

However, I always attempt to include my kid in the decision-making process come mealtime, so I was reading aloud from the Papa John's menu and describing the toppings, when the mention of pineapples caught his attention. Dominic was intrigued by the notion of having pineapples on pizza. Although I tried desperately to persuade him on something else, like something with shrimp, one of his favorites, he was adamant. Coincidentally, we had been just discussing Lilo & Stitch, so that may have influenced his decision, not that he knows what Hawaii is beyond the fact that it's some place where the story takes place.

Incidentally, this pizza also falls into that group of pizzas that have lost the right to be considered Italian, an issue that I've discussed in a series of prior posts (see most recently 1.354 Mellow Mushroom Pizza).

2.036 Shin Ramyeon with Bean Sprouts and Egg

-Season 2, Dinner 036-
10 (Thu) February 2011

Shin Ramyeon (신라면)
with Bean Sprouts and Egg


by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-


The decision to eat Shin Ramyeon (신라면) upon my return from Manila was based completely on circumstance and not derived from a desire to construct poetic irony by bookending the comments that I had made on my departure from Seoul a few days earlier. Also, the low rating is due to the circumstances under which I ate or attempted to eat the meal and not related to my general dislike of the brand, which more concerns its exasperating omnipresence rather than its inherent taste or quality.

But more on that later.

The day started out quite nicely, in terms of food, a first for my 4-day trip. At the airport that morning, the Star Alliance business lounge was pleasantly absent of Shin Ramyeon, not being a facility specific to a Korean carrier, and instead offered several items to my liking: basil fried rice, chicken curry, and chicken congee, as well as Johnny Walker Black Label and Coca-Cola Light. It was the best meal that I had during the entire trip.

Due to a lack of seat availability, I had been not-so-reluctantly forced to upgrade my return flight to business class, which was worth every extra mile. Within 10 minutes of boarding, the not-so-unattractive flight attendant offered me a choice of beverages (yes, the flight attendants are progressively hotter as the seat prices go up). I chose the bubbly, obviously.

I find business class meals to be ridiculously amusing in a number of respects. (1) A printed menu is provided and describes the offerings like actual restaurant food. I chose the "Sauteed Seafood Delights in Mandarin-Style XO Sauce with Steamed Rice." (2) A stewardess/waitress comes in advance and writes the order down. (3) This part of the procedure features recommendations from a wine and liquor list, which is included in the menu. (4) Before the food is served, a white table cloth is draped over the "table" extracted from the armrest. (5) The meal is served in separate courses: appetizer, entree, dessert. (6) The silverware, which is not provided in a plastic bag but wrapped in an actual linen napkin, includes one implement for each course. (7) The napkin is an actual linen napkin. (8) The salt and pepper come in miniature porcelain shakers. (9) The several varieties of bread rolls, not just a simple white buns, are offered in a basket by a roving stewardess/waitress with tongs. (10) The butter is provided in a dish, not a plastic cup with a tear-off lid.

Although the food was marginally better than the crap served back in coach, particularly in terms of ingredients, it's still airplane food. They also provided a tube of gochujang, just in case the Korean passengers can't wait 2 hours for Korean spices.

But the best part of business class that can't be disputed is the booze. I asked for a "big" glass of Scotch after dinner, an 18-year-old Chivas Regal, and the lovely lass gave me the fattest pour that I've ever seen outside of home. For scale, I placed the glass next to a bottle of 250-ml water. I had 3 more just like it during the flight. Incidentally, I think the only thing better than a business class seat, even better than a first class seat, is a business class seat with an empty one beside it.

Anyway, by the time I got home, I was too drunk and too tired to do anything about food. I wanted some kind of spicy to wash away the icky from the past few days, but the only thing available that didn't require more than 10 minutes of prep was a single package of Shin Ramyeon, which I hadn't purchased but had involuntarily acquired through some promotion at the supermarket. And then my wife arrived to rekindle a fight that had started and not been resolved prior to my departure. So I really wasn't in an eating mood.

What a lousy 4 days.

2.035 Pritong Paborito

-Season 2, Dinner 35-
9 (Wed) February 2011

Pritong Paborito

* *

at Mangan
(Robinsons Place)

-Ermita, Manila-

with Kim So Yoon
and various medical students from Yonsei University

For the third night in a row, I had dinner in a shopping mall, the same shopping mall, the shopping mall where the food on the previous two nights hadn't been very good. The choice of location, the mall, as well as the specific restaurants within it, was determined on all occasions by my host, Professor Kim, who is likely the most risk averse person that I've ever met when it comes to cultural experiences. Her residence is attached to the mall, and she refuses to leave the building after 6PM. I'm not averse to eating in malls per se, but come on.

In any event, the food was pretty bad. Nobody in the group was familiar with the local fare, despite having been here for nearly 2 months on internships, Professor Kim for over five months, so we had to guess at what to order based on the blurry photos in the menu. We ended up with a platter of deep-fried items: fish of various types, pork bellies, and what appeared to be quail, though it could've been any manner of small bird. 670 pesos. The platter was accompanied by an array of sauces, which were either too salty or sour or sweet or spicy for anyone's liking. Again, as with the buffet yesterday, I don't know if it was the food itself or poor preparation by the particular restaurant, but I wasn't digging it.

Even lunch had been a disaster. With other WHO staff, we went to a semi-fancy Spanish restaurant in a 19th-century colonial villa with uniformed staff and table linens--features that had been absent in my extensive mall dining experiences thus far. Among the lunch specials were either deep-fried fish or beef tongue. In my personal code of food consumption, one of my fundamental principles is to avoid eating the protuberances of an animal, including the tail, feet, genitalia, ears, and tongue. I also don't like the inner workings of the animal, but I'll make an exception for certain types of intestines prepared in certain ways. I make oxtail soup for my family on occasion, but I never eat it myself. Anyway, despite the violation of the code, I went with the tongue just to try something new. I hadn't had a good meal since arrival, so I was hoping for a revelation. In nearly 40 years of consuming beef, it was the first time that I stopped with one bite--I've even finished a plate of beef gone bad (see 1.303 Grilled Beef Ribs), but this was too much. It was like making out with a bull that suffered from halitosis. The code, always remember the code and never deviate from it.

I would've gone out for a late-night snack in an attempt to salvage the day, food-wise, but some of us went out after dinner for activities that primarily involved alcohol in places that required us to surrender phones equipped with cameras. That part was fun, at least.

2.034 Buffet Highlights: Gatang Sigarillas and Bicol Express with Sinangag

-Cycle 2, Item 34-
8 (Tue) February 2011

Buffet Highlights: Gatang Sigarillas + Bicol Express + Sinangag


at Cabalen
(Robinsons Place)

-Ermita, Manila-

with Kim SY

For the first-time experience with a national cuisine, a buffet offers the obvious benefit of providing an opportunity to sample a wide variety of dishes. Here, my first time with Philippine food, the buffet was a modest affair, at least by Korean or American standards--a 20-table restaurant with a dozen or so "main" dishes, some sides, a salad bar, some desserts--but it helped me get a general idea of what the food is like.

Three dishes were agreeable enough to bring me back for a second helping. One was the gatang sigarillas: a sauteed vegetable with the taste and texture similar to broccoli, cut cross-wise into star shapes. The second was bicol express: sliced pork bellies in a coconut curry. And finally the sinangag: garlic fried rice. I can't say that I enjoyed them, exactly, but they were more accessible than the other dishes available. Overall, the food was reminiscent of other Southeast Asian cuisine that I've had, such as Thai and Malay, heavy on the oil and spices and fish sauce.

Aside from the seasonings, I found that the meat products themselves (i.e., pork, chicken, and fish) were a bit too...flavorful...for my liking. I acknowledge that both the Korean and American standards with which I'm most familiar tend to prefer meats devoid of strong meat flavors.

The problem with buffets, of course, is that the preparation of the food in big batches, as well as the necessity of leaving the food in chafing dishes or on open platters for extended periods of time, can adversely affect the quality. Cost minimization is also a factor, though not necessarily one limited to buffets. Thus, whether the meaty odors were attributable to the lack of freshness or to an inherent gaminess, I don't know. But at 320 pesos person, I have my suspicions. The again, most things in the Philippines are relatively cheap.

Earlier in the day, I had lunch at the WHO cafeteria: Cantonese steamed tilapia, sauteed vegetables, and organic brown rice. The best part of the meal was the Coke.

After work, after dinner, after a few hours of shopping, I stopped by Uncle Choi Kitchen, the Chinese restaurant where I had dinner the night before, for some roast duck and seafood crispy noodles to go. I knew the food wouldn't be so great, but the rest of the mall was shutting down, and I didn't feel too comfortable with street food in the wake of what was probably food poisoning the night before. The noodles were terrible, but roast duck was passable.

I also stopped by a Mini-Stop and got a bottle of Red Horse, an "extra strong" beer (7% alcohol) from the makers of San Miguel. A bit flat in suds, a bit flat in flavor, not as cold as I would like.

My second day of eating in Manila turned out to be worse than the first.

One food-related perk here is AFC, the Asian Food Channel, a 24-hour cable network that plays a variety of food programs from around the world, mostly those of the Food Network from the United States with some Hong Kong and Singapore shows thrown in. My otherwise crappy hotel room, a room without a refrigerator, a room with lipstick stains on the pillow cases, has cable TV. Because Korea doesn't have a food-dedicated channel, I am grateful.

A program that's no longer in production but currently available in Seoul, on the Elle Living channel, is French Food at Home, which was produced in Canada and featured food writer Laura Calder. AFC aired an episode at 2AM. Ms. Calder has both skills and assets. See her website here.