Pages

2.085 Ojingeo Bokkeum


-Cycle 2, Dinner 85-
31 (Thu) March 2011

-Korean-
Ojingeo Bokkeum (오징어볶음)

* * *

by Nanny 2

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife

This popular stir-fry dish consists of squid and various aromatic vegetables--typically garlic, leeks, onions, bell peppers, and carrots--tossed with red chili paste aka gochujang (고추장) and soy sauce and sugar and sesame oil. Literally, ojingeo (오징어) means "squid," while bokkeum means "stir-fry" (볶음). Almost always eaten as a side/main dish accompanying steamed rice, it's identical in essence to the stir-fried mini octopus over rice dish featured in a post earlier this cycle (see 2.005 Jjuggumi Deopbap)--the only difference, apart from the central ingredient, being that the name of one dish refers to the method of preparation (bokkeum) while the other refers to the method of serving (deopbap); in fact, the names are often interchanged: jjuggumi bokkeum, ojingeo deopbap.

2.084 American Burger with Curly Fries

-Cycle 2, Dinner 84-
30 (Wed) March 2011

-American-
American Burger
with Curly Fries

* * *

at Yaletown

-Sinchon, Seoul-

with Cho JH, Kim IT, Kim KH, and MtG

I wrote about this place and their "mini burgers" with enthusiasm in a prior post, noting that "the only thing lacking was a vegetable" and that, thus, I looked forward to trying one of their full-sized offerings, presumably one with vegetables, the next time around (see 2.054 Mini Burgers).

And so, on this occasion, the next time around, I tried their most basic burger, the American: beef patty, bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup (hold the ketchup), mustard, and mayo--all on a slightly toasted white bun.

Apparently, my earlier enthusiasm had been a bit premature.

From the first bite, I was distracted by the taste of the beef. It had that slightly dry herbaceous character, without much fat or other flavor, typical of cheap Australian beef. To make matters worse, it was over-seasoned with oregano, perhaps an attempt to mask the meat's inherent flaws. In any event, the quality of the beef was not enough to sustain the 150-gram patty (about 1/3 pound), certainly not without a whole lot of add-ons beyond the basics. By contrast, the mini burgers came with smaller patties doused in "cajun" sauce.

Maybe next time around, I should order the mini burgers and request a side of lettuce, tomato, and onion.


Every Wednesday, the restaurant provides unlimited refills of their curly fries with a burger order. The fries are excellent, made on the premises from fresh potatoes. But really, at this point in my life, I could afford to do without things like unlimited refills of curly fries.

----

Addendum
5 October 2011

A previous post (see 2.054 Mini Burgers) gave rise to a series of comments ad nauseam concerning the term "sliders," which one reader pointed out is what these burgers are called by a segment of the population in certain parts of the world. The comments spilled over into this post, which is about the same restaurant. Sensing no end in sight, I summarized my position and declared the discussion over. Never one to give up the last word, the reader posted her own final comment. Ironically, the comment was blocked by the site's automatic spam filter--the first time ever on this blog. I'm assuming that the filter was triggered by the length of the comment.

2.083 Grilled Pork & Onions with Salsa in Lettuce Cups


-Cycle 2, Item 83-
29 (Tue) March 2011

-Mexican-
Grilled Pork & Onions with Salsa in Lettuce Cups

* *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

After arriving home late this evening and opening the fridge to see what I could throw together for dinner, I discovered a handful of thinly sliced pork shoulder, the white core of an iceberg lettuce head, and an open jar of salsa that probably ought to have been tossed for being well-past its date of expiration (it didn't taste like it'd gone bad, although it didn't taste exactly right, either).  This was the result.  Not bad for a late-night throw-down employing leftovers, but the seasonings were way off.

2.082 Noodle Box

-Cycle 2, Dinner 82-
28 (Mon) March 2011

-Pan-Asian-
Noodle Box

* * *

at Noodle in the Box
(Hyundai Department Store)

-Apgujeong, Seoul-

with Dominic

In a prior post, while ranting about the use of disposable packaging as a marketing gimmick (see 2.042 Chicken Yakisoba), I cited a noodle joint that serves food in "those old-school paper containers once used by Chinese restaurants in the States." That noodle joint was Noodle in the Box. Recently, they opened a small stall in the food court at Hyundai Department Store.

For starters, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the food came in a porcelain dish, along with reusable bamboo chopsticks and a reusable plastic cup for my beverage.

The food itself was okay. I ordered their signature "Noodle Box": stir-fried rice noodles with bean sprouts, pork, and mussels in oyster sauce. At 6,000 won, it wasn't expensive but a bit skimpy in portion. Most promising were the noodles, which were wide like chow fun and cooked perfectly to maintain their chewy texture--both a rarity here in Korea. Their other dishes, each inspired from different parts of Asia, with names such as "Curry Chicken Noodle Box" and something called "Shanghai Spicy Noodle Box," also feature the same noodles. I may go back for another shot.

2.081 Linguine con Spinaci alle Vongole with Oyster Mushrooms

-Cycle 2, Dinner 81-
27 (Sun) March 2011

-Italian-
Linguine con Spinaci alle Vongole
with Oyster Mushrooms

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

As noted in a series of previous posts, my vongole pastas include many ingredients that may or may not be considered traditional (see 1.069 Spaghetti alle Vongole, 1.130 Creamy Fettucini alle Vongole, 1.170 Casarecce alle Vongole, 1.293 Linguine alle Vongole with Asparagus, 1.313 Spaghetti Nero di Seppia alle Ersatz Vongole). One such ingredient is white wine, which I read somewhere is common to vongole pastas in the Italian-American style but not in the Italian-Italian tradition.

I've finally come to terms with the unavoidable fact that the quality of a wine incorporated as an ingredient makes an enormous difference in the finished dish, particularly when the dish involves a light sauce, such as pasta alle vongole. That seems patently obvious now, this late in the game, but not so much at the get-go. Most recipes call for "dry white wine," without further comment. Some TV chefs have been heard to advise something like, "If you can't drink it, don't cook with it," but, seriously, with the exception of wines that have gone bad due to age or poor keeping, what wine these days can't be drunk?

Anyway, looking back at my own hits and misses, I see that the wine was the ultimate determinant, all other factors being more or less equal. My heavy-handed approach to vongole favors oaky full-bodied chardonnays that provide a solid base for the butter, herbs, and aromatics that I tend to use. In tonight's miss, I employed an overly acidic and wispy sauvignon blanc that resulted in a slightly tart sauce that wasn't as savory as I would've liked.

The problem here in Korea is that wines are still relatively expensive. Anything of quality will run close to 20,000 won and up. Anything below 10,000 won will likely be poorly balanced and short on flavor. Wines in that sweet spot, between 10,000 to 15,000 won, a good price range for daily drinking and cooking, are hard to come by.

2.080 Creamy Chicken & Veggie Soup

-Cycle 2, Dinner 80-
26 (Sat) March 2011

-American-
Creamy Chicken & Veggie Soup

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Without much to say about tonight's soup, I draw your attention instead to the chicken itself. The supermarket was offering a promotion of sorts: a smaller "young" chicken, or yeong-gye (영계), stuffed down the ass of a larger "native" chicken, or tojong-dak (토종닭). Incidentally, the big bird went into the soup, whereas the little one is on ice and awaiting its as-yet-undetermined destiny. I had to buy a set if only for the opportunity to showcase the happy combo on this blog. Enjoy.

2.079 Barbecued Ogyeopsal

-Cycle 2, Dinner 79-
25 (Fri) March 2011

-Korean-
Barbecued Ogyeopsal

* * * *

at Bon-Ga (본가)

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

I once described samgyeopsal (삼겹살), or unadulterated pork bellies, as "unquestionably the king of barbecue here in Korea" (see 1.005 Barbecued Samgyeopsal). In that post, I noted that the term literally means "three" (sam) "layer" (gyeop) "cut of meat" (sal) .

Would that make its heftier big brother, ogyeopsal (오겹살), the emperor? The prefix "o" (오) means "five." It's essentially the same thing as the 3-layered cut with the addition of 2 more layers: another layer of fat and the pig's skin. As the long strips are cut horizontally into bite-size pieces prior to eating, each bite contains a multi-textural combination of tender flesh, crispy fat, and chewy skin. Although I'm not a huge fan of pork skin per se--some specialty restaurants offer it as an item on its own--I can appreciate that the feel and flavor of the collagen contribute to a more dynamic experience than that of standard pork bellies sans skin.

2.078 Tostada-Taco-Burrito-Enchilda Combo


-Cycle 2, Item 78-
24 (Thu) March 2011

-Mexican-
Tostada-Taco-Burrito-Enchilda Combo

* * *

at Los Amigos

-Itaewon, Seoul-

with Kim IT, Lee HS, and MtG

Still in search of a decent Mexican joint in Seoul, and this place certainly isn't it. Located half a block off the main drag, Los Amigos is perhaps the largest restaurant in Itaewon--and the emptiest. This was my second visit, both times equally devoid of customers. It was so quiet that we could actually hear staff talking in the kitchen.

Clockwise from top left: beef tostada, chicken taco, chicken burrito, beef enchilada, refried beans, rice.  All okay.  26,000 won plus 10% VAT.

2.077 Linguine con Spinaci in Creamy Scampi Sauce with Bell Peppers, Mushrooms, and Shrimp

-Cycle 2, Dinner 77-
23 (Wed) March 2011

-Italian-
Linguine con Spinaci
in Creamy Scampi Sauce
with Bell Peppers, Mushrooms, and Shrimp

* * * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Dominic


As indicated in prior posts, I'm not really into pasta dishes with cream sauces and, perhaps for lack of enthusiasm, don't make them very well (see 1.130 Creamy Fettuccine alla Vongole, 1.132 Spaghetti with Mushrooms in Cream Sauce). I have nothing against cream per se, but I just prefer sauces with the liveliness of tomatoes or, even better, the subtle savoriness of white wine and seafood.

But this time, I think that I've finally gotten it right, something of a compromise between all three. Butter, garlic, fresh parsley, and white wine in the scampi style, along with shrimp stock and whole shrimp, as the basis of the sauce. Yellow bell peppers for zest. Mushrooms, just because I like their earthy flavor in everything. And finally, a scant tablespoon of cream and a few grates of fresh parmesan cheese to round things out without making it too rich or heavy. This may have been one of the best pasta sauces that I've ever made. (I don't think the spinach pasta influenced the dish's final profile to any significant extent, but maybe.)

Initially, I'd been more focused on presentation, which didn't quite turn out as hoped. I was going for a look consisting of 3 colors in complimentary tones: green pasta on a bed of white cream sauce with yellow accents from the peppers. But the pasta lost most of its color in the cooking, the sauce ended up more beige than white, the mushrooms got brown (as I should've anticipated), and the shrimp went pink (as I should've anticipated).

I was motivated to get a bit fancy, going so far as to buy the spinach pasta for this purpose, in anticipation of the 3rd in-sync cooking with Lisa. This time, it was "Battle: Shrimp" (as she put it).

Originally, we had agreed to each make a secret dish involving shrimp and then exchange photos and comments afterwards. My ass-kicking entry was a shrimp bisque (see 2.063 Tomato-Basil Shrimp Bisque), but Lisa was unable to participate that week. Or she wimped out upon seeing the bisque. In any case, she recently sent me her late entry: this shrimp scampi with spaghetti. Instead of posting it retroactively, I decided to make a scampi dish of my own.

In her own words: "Been thinking about shrimp scampi for days and finally made it. 3 stars. I forgot to salt the boiling water so the pasta was a bit bland. I seasoned the shrimp scampi and it was a bit salty. I forgot to add a bit of white wine that the recipe called for, though I'm not sure what that would've done."

Previously, I discussed the various meanings of "scampi" (see 2.041 Shrimp-Shiitake-Broccoli Scampi), one of which pertains to all shrimp as a menu category and another to a style of cooking shrimp (among other seafoods) that involves butter, garlic, and white wine. With Lisa's admission of leaving out the white wine and the apparent lack of garlic from the photo, I'm assuming that her scampi is line with the more general definition of the term.

If I'd been asked to choose one of these 2 offerings based solely on the photos, I would've gone for Lisa's. Like I said above, I much prefer lighter (looking) pasta dishes.

2.075 Fish Katsu


-Cycle 2, Item 75-
21 (Mon) March 2011

-Japanese-
Fish Katsu

2.5

at Heo-Su-A-Bi (허수아비)

-Suwon, Gyeonggi-

solo

Fish katsu is a Japanese dish.  Exactly the same thing as the more famous/common tonkatsu, or the less famous/common chicken katsu, only with fish, usually cod or some equivalent chunky white fish.

This restaurant, the oddly named Heo-Su-A-Bi (허수아비), which means "scarecrow" in Korean, started out with a handful of items on the menu, all don-katsu variations prepared in the authentic Japanese style. As I noted in the don-katsu post above, most offerings at mainstream restaurants here in Korea tend to be "weak, a sliver of dry meat overfried in a thin, oily breading-like covering." A few years ago, however, a wave of new restaurants began to offer don-katsu that's more in line with the real thing, "thicker, juicier cuts of pork, and breading that's light and flaky, like tempura." Heo-Su-A-Bi was one such place.

On this visit, the first in years, I took concerned notice that their menu had expanded to include items that aren't strictly Japanese, like kimchi udon. From a business perspective, I can see why a restaurant would do this, given the omnipresent demand from local diners to Koreanize everything. But from a culinary perspective, I interpret the menu bastardization as a bad sign. Case in point, the fish katsu had already lost something.

2.076 Ugeoji-Seonji Tang Leftovers with Steamed Rice


-Cycle 2, Item 76-
22 (Tue) March 2011

-Korean-
Ugeoji-Seonji Tang Leftovers with Steamed Rice

* * * *

from ? [takeout]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

Seonji (선지) is boiled beef or pork blood.  When boiled, the blood turns black and solidifies into chunks with a not-entirely-pleasant soft and crumbly texture and a not-entirely-unpleasant taste resembling nothing else that I'm aware of.  That distinct flavor of sundae (순대) (blood sausages) (see 1.048 Sundae with Ddeokbokki), as well as their dark color, comes from the blood.   In a prior post, I described a beef tang (탕) (soup) made with ugeoji (우거지) (outer leaves of napa cabbage) (see 2.007 Ugeoji-Sagol Tang); sometimes, these soups contain nuggets of seonji, giving it a similar flavor.

Presented here are the leftovers of an ugeoji-seonji tang brought home from some restaurant by our nanny for lunch.  Although I'm growing to like the taste of seonji, I'm still not a fan of biting into it, preferring instead to mash it up into the mix.  I do love ugeoji, however, especially when prepared spicy.  So, I was eager to scrounge what little remained in the pot, even though most of the broth was gone by that point, making it more of a topping than a soup.

2.074 Smoked Salmon on a Garden Salad in Caesar-Tapatio Dressing


-Cycle 2, Dinner 74-
20 (Sun) March 2011

-American-
Smoked Salmon on a Garden Salad
in Caesar-Tapatio Dressing

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Recently, my fat ass not only hampers the joy in camping but also grows bigger because of it. It starts at home as I'm getting dressed, as I'm squeezing my lard log legs into the stretchy hiking pants that I wear for outdoor activities and feeling the strain. At the campsite, I can barely manage the outdoor activity of bending over to pound tent pegs into the ground. Once complete, I settle into a chair and stuff my double-chinned face with food and drink and cigarettes for the next several hours. I wake up the next morning, actually just a few hours later, all bloated and hung-over. Even crawling into and out of my tent has become embarrassingly ungraceful. It's disgusting.

So, I'm putting myself on a diet. I don't really anticipate much of a visible cut-back in my dinners as far as this blog is concerned--diet or not, everything still has to look and taste good. I still used salad dressing this evening, even though my ass could've gone without. However, I will reduce the actual amounts that I eat for every meal. Mostly, the diet will mean no alcohol for awhile, which eliminates both the empty calories from the booze itself and, more important, the food that inevitably accompanies the booze, often late at night just prior to bed. I did something similar last year, strictly no alcohol from around mid-November to mid-December, and I lost about 6 kg. And yes, I'm well aware of the dangers in weight yo-yo-ing.

2.073 Pork Japchae

-Cycle 2, Item 73-
19 (Sat) March 2011

-Korean-
Pork Japchae (잡채)

* * * *

by Yun YH

at Imjin-Gang Pokpo Eojang (임진강폭포어장)
[campsite]

-Paju, GyeongGi-

with Cho JH, Kim KH, Lee HS, MtG, Yun YH

Japchae (잡채) is a dish comprised of glass noodles and thinly sliced and parboiled vegetables--typically spinach, carrots, onions, and shiitake mushrooms--and usually pork or beef, though it can be purely vegetarian, all of which are seasoned with sesame oil and soy sauce and then tossed together.  The name literally means "assorted (jap) vegetables (chae)."  Someone once told me that the name's etymology is the same as Chinese chop suey, but I've never bothered to confirm this claim.


Not that we ever need a specific reason to go camping, but this time we gathered to celebrate the birthday of one of our members, HS.  His wife YH, a legendary campsite cook whose dishes have been featured several times on this blog (see 1.263 Barbecued Chicken Hearts in Sweet-Spicy Glaze, 1.165 Chicken Porridge, 1.144 Barbecued Beef Galbi), told the rest of us to leave the food to her.  Nobody objected.  One of the dishes that she served, much to everyone's delight, was japchae.

The birthday boy, holding a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label (my contribution to dinner)


The birthday toast, all with Snow Peak titanium cups

Having grown up in California, I seem to recall japchae as something of a staple at any big gathering within the Korean-American community--for example, at holiday barbecues or church picnics.  If someone had asked me about the dish before this weekend, I probably would have described it as a rather commonplace item, one that's made in bulk and cheaply for large groups eating buffet-style.


Now that I look back at the last few years here in Korea, however, I'm beginning to realize that japchae is regarded more highly in the motherland.  It's a specialty item found either in traditional Korean restaurants as part of a multi-course meal or at home on special occasions when the cook wants to impress the guests.

Either way, it makes sense. The process of making japchae is quite time-consuming and labor-intensive, each ingredient requiring individual preparation before being mixed with the others in the end.  It demonstrates care.  But so long as one is willing to go to the trouble, a large quantity takes about the same effort as a small one (i.e., think of the difference between making a cake and a cupcake).   In fact, I've never seen anyone make a small quantity of japchae.  All of the ingredients, as described above, are relatively affordable.  And once finished, the dish holds up quite well in the open for extended periods: it's meant to be eaten at room temperature, nothing in it spoils easily, the elastic noodles don't get mushy, and the oil keeps everything from drying out.

Anyway, the japchae on this particular evening was great.

2.072 Seafood Udong

-Cycle 2, Dinner 72-
18 (Fri) March 2011

-Chinese-
Seafood Udong

* * *

at Hwang-Geum Ryong (황금룡)

-Seongsu, Seoul-

with Wife and MtG

Yet another mediocre offering from what has apparently become my family's go-to neighborhood Chinese restaurant, a place that I've covered in 3 prior posts (Add Imagesee 1.178 Seafood Jjambbong, 1.222 Happy Family, 2.011 Deep-Fried Shrimp in Cream Sauce). After this 4th occasion, the place is averaging 3 stars. We need to find a better go-to.

I've described the background of this dish, though from a different restaurant, in another previous post (see 1.243 Udong).

My cousin Hyunjoo's husband, Tack-Hwan, recently commented upon seeing this blog for the first time: "Your posts are often not compliments but rather saying that a certain restaurant is mediocre."

Granted, I don't give stars generously here, whether a dish was made in a restaurant, at home, at a campsite, or in a factory. I'm extremely picky about the food that I eat, yes, but I'm also honest about it, and I try to be objective. I'd like to think that any rave on this blog means that the food was actually pretty good.

Another thing is that the purpose of the blog is not to seek out good food. Frankly, I'm not sure if any purpose exists beyond keeping a record of my daily dining habits and thoughts on food for my own benefit. My number one fan Lisa once referred to the whole endeavor as "narcissistic." As I mentioned in the NOTE on the RATING SYSTEM on the home page, I do try to eat the best dinner whenever I can, but often I eat whatever comes my way, regardless of how many stars that the meal may produce.

Nevertheless, as of this post, only a small minority of my experiences have been negative. Out of 437 dinners, 226 (51%) have been good or better with 4 stars or more, 152 (35%) have been so-so with 3 stars, and only 59 (14%) have been less-than with 2 stars or less. A point of clarification, a 3-star rating does not mean that the dish was bad, just that it wasn't particularly good. And seriously, I'm content with 3 stars any day.

2.071 Red Jambalaya with Shrimp and Smoked Sausage


-Cycle 2, Item 71-
17 (Thu) March 2011

-American-
Red Jambalaya with Shrimp and Smoked Sausage

2.5

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with DominicAdd Image

Jambalaya is an American meat and rice dish. Originating from the culinary melting pot region around Louisiana, where Creole and Cajun cuisines developed from European, African, and Asian influences. Most sources seem to agree that the dish came about via early attempts to recreate Spanish paella. Among the many differing theories as to the etymology of the name, I'm going with the Oxford English Dictionary's claim that it relates to the French "jambalaia," which means "mish mash." The "red" Creole version of jambalaya contains tomatoes, whereas the "brown" Cajun version does not.

I was prompted to make this dish in the wake of a recent visit to my cousin Hyunjoo's apartment, an event described in a post a few days ago (see 2.067 Shiitake Mushroom-Swiss Cheese Burgers with BBQ Sauce). Among several bags of recently acquired groceries in her kitchen were a couple packages of smoked sausage. I ended up taking one home. This jambalaya was the result.

The sausages came in a bag stuffed with other goodies that she had handed me as we were walking out the door. At home, I discovered that the bag also included a pair of ribeye steaks and a package of bacon. Granted, she and her husband live in a much bigger apartment in a much better neighborhood than we do, but not sufficiently bigger and better to put my baby cousin in a position to provide me with free groceries. Does she think that I'm destitute?!?! I haven't gotten around to inquiring about her motives. While I'll eat the food, gratefully, I think it's kinda funny.

2.070 Shrimp Shabuki in Ponzu Sauce with Golden Enoki Mushrooms


-Cycle 2, Item 70-
16 (Wed) March 2011

-Japanese-
Shrimp Shabuki in Ponzu Sauce with Golden Enoki Mushrooms

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, DominicAdd Image, and Nanny 2

In several previous posts, I've discussed shabuki, my variation on the shabu shabu format (see generally 1.008 Beef Shabuki).

It works with any kind of meat amenable to being quickly cooked in bite-sized pieces in boiling stock, such as shrimp, as here.

Ponzu, a soy-lemon-sugar concoction, is the dipping sauce of choice in our home.  For tonight's post, I've brought attention to the sauce to highlight the addition of golden enoki mushrooms, which had played a prominent role in another dish a few days ago (see 2.066 Risotto with Pan-Seared Scallops and Golden Enoki Mushrooms).  Here, the fragrance of the mushrooms was so powerful that the ponzu sauce immediately took on the flavor once the mushrooms were tossed into the bowl, raw, just prior to dining.  Good stuff.

2.068 Chicken Caesar Salad

-Cycle 2, Item 68-
14 (Mon) March 2011

-Italian-
Chicken Caesar Salad

1.0

at Costco

-Yangjae, Seoul-

with MtG

Caesar salad is an Italian salad--maybe.  Generally, it's  attributed to Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who created the dish at his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, and later offered it as his subsequent restaurants in Los Angeles, where it became famous.  Given the salad's primary ingredients--romaine lettuce, olive oil, garlic, wine vinegar, lemon juice, freshly ground black pepper, salt, egg yolks, parmesan cheese, croutons, as well as Worcestershire sauce and/or anchovies--it feels Italian.

The version at Costco is plentiful and cheap at 5,000 won. But otherwise a bucket of crap. That chicken, for example, is it boiled? Like most prepared foods at Costco, however, I'm regretfully sure that the price will persuade me to come back for more.

On a totally unrelated note...

Every 14th day of the month in Korea is designated as some ridiculous romantically-oriented special occasion. It starts with February 14th, Valentine's Day, when girls present their boys with chocolates and other gifts. This is followed by White Day, March 14th, when the boys reciprocate. My favorite one is April 14th, Black Day, when those without significant others get together and wallow in their common shame by eating jjajang-myeon (짜장면), black bean sauce noodles.

This year's White Day, I had dinner at Costco with my gay lover MtG (no, not really my gay lover). We had to discuss our plans for a business that we're contemplating (actual, not monkey, business).


In my defense, I asked him to meet me at Costco so that I could buy my wife a last-minute White Day gift: a bottle of Kirkland-brand super omega-3 fatty acid capsules. She's been harping about them for months. Maybe not such a great defense after all. But hey, for Valentine's Day, she got me a set of cutting boards. From Costco, no less. Marital karma.

And my wife had a prior engagement, a company party.

2.069 Gganpung Squid


-Cycle 2, Item 69-
15 (Tue) March 2011

-Chinese-
Gganpung Squid (깐풍오징어)

1.0

at Hyeon-Gyeong (현경)

-Suwon, Gyeonggi-

with Kim HJ and Park HY

Whereas ggangpung typically involves chicken (see generally 1.264 Gganpung Gi), maybe pork or shrimp, none of us had ever seen it done with squid.

Come to think of it, other than this dish, I can't recall ever having seen squid as a featured menu item in Korean-Chinese restaurants, even though it's a common ingredient in many seafood ensemble dishes.


Regardless of the main ingredient, the dish here wasn't that great.  Way too greasy, for one thing, as evident in the pool of red chili oil seen in the photo.  It was perhaps the worst item that I've ever had at this restaurant.

Hyeong-Gyeong is a famous Chinese restaurant chain.  They have a location right in front of Ajou University Hospital.  Delivery 24 hours.  The food is never particularly great but usually reliable for an unremarkable 2.0 meal.


Tonight's meal was on my mother's dime.  She's currently recovering in a VIP room at Ajou University Hospital after a successful operation to realign her deviated septum, the procedure performed by Dr. Kim.  She gave me her credit card to treat him to dinner in gratitude.  Dr. Park tagged along.  We had many dishes throughout the evening, as well as more than a few bottles of gaoliangju.  Thanks, mom.  And thanks, Dr. Kim.  

2.067 Shiitake Mushroom-Swiss Cheese Burgers with BBQ Sauce

-Cycle 2, Dinner 67-
13 (Sun) March 2011

-American-
Shiitake Mushroom-Swiss Cheese Burgers
with BBQ Sauce

* * *

by Hyunjoo Hahm

at her home

-Seongbuk, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, Hahm IS, Hahm HJ, Kim TH,
and other guests

With respect to when it was eaten, sometime after 2PM, this cheeseburger plate represents the earliest meal to be regarded as "dinner" on the pages of this blog. As the entire meal had left me so stuffed that I didn't eat anything else for the rest of the day, it's a legitimate representation.

My cousin Hyunjoo (현주) and her husband Tack-Hwan (택환) invited my family over for a late lunch to their apartment, along with her sister Eelsun (일선) and Eelsun's friend from grad school and Eelsun's friend's family. The spread: spinach dip and crackers (excellent), bean and sausage soup (awesome), macaroni and gruyere cheese (good), cajun potato wedges (mediocre), and these burgers (could've been very good if they hadn't been overcooked). It was the first time that she had ever cooked for me, and I was impressed with her skills, particularly with respect to seasoning and presentation. Overall, I enjoyed the meal immensely. Perhaps too immensely, in terms of volume. To make matters worse, not a lick of fiber on the menu, aside from the bits of spinach in the dip, to help pull things through in the end. I could tell right away that the meal would go a long way, which prompted me to start taking photos in anticipation of this post.

Dominic, trying to wake me from food coma

2.066 Risotto with Pan-Seared Scallops and Golden Enoki Mushrooms

-Cycle 2, Dinner 66-
12 (Sat) March 2011

-Italian-
Risotto
with Pan-Seared Scallops and Golden Enoki Mushrooms

* * * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Just as I'd always suspected but never bothered to look up for confirmation until now, arborio rice isn't essential to make a proper risotto.

My first attempt at the dish, many years ago in the States, had me dutifully buying that particular variety as adamantly instructed by every recipe that I'd seen. Its high starch content, so they say, provides that distinctively creamy texture that's desired in the dish. I even kept the rice on reserve only for risotto.

Later in Korea, where arborio is expensive and/or nearly impossible to acquire outside a handful of import grocery stores scattered throughout Seoul, I took to using run-of-the-mill medium-grain "sticky" rice. Though acknowledging to myself at first that it was something of a cheat, I began to wonder after several attempts, all of which were nice and creamy despite the absence of arborio: what the hell is the difference?

No difference, really, it turns out. Arborio rice, named for the eponymous town in Italy, is merely a cultivar of the Oryza sativa Japonica sub-species--the very same sub-species to which Korean rice belongs. Granted, differences in terroir may affect the flavors to a certain extent, but the respective starch contents of the two should more-or-less be identical genetically.

Arborio rice, what a scam.

What elevated this dish to 5 stars, however, were the mushrooms. I've used standard white enoki on countless occasions through the years, of course, never even bothering to identify it as an ingredient in any of the post titles on this blog. But this golden variety was a first for me. I hadn't even known they existed before seeing them in the supermarket a few days ago. On a whim, I incorporated them into this risotto. Just a few minutes in the heat, however, they turned an uncouth brown and became somewhat mushy. I tossed a few uncooked ones on top for garnish, for the sake of the photo, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, raw, their slightly crispy texture and slightly bitter earthy flavor contrasted nicely against the soft buttery scallops and creamy cheesy rice. A garnish that actually works.

2.065 Mul Naeng Myeon


-Cycle 2, Item 65-
11 (Fri) March 2011

-Korean-
Mul Naeng Myeon

2.5

at Pyeongga Ok (평가옥)

-Bundang (Seongnam), Gyeonggi-

with Mom and Dad

I've also discussed this restaurant before (see most recently 1.067 Mandu Jeongol), one of the best places all-around for northern-style Korean food.

The mul naeng myeon here is pretty good, done in proper Pyongyang-style.

2.064 Skate Sashimi

-Cycle 2, Dinner 62-
10 (Thu) March 2011

-Japanese-
Skate Sashimi

* * * *

at Do-Won (도원)

-Suwon, GyeongGi-

with Kim HJ and Park HY

Skate, a type of ray called hong-eo (홍어) in Korean, is most commonly eaten here in a fermented form known as hong-eo-hoe (홍어회), a euphemistcally-named dish that I discussed less-than-ethusiastically in a prior post last cycle (see 1.229 Bossam and Hong-Eo Hoe). As I discovered this evening, it's also eaten in actual raw form, differentiated by use of the Japanese term sashimi. I don't know if Japanese tradition includes skate, sashimi or otherwise, but the method of preparation described below is more-or-less Japanese in style.


Apart from the texture, I didn't find the fish to be particularly remarkable. Due to the extensive cartilage within the meat of the wing, a characteristic of rays in general, the chef had to pound/cut the individual slices with the blade of his knife to tenderize it (i.e., breaking down the cartilage) enough for consumption. Even then, the odd juxtaposition of soft flesh and crunchy cartilage in each bite, similar to eating shrimp with the shells, was somewhat uncomfortable for my uninitiated palate. The wing meat was extremely lean and, thus, without a lot of flavor.


On a positive note, the fattier portion close to the neck was free of cartilage and much more flavorful, a clean taste akin to sea bass and other large white fish.


About the skate liver, I had severe reservations at first glance, not being in the mood to ingest slime. "It's just like foie gras!" enthused the chef, encouraging me to try it. Apparently, he had never actually seen foie gras. I managed to get a small glop onto the tip of my spoon and, dabbing a touch of sesame oil and salt, hesitantly flicked my tongue at it. It was awesome--luxuriously creamy, with no trace of fishiness or other off-flavors one might expect from raw fish liver. But nothing like foie gras.


As described in a previous post (see 2.015 Tuna Sashimi), a typical sashimi meal at a mid- to upper scale Japanese restaurant here in Korea involves several courses or sides along with the fish.

salad in soy vinaigrette, fish porridge

No matter how authentic a Japanese restaurant here claims to be,
no meal would be complete without the standard array of Korean condiments:
[clockwise from top left] ssam-jang (쌈장) (spicy bean paste), cho-gochu-jang (초고추장) (vinegar red chili paste), soy sauce, sesame oil with salt.

various raw veggies for dipping in the ssam-jang

various Japanese pickles

assorted non-fish sashimi as appetizers:
[clockwise from top left] sea cucumber, sea snail, octopus, red clam, scallop, sea squirt

Although Japanese miso soup is usually served,
we were offered skate stew made from doen-jang (된장), Korean bean paste.

grilled mero

spicy braised hairtail, aka galchi (갈치)

After the skate sashimi, we were offered choice cuts from other fish, each in ascending order of fattiness.

awabi (abalone)

engawa (halibut fin)
--my personal favorite

hamachi (yellowtail)

hamachi kama (yellowtail neck)
--this may very well have been
the most exquisite single piece of sashimi that I've ever tasted in my life

sake (salmon)

o-toro (extra fatty tuna belly)
--generally the most expensive among mainstream sashimi cuts,
though a bit too rich for me (both in terms of taste and price)

nato (fermented beans)
-uggh

negi toro maki (scallions and tuna belly roll)
--by personal request from me, my favorite way to end a sashimi meal

Under normal circumstances, a sashimi meal of this caliber would run somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 won per person. Perhaps even more with the skate, a specialty item rarely available at most restaurants. At this particular establishment, located a few minutes from campus and thus frequented extensively by faculty, we were only charged the minimum at 70,000 won each. That's still a lot of money on a single meal, but well worth it.

With respect to the 4-star rating, it reflects the skate portion of the meal, which I thought was very good but not enough to take it to the next level. If considered in its entirety, however, the extended meal would certainly have earned the 5 stars reserved for the extra special. A perfect 6 stars for that piece of yellowtail neck.