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2.237 Return of the Typical Korean At-Home Meal


-Cycle 2, Item 237-
30 (Tue) August 2011

-Korean-
Return of the Typical Korean At-Home Meal

* * *

by Nanny 2

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

Although it's been awhile, everything that needs saying about this type of spread has already been said (see 1.276 Yet Another Typical Korean At-Home Meal).

Clockwise from bottom right: bukeo-guk, steamed rice, pan-fried tofu, some kind of namul, kimchi, spicy cucumbers, ojingeo-bokkeum; center: laver.

2.238 Grilled Samgyeopsal with Ssam and Haemul Ssamjang


-Cycle 2, Item 238-
31 (Wed) August 2011

-Korean-
Grilled Samgyeopsal
with Ssam and Haemul Ssamjang

* * * *

at Bon-Ga (본가)

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and Nanny 2

One of the most common items on a Korean table, especially involving Korean BBQ, such as unmarinated samgyeopsal (삼겹살) (pork belly), particularly in a restaurant, is the condiment ssamjang (쌈장). It's primarily doenjang (된장), a fermented bean paste similar to Japanese miso, but with red chili paste (gochujang (고추장)) and chili powder and garlic and sesame oil and sugar and other seasonings to give it a spicy savory sweetness. As the name implies, it's intended to be a sauce (jang) that accompanies lettuce or other vegetable wraps (ssam). A piece of samgyeopsal + a dab of ssamjang + a leaf of ssam = harmony.

At our favorite local restaurant, the ssamjang also includes bits of seafood (haemul (해물)), such as squid, which adds extra layers of flavor and texture.

Tonight was the 3rd going-away party for our current nanny (Nanny 2), who's been with us on and off for the past 4 years, more than all the others combined. For her 2nd going-away party, the subject of a previous post (see 1.114 Grilled Ribeye), we tried to take her to an expensive restaurant only to see that she wouldn't eat anything except free soup because the food was so expensive. This time, we played it safe by going to our much more affordable neighborhood joint only to discover as we were leaving that she had already paid for the meal while we weren't watching. Oh the games she plays.

What with Dominic practically a teenager now, or at least he acts like one, we've decided not to hire a new nanny. Thankfully, Nanny 2 will still drop by twice a week to help with the chores.

2.236 BK Big Fish Sandwich



-Cycle 2, Item 236-
29 (Mon) August 2011

-American-
BK Big Fish Sandwich

*

at Burger King
(Ajou University Hospital)

-Suwon, GyeongGi-

with Lee IH

Sloppy. This is exactly what it looked like as soon as I opened the wrapping. It even had a dab of tartare sauce on top of the bun. And waaaay too much sauce inside the sandwich. The cheese was unmelted and broken into pieces. The lettuce on most fastfood burgers is usually pretty bad, but this was the worst that I'd ever seen. I should've returned it, but I was with a guest (who had fortunately ordered something else). I ended up eating about half the fish and tossing out the rest. Shame on them.

Maybe this was karmic retribution for all my gloating in yesterday's post.

2.235 Garlic Pepper Fried Chicken


-Cycle 2, Dinner 235-
28 (Sun) August 2011

-Chinese-
Garlic Pepper Fried Chicken

4.0

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and Nanny 2

Of the 9 meals that I've given 6 stars, including this one, 4 of them have come within the past couple weeks. I'm either on a lucky streak or feeling especially optimistic and thus generous these days (I've noticed that ratings tend to slip during times of stress or other downswings in mood). Or, as 2 of the last 4, including this one, have been my own dishes, maybe I'm in a groove.

I'll eventually post a recipe, but for now I'll just say that it involves 3 basic steps. First, I dredged the chicken pieces in a cornstarch/flour mix and fried them in canola oil. Second, I made a dressing by simmering garlic and white and black pepper in rice wine and oyster sauce. Third, after the chicken and dressing were complete, I tossed the two together along with fresh parsley. It was awesome.

2.234 Bang-Bal Tofu

-Cycle 2, Dinner 234-
27 (Sat) August 2011

-Pan-Asian-
Bang-Bal Tofu

* * * *

by me

at my parents' home

-Bundang (Seongnam), GyeongGi-

with Wife, Dominic, and my parents

This involved the same nambangsu-sambal dressing as the "bang-bal chicken" from last week (see 2.227 Bang-Bal Chicken) but with tofu as the main ingredient. It was an entirely different dish, due to the tofu's inherently light flavor, which allowed the tanginess of the dressing to come through more prominently, and the use of cold tofu straight out of the container, which made it more like a salad. Also, the tofu came pre-fried, giving the surface a slightly yellow appearance and chewy texture, which was nice.

2.233 Mini Jumeok-Bap

-Cycle 2, Dinner 233-
26 (Fri) August 2011

-Korean-
Mini Jumeok-Bap

* * * *

by Nanny 2

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and Nanny 2

Jumeok-bap is simply rice that’s been seasoned and formed into balls for easy transport and consumption. Referring either to the standard size of each ball or to the shape of the hand as it forms the ball, the name literally means “fist” (jumeok) + “rice” (bap). Seasonings vary in both composition and complexity, sometimes as simple as soy sauce and sesame oil, but the basic idea is that it’s a self-contained dish. Folksy history would have it that the dish was invented in the countryside by the good farmer’s wife, who sent her husband into the fields with a meal that didn’t require separate sauces or side dishes or utensils or special containers.

One of our nanny’s specialties, her method involves first making a complete fried rice, which she then rolls into smaller, pingpong-sized balls in consideration of Dominic. For some reason, the kid doesn't like kim-bap (김밥), the undisputed default food of choice for kids on field trips, so we had to come up with an alternative. They've become something of a default food of choice in our home.

2.232 Service

-Cycle 2, Dinner 232-
25 (Thu) August 2011

-Japanese-
Service

* * *

at Yonggamhan Hyeongje (용감한 형제)

-Sinchon, Seoul-

with Cho JH, Kim KH, Kim IT, MtG, Yun YH

In Korean, the term "service"--pronounced "sseo-bi-seu" (써비스)--refers to a complimentary item provided to the customer at the house's discretion. Within the context of restaurants, it can apply to the expected freebies, such as kimchi and other side dishes that would normally accompany the meal, but most often it's used for special things that go beyond standard protocol, such as a free appetizer or an extra portion of meat. The term enjoys wide application across all industries involving customers and goods: recently, I bought a gym bag at the Nike store, and they tossed in a free shoe pouch, which would be considered a "service."

It was MtG's birthday. I arrived way late to discover that the others had already pretty much finished off the food. Just in the nick of time, however, the waiter brought a plate of various grilled items to our table as a sign of gratitude for having ordered so much and announced grandly: "This is service." Indeed.

2.231 Chunky Tomato Soup with Farfalle

-Cycle 2, Dinner 231-
24 (Wed) August 2011

-Italian-
Chunky Tomato Soup with Farfalle

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Not intended to be a soup, but I added so much stock that it was still loose by the time the vegetables broke down and the flavors were fully developed at that point and I didn't feel like waiting around for it to reduce any further.

The farfalle, which is obviously easier to eat with a spoon, was also a last-minute switch.

2.230 Chicken Soup

-Cycle 2, Dinner 230-
23 (Tue) August 2011

-Chinese-
Chicken Soup

* * * *

by Nanny 2

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

In a prior post about a dish made by our nanny at the time (Nanny 5), I noted that ethnic Koreans from China have developed a hybrid form of cuisine that's somewhere between Korean and Chinese (see 1.251 Pork and Cauliflower Stir-Fry).

Based on numerous observations of our current nanny (Nanny 2--she came back after Nanny 5), I believe that ethnic Koreans from China are unaware that their food is in fact different. Often from small villages populated primarily by ethnic Koreans in remote parts of China, they have a limited and somewhat warped sense of what is authentically Korean and what is authentically Chinese. Our nanny will make something and classify it as "Korean" or "Chinese," even though it's neither here nor there. Once, I requested her help in peeling/deveining some shrimp and she didn't know how and I expressed surprise and she explained that Chinese people don't eat shrimp so she'd never had occasion to. She's made similar claims about bamboo shoots.

Which brings me to tonight's dish. When I arrived home and inquired as to what was available for dinner, she said that she'd prepared Chinese chicken soup. It turned out to be soup made with chicken and garlic and leeks potatoes and carrots. As far as I could tell, not having bothered to ask, it was seasoned with salt and pepper. Granted, it could've been created by someone in China--if nothing else was available except chicken and garlic and leeks potatoes and carrots and salt and pepper. But to our nanny, this represented how the Chinese do it all the time.

Anyway, it was pretty good.

I would've added a bay leaf and celery and called it "American."

2.229 Hai/Hash Rice with Tofu Soup


-Cycle 2, Item 229-
22 (Mon) August 2011

-Korean-
Hai/Hash Rice with Tofu Soup

* * *

at Suninjae (선인재)
(Ajou University School of Medicine)

-Suwon, GyeongGi-

solo

Pretty much what I said 516 meals ago (see 1.078 Hai/Hash Rice with Kimchi-Tofu Soup), only the side dishes this time were more varied and marginally better.

2.228 Auk-Guk


-Cycle 2, Item 228-
21 (Sun) August 2011

-Korean-
Auk-Guk

* * * *

by my mother-in-law

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and Nanny 2

This was my first encounter with auk (아욱), a leafy green bitter vegetable. According to at least one on-line dictionary, it's called "mallow" in English, though I've never been entirely confident with translations of food names. According to Wikipedia, which has its own issues of accuracy, mallow is also known as "malvacaea," a huge family of plants comprising 2,300 species, including some seemingly unrelated members like cotton, kola, okra, and durian (see entry on malvaceae).

Whatever the case, my mother-in-law made a soup of it. In Korean, "guk" is a type of simple soup typically served with rice and other side dishes (see generally 1.027 Kimchi Jjigae and Pan-Fried Hairtail; and see most recently 2.219 Hwangtae Miyeok-Guk). The strong flavor of the soup's base doen-jang (되장), a fermented bean paste, didn't allow for much of the auk flavor to come through, leaving a slightly bitter taste similar to spinach. But it was pretty good.

2.227 Bang-Bal Chicken

-Cycle 2, Dinner 227-
20 (Sat) August 2011

-Pan-Asian-
Bang-Bal Chicken

* * * * *

by me

at the home of the Ka family's grandparents

-Sinsa, Seoul-

with Dominic and the Ka family (friends from daycare)

On the way home from yesterday's retreat, where I'd spent the afternoon slaving over 3 grills to feed 18 people, I got a call from Ka Tae-Young, the father of two kids from my kid's daycare. He asked if I was in the mood to have a roof-top barbecue at the home of his kids' grandparents. When I explained where I was coming from, he paused for a moment and asked, "So, that means you're not in the mood?" I replied, "No, it means that the food and gear are already in the car."

Designed to be an ultra-modern office space of glass and steel on the lower floors,
the theme was applied to the residence on the top floor,
which was cool but seemed like an unusual living environment for grandparents.

I recreated a dish that I'd invented on the fly yesterday, using some leftovers that I'd set aside for the very purpose. Chicken thighs, barbecued and sliced and tossed in a dressing that was 1 part sambal oelek to 4 parts of a Japanese sauce that my mother calls "nambangsu" (based on her reading of the kanji characters on the bottle; I've never seen the bottle, just the liquid itself, which she doles out to me in recycled Vitamin Water bottles). Whatever the real name, it's like a ponzu sauce but lighter and sweeter, or like a tempura sauce but tangier. Combined with the chili garlic sauce, it made a perfectly balanced dressing that was salty and sweet and sour and spicy.

Next time, with a better garnish than stale parsley, perhaps cilantro or chives, this could be 6 stars. Maybe I'll have a better name for it by then (and figure out what nambangsu actually is).

2.226 Gold Mountain Pork Bellies [recipe]


-Cycle 2, Item 226-
19 (Fri) August 2011

-American-
Gold Mountain Pork Bellies [recipe]

4.0

by me

at my uncle's cabin

-Hoengseong, Gangwon-

with Wife, Mom and Dad, and employees from my father's company

The first dish by my own hand that I've felt worthy of 4.0. I got the idea from MtG, who occasionally makes something like it when we go car camping (see 1.193 BBQ Pork Bellies).  It's essentially BBQ dry-rub via the indirect grilling method in a closed kettle grill.  I'm naming the dish in MtG's honor, whose real name is Geum San (금산), which literally means "Gold Mountain," so all of his internet aliases and logins comprise some form of GoldMt or MtGold.

Four super pork belly fillets (ogyeopsal), each weighing about 800 g; standard pork bellies cut to the same thickness would weigh about 500 g each.

I don't know specifically what goes into his dry-rub mix, but I suspect the foundation is similar: a combination of salt, pepper, sugar, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, thyme, oregano, etc. I also added some "cajun spice mix" (from Costco), "dry-rub mix" (from Goode's BBQ), which are pretty much more of the same but with MSG for good measure, as well as powders of cayenne, coriander, ginger, paprika, celery, and onion. I've never bothered to measure out the amounts, but it always turns out more-or-less the same. Someday, I'll attempt to nail down a recipe.

About 80 briquettes to the 3.5 kg of meat.

The key is the temperature inside the grill, starting at around 300 degrees centigrade and gradually dying down to about 150 degrees after 1 hour, which is maintained for another 1 hour. The heat is set initially by balancing the number of coals with the amount of meat and adjusting when necessary through the opening/closing of the air vents. Extreme cold or hot weather can be a major factor. Under the grill, between the coals set to either side, a pan of water adds steamed vapor to the environment and keeps the meat from drying out. MtG tosses in a few wood chips into the pan to add smoke, but I prefer the cleaner flavor without. After 2 hours, relatively free of fuss, a big pile of meat is ready to go, a good way to feed a lot of people at once.

Coals are added when white hot; meat is arranged so as not to be directly above the coals.

As for the type of meat, MtG and I agree that pork bellies are ideal. A lot of the fat drips off during the cooking while moisturizing the flesh in the process. Another benefit of having so much fat is that overcooking isn't a concern, as can be the case with chicken or ribs; leaving the pork bellies in the grill until they need to be served, even for another hour or so, so long as they don't burn, they stay juicy. MtG prefers to rest the meat wrapped in foil for about 30 minutes to firm up the flesh/fat and make them easier to slice/serve; indeed, they can be eaten hours later at room temperature, at which point they have the taste and texture of ham, especially when they've been smoked. I prefer to serve them after about only 10 minutes of resting, just enough to allow the juices to be reabsorbed, at which point the flesh/fat is soft on the inside and crispy on the outside, albeit a bit crumbly throughout.

A bit of charred caramelization is to be expected and ultimately contributes to the taste and texture.

On this occasion, a company retreat for my father's employees, my mother had enlisted me as grill master and purchased the meat under my direction. However, instead of standard pork bellies, she bought the super pork bellies known here as "ogyeopsal" (오겹살), which have an extra layer of fat and the skin (see generally 2.079 Grilled Ogyeopsal). I'm not a big fan of pork skin, but it added an interesting textural dimension to the finished product, a dense gumminess that everyone else seemed to enjoy.

2.225 Cool Caesar Turkey Sub on Rosemary Bread

-Cycle 2, Item 225-
18 (Thu) August 2011

-Italian-
Cool Caesar Turkey Sub on Rosemary Bread

4.0

at Quiznos (Coex Mall)

-Samseong, Seoul-

with Wife

[Note: the following explanation about the rating system was written back when it was on 6-point scale.]

 In case I've never been explicit about the rating system, here's a quick review. 1 star means that the dish was so awful that I couldn't finish it. 2 stars means that I finished it but would never willingly eat it again. 3 stars means that it was neither bad nor good, something that I wouldn't seek out but wouldn't avoid. 4 stars means it was good, though nothing to rave about. 5 stars means that it was either (i) excellent in a conventional way or (ii) good yet somehow different or surprising or otherwise noteworthy. 6 stars means that it was either (i) excellent and somehow different or surprising or otherwise noteworthy or (ii) perfect.

I'm giving this a provisional 6-star rating because I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the notion that a sandwich like this could be so mind-blowingly amazing. I mean, it's a fast food sandwich on mass-produced bread topped with processed meat and processed cheese and processed dressing, which aren't necessarily bad-tasting, though perhaps bad for the health, but they're pedestrian, predictable, not particularly promising. But the combination of the rosemary-infused roll, the sweet turkey, the melted mozzarella, the gooey caesar sauce, along with a generous handful of black olives (at my request), and even the wilted iceberg lettuce and limp slices of tomatoes, resulted in a sandwich synergy that defied the inherent limitations of the ingredients. Hyperbole aside, it just tasted like a pizza in sandwich form, but I wouldn't have thought that a pizza in sandwich form could be so good--in other words, both excellent and somehow different or surprising or otherwise noteworthy; I wouldn't go so far as to call it "perfect."

Then again, I was extremely hungry and excited by the prospect of watching Harry Potter, so maybe I was inclined to be kind.

I'm going to try this same sandwich again, just to be sure.

Incidentally, I couldn't find any mention of this item on the American or Korean Quiznos websites. In the restaurant, it wasn't on the regular menu but on some kind of seasonal specials poster, so time may be limited.

2.224 Pan-Fried Mackerel with Chili-Soy-Cilantro Chutney


-Cycle 2, Dinner 224-
17 (Wed) August 2011

-Asiatic-
Pan-Fried Mackerel
with Chili-Soy-Cilantro Chutney

* * *

by Nanny 2

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

For the most part, Koreans abhor cilantro. They can't seem to handle the herb's distinct perfumy flavor, which is a bit curious given the wide variety of distinct perfumy herbs that Koreans do appreciate, such as perilla leaves (깻잎). Whenever I make that comparison, however, the Koreans always reply, "But perilla leaves are soooo good!" In any event, this general abhorrence explains in part why cilantro is not automatically included as an ingredient in or accompaniment to or garnish on dishes that traditionally would, such as salsa or pho. I would venture to say that the majority of pho restaurants in Korea, which have enjoyed mainstream success for the better part of a decade and no longer rely on annoying foreigners who insist on keeping it real, don't have a strand of cilantro on the premises even as an optional side.

On the other much smaller hand, some Koreans relish the stuff with an almost perverse passion. My friend MtG piles cilantro on everything and in sickening quantity, if and to the extent available. Ethnic Koreans from China, like our nanny, also love it.

Our nanny often brings home huge bundles of cilantro. She buys it at a market in her neighborhood, where it's sold for laughably cheap in contrast to the outrageously high prices at upscale supermarkets and specialty stores catering to foreigners--an issue that I'll reserve for another post someday. Along with garlic and leeks and onions, she likes to use cilantro as a base aromatic, as in this chutney-like concoction.

I couldn't possibly categorize tonight's dish as Korean, given the aforementioned cultural abhorrence to cilantro. That would be like calling something "Israeli Pork Chops."

2.223 Sesame Shrimp Scrambled Eggs

-Cycle 2, Dinner 223-
16 (Tue) August 2011

-Asian-
Sesame Shrimp Scrambled Eggs

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

This dish works for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, as a light main course or as a side dish with rice or even as an anju or late-nite snack, holds up well in the fridge for at least a few days and not too bad when eaten cold. It's one of the simplest, quickest, easiest, tastiest recipes that I know. I got it, more-or-less, from one of my favorite video podcasts called "The Minimalist" with Mark Bittman, a (skilled) home chef cum (witty) humorist cum (insightful) food columnist with the New York Times.

The key is fresh shrimp, which are not only more flavorful themselves but also have more juices to release into the eggs to make them more flavorful as well. This is even more the case with ocean-caught shrimp. I've tried the recipe with frozen farmed shrimp from the bag of Costco-brand shrimp always on standby in my freezer, but then the eggs just taste like scrambled eggs albeit with extra seasonings but without any shrimp flavor.

----

Recipe for Sesame Shrimp Scrambled Eggs
(serves 1)

4 large shrimp
3 medium eggs
1 clove of garlic
3 scallions
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp of butter
1 tsp of soy sauce
1/4 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp of cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp of white pepper
1 tsp of sesame oil
1 pinch of sesame seeds

1. Peel and devein shrimp (if fresh) or defrost (if frozen) and bring down to room temperature.

2. Beat the eggs and add the soy sauce + white pepper.

3. Mince the garlic and dice the scallions.

4. In a pan on low-medium heat, add the olive oil + butter and stir until the butter melts and stops bubbling. 1 min.

5. Add the garlic and saute until soft. 1 min.

6. Add the shrimp + salt + black pepper, saute until the shrimp begins to pink, then remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside [a]. 1 min.

7. Increasing the heat to medium [b], add the egg mixture + scallions (leaving a few behind for garnish) and saute until the eggs come together. 2 min.

8. Return the shrimp to the pan and fold them into the eggs until both are cooked through [c]. 1 min.

9. Turning off the heat, add the sesame oil and toss.

10. Garnish with the remaining scallions + sesame seeds.

11. Serve.

NOTES

[a] If the pan is big enough, the shrimp can be pushed off to the side while cooking the eggs. While this may save the trouble of washing an extra dish, it runs the risk of overcooking the shrimp, which will continue to cook even if not directly over the heat. Overcooked shrimp = not good.

[b] The amount of oil/butter may require adjustment depending on how much was absorbed by the shrimp and how much liquid was released by the shrimp. When adding the eggs, about 1 tbsp of oil/butter should remain in the pan, enough to coat the entire surface of the pan. If it looks a bit dry, which will cause the eggs to stick, add more oil/butter in a 1:1 ratio.

[c] The eggs may be left slightly undercooked and runny, the way proper scrambled eggs should be. Any leftovers that may be stored in the refrigerator or otherwise set aside for later should be fully cooked.

2.222 Bossam with Mumalaengi and Napa Cabbage Wraps [includes recipe]

-Cycle 2, Item 222-
15 (Mon) August 2011

-Korean-
Bossam with Mumalaengi and Napa Cabbage Wraps [includes recipe]

3.5

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and Nanny 2

After discussing bossam (보쌈) in various restaurant reviews (see generally 1.24 Bossam with Kimchi, 1.229 Bossam and Hong-Eo Hoe, 1.347 Bossam with Mumalaengi and Mixed Green Wraps), I now present my own recipe.

This technique accomplishes 3 essential objectives.  First, the steady and intense yet indirect heat tenderizes the meat without compromising its integrity and forcing it to break apart (a problem that I've experienced with boiling).  Second, the constant release of juices from the daepa (large scallion) infuses moisture into the meat and prevents it from drying out during the long cooking process (a problem that I've experienced with steaming).  And third, the aroma of the daepa, as well as the garlic and ginger, permeates the meat to add a subtle dimension of flavor and mask any off-flavors if present (a problem that I've experienced with frozen and/or lesser quality pork).  Foolproof.

(The mumalaengi (무말랭이) (spicy dried radish), a time- and labor-intensive side dish that is way beyond my skill level, was purchased pre-made from E-Mart.)

----

Recipe for Bossam
(serves 3-4)

Cut about 4 cm in width, a pork belly fillet weighs around 500-600 grams, depending on the amount of fat.

600 grams (about 1 fillet) of pork belly
600 grams (about 4 full stalks) of daepa
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 knob of ginger
2 tsp of coarse sea salt
1 tsp of cracked black pepper

Daepa [left] are large scallions [at right, regular scallions are shown for comparison].

1.  Slice the pork belly fillet in half and coat the meat with the salt and pepper.


2.  Slice the daepa cross-sectionally into 10-cm lengths, roughly crush the garlic, peel and slice the ginger.


3.  At the bottom of a large heavy-bottomed pot, arrange a base of daepa stems (more moisture, won't scorch), scatter the garlic and ginger evenly on top, followed by a layer of daepa scapes.




4.  Place the pork belly halves on the daepa scapes and add the remaining daepa in between and on top until the meat is completely surrounded/covered.

5.  Cover the pot, turn the heat on low, and cook untouched for 1.5 hours.


6.  After 1.5 hours, remove the meat from the pot and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.


7.  Slice the meat cross-sectionally into pieces a bit less than 1-cm thick.

8.  Serve with dipping sauces (e.g., shrimp paste), toppings (e.g., mumalaengi or kimchi), and wraps (e.g., parboiled Napa cabbage leafs).

2.221 Gailan in Oyster Sauce

-Cycle 2, Item 221-
14 (Sun) August 2011

-Chinese-
Gailan in Oyster Sauce

* * * * *

at Cheung Kee Myeon-Ga (청키면가)

-Seogyo, Seoul-

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

My favorite style of Chinese food is Cantonese and, within the Cantonese tradition, my 2nd favorite dish is gainlan in oyster sauce. (Number one is roast duck, but that's another story.) Gailan--alternatively spelled "kailan" and usually translated into English as "Chinese broccoli"--is in the same family as and has a similar texture to standard broccoli but more bitter and intense in flavor. It's often prepared simply by parboiling it in water and oil and served with generous dousing of oyster sauce. In this manner, it's a staple side dish in every Cantonese restaurant that I've visited in my travels, from Hong Kong to London to San Francisco, especially in dim sum restaurants, some of which have featured a gailan trolley equipped with a pot of boiling water and oil. For me, a plate of gailan with dim sum (or any Cantonese meal) is like a plate of kimchi with mandu (or any Korean meal)--indispensable.

Allow me to digress for a bit...

Any major Chinatown in the world tends to be predominantly Cantonese, except in Korea. Elsewhere, early immigrants from China, many hailing from Hong Kong and the southern regions--i.e., "Canton," now "Guangdong"--first gathered in ethnic enclaves that would eventually become "Chinatowns." Korea, however, is perhaps the only country in the world with a sizable Chinese population without such a Cantonese Chinatown. The geographical proximity and cultural similarities between the two countries allowed early Chinese immigrants here to assimilate very quickly and smoothly into the mainstream population, thus negating the need to develop a defensive isolation.

The closest alternatives that Korea does have to a Chinatown are: the so-called "Chinatown" in Incheon (see generally 1.285 Oryong Samseon Jjajng-Myeon, but, indicative of how un-Cantonese it is, the most popular restaurant there is the one reputed to have invented jjajang-myeon; the cluster of Taiwanese-style restaurants scattered about Yeonhee/Yeonnam-Dong in Seoul (see generally 1.094 Cucumber Yangjangpi); and the neighborhood of Guro-Dong in Seoul where ethnic Koreans from China, like our Nanny, make their homes.

With respect to food, Chinese cuisine in Korea also adapted to suit local tastes. This resulted in such fusion dishes as jjajang-myeon (짜장면) (see generally 2.193 Jaengban Naki Jjajang-Myeon) and jjambbong (짬뽕) (see generally 1.178 Seafood Jjambbong), which have since come to completely dominate the scene to the stubborn exclusion of other authentic styles. Koreanized Chinese food is so definitive here that Koreans traveling abroad are often shocked, in a bad way, at how different Chinese food is outside of Korea. During a four-day academic conference in Beijing with members of my department, after a single meal at a well-reputed Beijing Duck establishment, a meal filled with incessant and vitriolic complaint (not from me), the group insisted (not me) on eating Korean for the remainder of our meals. A student of mine succinctly summed up the Korean perspective upon his return from a trip to Shanghai by commenting, "There's no Chinese food in China." The point is that authentic Chinese fare, including Cantonese, is virtually nonexistent in Korea, despite certain restaurants these days that claim to be "Cantonese" or have names like "Hong Kong" or purport to offer "Chinatown cuisine."

...Until now.


Cheongki Myeon-Ga (청키면가), a noodle shop in across from the Hongdae campus, has stepped up to deliver the real deal. The menu offers a handful of dishes: "lo mein" with shrimp and/or pork wonton in soup or with spicy pork or braised beef--all of which featured Cantonese-style egg noodles--and of course gailain. It was the first time that I'd ever seen gailan in any restaurant in Korea. The manager informed me that it was grown locally, which bodes well for the possibility that gailan may be available in other restaurants, unless this single farm has an exclusive contract with this single restaurant. Fortunately, this single restaurant parboiled it to perfection. 5,000 won for a small order--worth every won. I also sampled the other dishes, and each one was nearly perfect in terms of taste and texture. On my inevitable and multiple return visits, I'll review the noodle dishes in more detail. For now, suffice it say that nothing was dumbed down or otherwise adapted to accommodate the locals. Out of our group of seven, with nobody else very familiar with Cantonese, I was the only one really digging in, which probably meant that the restaurant was doing something right.

shrimp wonton lo mein noodle soup

As a final note, I'd like to give props to the blogger seoulfood for showing me the way. His review of this restaurant includes a photo of the wonton noodle soup, with gailain visible in a corner of the frame but not mentioned directly (see seoulfood's entry on Cheongki Myeonga), so I'm glad that I was paying attention. Thanks!

Address: Seoul Mapo-Gu Seogyo-Dong 364-1 (서울시 마포구 서교동 364-1) [see addendum below]

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ADDENDUM
13 December 2012

The restaurant has since relocated to Itaewon (see 3.335 Lo Mein Noodle Soup with Shrimp Wontons).

Address: Seoul Yongsan-Gu Itaewon-Dong 128-4 (서울시 용산구 이태원동 128-4)

2.220 Shrimp Fried Rice

-Cycle 2, Dinner 220-
13 (Sat) August 2011

-Chinese-
Shrimp Fried Rice

* * * * *

at Hong Kong

-Namyangju, GyeongGi-

with Wife and Dominic

As promised in a prior post on this restaurant (see 2.193 Jaengban Nakji Jjajang-Myeon), which has become my go-to place on the way back from excursions east, I returned for an opportunity to review their shrimp fried rice. In absolute terms, it's not a great fried rice but deserves 5 stars by simple virtue of it being the closest thing to authentic Cantonese-style Chinese fried rice that I've had in Korea. Whereas typical fried rice dishes in local Chinese restaurants are extremely bland, thus necessitating a side of black bean sauce (i.e., jjajang (짜장))--conversely, one theory holds that the fried rice is intentionally made bland because of the extra sauce--the rice here was perfectly seasoned with a touch of soy sauce, giving it deeper color and flavor. It also had that essential fire-licked smokiness from the wok, another characteristic that's often missing at other restaurants. A bit expensive at 7,000 won, considering its simplicity. But certainly good for what it is.

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Known more for its ski slopes during the winter, Yongpyong Resort offers alternative attractions during the summer, such as the "mountain coaster." It's a single-seater roller coaster outfitted with a hand-operated brake that winds its way on a track via gravity down the mountain.

In between the C and T in "ac_ting," an E was removed,
so now it's perfect.

I mention the coaster only because I was astounded by the sign--astounded that, in this modern age, at a place like Yongpyong, this is the extent of their English.

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Yesterday, we spent the afternoon at Peak Island, the water park, where I encountered an interesting dish called "Italian Cone Pizza" that I thought would be worth sharing here. In fact, I took a range of coverage photos in case I decided to use the dish as the featured item of the day.


The pizzas were available at a snack shop situated inside one of the pools, allowing customers to wade up to the counter and order and eat in the water. With 4 varieties to choose from, I chose bulgogi (불고기)--their best seller, apparently--if only to maximize the silliness of it all. Supreme, hot chicken, and bacon & potato were the other choices. In a cone that looked like and tasted not unlike an actual ice cream cone, the top half of the filling was a combination of cheese, meat, and vegetables (including corn, of course), no sauce discernible, while the lower half was nothing but mashed sweet potato (of course).


On order, the frozen cone was first defrosted in a microwave then finished off in a rotisserie oven that appeared to have been designed specifically for the purpose.


Obviously, it didn't taste anything like pizza, not even like Korean pizza even with the corn and sweet potato, but it was...cute.

2.219 Hwangtae Miyeok Guk

-Cycle 2, Item 219-
12 (Fri) August 2011

-Korean-
Hwangtae Miyeok Guk

4.0

at Hwangtae-Chon (황태촌)

-Yongpyong, Gangwon-

with Wife and Dominic

Miyeok guk (미역국) is a Korean soup. It's made with kelp (miyeok). The seaweed is typically sautéed with garlic and meat in sesame oil then boiled in water to create a thick and almost milky broth that's highly regarded as being rich in iron and other nutrients.   Among the most popular soups in Korean cuisine.  In fact, the soup is served as a matter of life-and-death to a new mother as part of her post-partum recovery regimen, a practice that I described in a prior post (see 2.157 Tofu with Crab). The soup is also served for breakfast on a person's birthday. Generally, it's more commonly found at home, though sometimes offered as a side dish along with a larger spread in restaurants but rarely as a separate menu item.


At Hwangtae-Chon (황태촌), however, the miyeok guk is one of the star attractions. The restaurant, which is located at the entrance to the Yongpyong Resort in Gangwon, specializes in dishes featuring hwangtae (황태), a type of dried pollack famed throughout the region. Accordingly, the miyeok guk here contains hwangtae instead of meat. As a result, the broth is significantly lighter while maintaining depth of flavor. It's perfection. We've been coming to this place for years, often on multiple occasions during a single trip, and everything every time is perfect. And reasonably priced--the miyeok-guk just 7,000 won--even though I'd be willing to pay through the roof for the food here.

Complimentary side dishes, which don't look all that impressive but are seasoned to perfection.


Complimentary hwangtae and tofu soup.


Complimentary tofu on a sizzling platter.


O-Sam Bulgogi (spicy squid and pork belly stir-fry), not complimentary but well-worth the 10,000 won per 200-gram serving (photo shows 2 servings).

Address: Gangwon-Do Pyeongchang-Gun Daegwanryeong-Myeon Hoenggye-Ri 358-5 (강원도 평창군 대관령면 횡계리 358-5)

Phone: 033-335-8885