2.033 Roast Duck Noodle Soup

-Cycle 2, Item 33-
7 (Mon) February 2011

Roast Duck Noodle Soup


at Mr. Choi Kitchen (Robinsons Place)

-Ermita, Manila-

with Kim SY

After jjajang-myeon, roast duck noodle soup is my second favorite dish. Unfortunately, it's unavailable in Korea. In retrospect, I'm regretful that I didn't eat more of it when I had easy access--living near Chinatown in LA, for example. With that in mind, I took full advantage of our 6-day honeymoon in Bangkok, where Cantonese restaurants are widespread, and insisted that we have roast duck and/or roast duck noodle soup at least every other meal, including our first and final meals in the country; my wife was then introduced to the dish and immediately took a liking, though not necessarily a loving, to it.

So, for my first ever meal in the Philippines, I was reunited with my precious, a scant 3 hours within arrival. 190 pesos. Alas, it wasn't very good. I also ordered a plate of sauteed mixed vegetables, such a simple dish that's inexplicably also unavailable in Chinese restaurants throughout Korea. 170 pesos. It also wasn't very good. And of course, the local brew: San Miguel. 50 pesos. Very good.

I'm in Manila until Thursday on a consulting job for the WHO.

I had dinner with a colleague/mentor, a professor from Yonsei who's on a research sabbatical here. Fortunately, she knew from past experience that I would want Chinese as a matter of course. A few years ago, on a trip with her and others to London, whenever the group had decided on Korean food, I would get roast duck takeout (or "takeaway," as they call it in London) and sneak it into the restaurant.

As with my posts on Japan, I'll also discuss meals in addition to dinner and other food-related issues during my stay.

Earlier in the day, I had breakfast in the Asiana Business Lounge at Incheon International Airport. I was fully expecting to find that Shin Ramyeon would be the only variety on offer, and I wasn't disappointed. Koreans choose the brand in 99% of cases.  Generally, when it comes to food, Koreans tend to make decisions not by conscious choice, but rather by force of habit, not necessarily because it's good, but because it's just there, and it's always been there, and always will be, so why bother with anything else.  For example, on the camping trip to Japan last week, the default breakfast every morning was Shin Ramyeon, some of it brought from Korea and some purchased in the local supermarket--Japan, the birthplace of ramen, hundreds of brands available, and the Koreans all reach for the Shin. On extended trips to Geneva, I've seen multiple members of the Korean delegation pack boxes of Shin, each containing 20 packages. When I asked why they didn't mix it up a bit, they looked at me like I was crazy.

Anyway, a fat glass of Johnny Walker Black from the complimentary bar helped to wash it down. All flights were delayed that morning due to fog, so I helped myself to 3 more. I love the smell of Scotch in the morning.

On the plane, lunch was seafood in some kind of sauce. With all the advances and improvements in food across the board, I'd think in-flight meals would have benefited in some way, but they seem to be getting worse.

After dinner, back at the hotel, I went across the street to sample the local cuisine. Being in a not-so-glamorous part of Manila, it was a risky move in terms of both personal safety and food safety. From my 3rd floor hotel room, however, I was enticed by the sight of stainless steel pots at some sort of open-air restaurant cum street-side bar, conveniently bracketed by a karaoke on one side and a brothel on the other. I had absolutely no idea what the pots contained, whether they were even filled with food. Up close, I could see that the offerings were various types of braised fish in semi-clear broths or meats in brown sauces. I pointed at the one that looked most accessible, which turned out to be pork in what tasted like a black pepper, soy-based sauce. 30 pesos for a small serving. 8 pesos for rice. All served room/street temperature, not a heating implement in sight. No refrigeration either, come to think of it. In the warm and humid Manila weather, I wonder how long the food can sit before it goes rancid. In any event, it was pretty good.

In the morning, I woke up with slightly puffy cheeks. At WHO, probably the most highly qualified group of people in the country to know about this kind of thing, they said it could be an allergic reaction to a toxin in the notoriously polluted city air--or food poisoning. Damn, I was hoping to go back tomorrow and make the meal an official entry.


  1. WOW! What a surprise! As soon as I've read you called San Miguel "the local brew", I went to Wikipedia to prove that San Miguel was, in fact, a SPANISH beer (yes, I'm that kind of person). But it turned out I was in the wrong... And I've been believing for such a long time that San Miguel was a local Spanish brew....

    You have to hand it to the Southeast-asians: they really know their beer, at least the Vietnamese, the Cambodians, the Thais, the Laotians, the Singaporese, and apparently, also the Philipinos.... The Koreans, on the other hand, DO NOT know how to make proper beer...

    It's actually a mystery to me how a country with such an advanced economy and highly educated population can be so supremely beaten when it comes to mixing hops and barley by a third world nation such as Cambodia? Also considering how cooking and consuming delicious foods, and also drinking alcohol, seem to be the national past time?

  2. Although, come to think of it, I remember once going to a fancy bar in Gangnam that brewed their own beer, which was actually pretty tasty. But why can't the big conglomerates learn that technique?

  3. i'm also THAT kind of person, which u should know by know, which means u should trust EVERYTHING that i write here.

    yeah, i agree 1000% with you about korea beer. it's a gripe that i hold very close to my heart, but one that i haven't yet addressed here in the blog. a couple summary points:

    1. i'm sure it's not that koreans don't know how to make good beer. these days, i'm sure the globalization of information allows any country/company to make any type of beer they want, so long as they're willing to pay for the expertise and equipment and ingredients.

    2. i believe korean beer, probably in the late 60s?, was originally modeled after american lagers, like budweiser, which i think is just one step up from urine. pale, light, no hop, no depth, almost sour.

    3. since then, it's become something of vicious cycle. that's the taste koreans are used to, so whenever they try to introduce something new, say a darker ale-type brew, customers still go for the old stuff.

    4. then again, the new stuff they introduce is usually not very good. as i mentioned above, i'm sure Jinro or OB or whatever could make world-class beer if they really tried, but i suspect they're stubborn/arrogant and therefore try to design their own new stuff, without doing proper research or investing in the right people, and it just comes out crappy.

    5, it does surprise me, as u mentioned, that koreans--who make a lot of money, and have access to many different types of beer, and drink a LOT--don't change their tastes. most individuals who eat/drink something for long enough tend to develop their palate and eventually go for more refined tastes.

    6. that said, foreign beers here are very popular of course, but not in comparison to the local beer. and the popular ones tend to be similar to the local ones, like heineken and asahi.

    7. as for southeast asian beers, i'd bet that they started off with foreign companies just bringing everything with them into the country. my recent exposure to cambodian and lao beers, for example, which were rich and hoppy, very european, makes me think that they were launched with german or belgian expertise.

    8. there was a place called Platinum in gangnam station that made their own beers. don't really remember how they tasted, except for this one with high alcohol content (10%?) that just tasted like they'd dropped a shot of soju into it. there's this new company here, Craftwerks or something like that, run by americans, i think, that makes/distributes ales and pilsners, which can be found in many expat bars and restaurants--not that great, but interesting.

  4. Haha.. I still believe, a minor dose of scepticism towards everything you read is healthy...

    1. I think you're quite right. Considering the rate that Koreans go abroad for study and work, they should encounter other types of beers

    2. That would make sense because of Korea's great dependence on American support etc back then. But let's not forget there are good American beers available as well...Samuel Adams e.g. make some good brews!

    3-4. Then again, as you say, even if they took the effort to actually make a good beer, their customers might still not buy it...

    6. I also remember the foreign beers being available at "normal" bars all being brewed locally on a license, not "proper" imported beer. Not that that should make any difference.

    That said, I was overcome by joy when, at the beginning of my second semester at Korea University, a "Beer market"-style bar opened in Anam (you did a post about a similar place some time ago). I'm talking about a bar that's like a mix between a bar and a store, where you serve yourself from the fridge and pay when you exit. The spread of different beers there was quite good!

    7. You're probably right. But what is confusing is the fact that both of those countries are former French colonies... Hmm.. I should try to research the origin of their breweries.

    8. That might have been the place. I will probably try to find the place again when I'm there next time... (UPDATE: they seem to have closed, and/or are looking for a new place/location (not sure what 모습 means...))

    Another alcohol-related question: is the habit of mixing beer and soju (to make 소맥) common across the board in Korea, or just among university students?

    By the way: I think the readers of the blog would be interested in some day reading a post where you write about different aspect of Korean drinking culture, and/or talk about different type of Korean liquers (such as soju, maekgoli etc).

  5. 6. some of the major brands, like heineken and MGD and Bud and now (for some reason) Hoegarden, are bottle locally by license. but the smaller ones are still imported.

    7. then it probably was france, which also has pretty good beer, even though i don't usually associate them with beer. that makes perfect sense, considering the colonial history!

    i'll definitely focus on booze soon enough. i'll try to pair a certain type with a food, like samgyeopsal with soju.

    but first i have to finish this goddam project.