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2.268 Kimbap

-Cycle 2, Item 268-
30 (Fri) September 2011

-Korean-
Kimbap

* * *

from Halmeoni Kimbap (할머니 김밥)
[takeout]

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

To live or to have lived in Oksu-Dong is to be an eternal votary of this hole-in-the-wall establishment that sells one item: kimbap (김밥), the basics of which I've covered previously (see 1.200 Kimbap). While the ingredients per se aren't particularly amazing in terms of taste, they're generously over-stuffed into each roll that costs a mere 1,300 won. In fact, the low cost does cast a bit of suspicion on the quality. For over 10 years, the price remained steady at 1,000 won, when other places were charging 1,500-2,000 won, even before the "1,000-won kimbap" craze had briefly become the standard at most cheap restaurants during the mid-2000s, but the old woman who owns the place finally poked her head out the door and discovered that it's a new decade/century/millennium.


That old woman--"halmeoni" means "grandmother" or "old woman"--sits behind a table from 7:00AM to 9:00PM every day doing absolutely nothing but making kimbap. She never even looks up when a customer enters. The kimbap are wrapped in foil and ready to go next to an open box filled with money. Customers take as many as they want, do the math, and throw their money in the box and take their own change as necessary. Every morning, usually around 8:00AM, customers line up at the entrance, some eventually making off with dozens of rolls; I've done so myself to feed students during a lunch-time class.

Eggs are cooked into thick omelets, each of which is then cut length-wise into strips;
I managed to get this photo before the old woman looked up and yelled at me.

I arrived home late to find a couple leftover rolls from a lunch gathering that the wife had organized. Normally a 4, maybe even a 5, the kimbap's rating unavoidably dropped down to a 3 after sitting around on the counter for half a day.

2.267 Mabo Tofu Fried Rice


-Cycle 2, Dinner 267-
29 (Thu) September 2011

-Korean-
Mabo Tofu Fried Rice

* *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

Another in a series of using leftover stir-fries as the base for fried rice (see most recently 2.214 Spicy Pork Belly Fried Rice), this one was from the mabo tofu that I made a few days ago (see 2.264 Mabo Tofu with Pork Bellies, Squid, and Broccoli).

Every so often, I appreciate a meal like this because of the convenience that it affords in preparation and the opportunity that it allows, not being particularly amenable to woolgathering, in writing a very succinct post about it.

2.266 Gorgonzola Blueberry Ribeye Steak and Seafood Skewer

-Cycle 2, Item 266-
28 (Wed) September 2011

-Sui Generis-
Gorgonzola Blueberry Ribeye Steak
and Seafood Skewer

0.5

at Outback Steakhouse

-Yangjae, Seoul-

with Kim HJ and Park HY

I knew it. I knew it. I knew it would be bad. When I first saw the television advertisement for this limited-time offer--a spot featuring shmuck/smug actor Jo Insoo reassuring a gaggle of giggling girls that "It's really very good," portending with confidence that it most certainly would not be--I was reminded of that FRIENDS episode in which Rachel accidentally combines recipes for some kind of beef dish and another for dessert, and Joey says "Meat--goood. Jam--goood." Then again, thinking about an unexpectedly fantastic experience that I once had at a humble chop house in Napa Valley with a tri-tip steak smothered in blue cheese, I wondered if perhaps Outback Steakhouse Korea had discovered a secret property of blueberries to synergize with cheese and beef to create a revelatory flavor combination.


But no, it was worse than I'd imagined. The blueberry sauce didn't even taste like blueberries, more like artificial blueberry syrup. A handful of whole blueberries were sprinkled on the platter, very likely the sweetened and partially dehydrated ones found in the frozen aisle at Costco. The gorgonzola also came in two forms, both as unadulterated cheese and as a sweetened whipped butter. All blech individually and together.

We went to Outback Steakhouse to take advantage of their year-long promotion offering everything on the menu at 50% every last Wednesday of the month. Having reserved a table well in advance, we were seated immediately, but I counted at least 50 would-be customers waiting for their turn to indulge in discounted mediocrity. The dish--alas, available only for another couple days, unless it turned out to be so popular despite being categorically repugnant that it becomes a regular menu item--is normally priced at 35,800 won, but it was worth a shot at 17,900 won, if only for something to rant about.

Most of the dinner conversation revolved around how cynical and stubborn I am, or appear to be, about food. In a soon-to-be published anthology entitled Pathological Altruism, writer David Brin notes "A relentless addiction to indignation may be one of the chief drivers of obstinate dogmatism." Although the book provides perspectives on, among other things, the need for certain physicians to insist on a course of treatment in the name of the patient's best interests, even when the patient doesn't want it, I should appropriate the title as a subtitle for this blog.

2.265 Budae-Jjigae Jjambbong

-Cycle 2, Dinner 265-
27 (Tue) September 2011

-Chinese-
Budae Jjigae Jjambbong

* * *

at Hanyang Jjambbong (한양짬뽕)

-Bukchang, Seoul-

with Lisa and Deana Yang

Lisa, this blog's Number One Fan, is in Seoul! Having landed this morning for a 13-day trip, she'll be occupied with work during the first half but promises to allot me some of her time later on. Oh what joy. And finally, she'll be able to comment on some of these posts from direct experience. Oh what joy.

After work, I drove to the Chosun Hotel to pick her up, as well as daughter Becca and sister Deanna, so that we could all go out for dinner. But when I got there, Becca was soundly asleep sucking on a pacifier, and Lisa was passed out sucking on a bottle of Ciroc. So, Deanna and I left the hotel in gadabout mode to see what we could find for takeout. When we turned the corner, I suddenly realized that we were in the main back alley of Bukchang-Dong, which is famous in LA for sundubu jjigae but known in Seoul for its bargain quality room salons and the particularly raunchy and hands-on style of entertainment offered therein (tip: locally, a reference to "Bukchang-Dong-style" has nothing to do with tofu stew).


Scattered amongst the blueish venues, we found a small restaurant offering novelty variations on the Chinese/Korean noodle soup jjambbong (짬뽕), which I've discussed in many prior posts (see most recently 2.244 Hayan Jjambbong). Most orders were between 5,000-7,000 won. We picked the variation involving budae jjigae (부대찌개), a hodgepodge stew that I've also discussed before (see 1.265 Budae Jjigae). However, due to the heaps of seaweed in the dish, it tasted less like jjambbong or budae jjigae and more like the ramyeon Neoguri (너구리), which happens to be my favorite brand though I haven't yet covered it in the blog. I didn't enjoy the dish as much as I might have under better cicrumstances, partially because I'm still sick and partially because the noodles had gotten mushy by the time that we returned to the room, but I was intrigued enough to consider going back for another shot (at something else) if ever I'm in the neighborhood (for something else).

2.264 Mabo Tofu with Pork Bellies, Squid, and Broccoli


-Cycle 2, Item 264-
26 (Mon) September 2011

-Chinese-
Mabo Tofu with Pork Bellies, Squid, and Broccoli

* *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

Suddenly sick with an upper respiratory infection, I've lost my sense of smell, which means that I can't really taste anything, not even something as intensely sapid as this.

2.263 Pan-Fried Imyeonsu

-Cycle 2, Dinner 263-
25 (Sun) September 2011

-Korean-
Pan-Fried Imyeonsu

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

In trying to determine the English name for the fish called "imyeonsu" (임연수) in Korean, I've narrowed the candidates down to the arabesque greenling (Pleurogrammus azonus) and atka mackerel (Pleurogrammus monopterygius), two closely related species and the only two within that genus. Various internet sources alternatively cited one or the other.

With the general lack of consensus on translations between English and Korean for the names of certain animals and plants, I'm wondering if the confusion may be due to the simple fact that an expert has never actually sat down with physical specimens and tested them and concluded that, indeed, the fish known as "A" in English is the same fish known as "ㄱ" in Korean. In some cases, say, where classification may be essential for legal purposes, say, to assess tariffs on a shipment of imported fish, expert analyses have probably been conducted, the results of which eventually get out to the public. But in other cases, the translations probably arise from lay observations concerning appearance, taste, or whatever.

Names aside, this fish is distinctive in appearance for the black bands on it skin, has the firm texture of a standard mackerel but less fatty and lighter tasting, and comes cheap--around 3,000 won for a medium-sized fish. Although a good fish all around for value, it's not one of the more common fishes available at the market not one of the more popular fishes served at restaurants or at home. I don't know why.

I vaguely seem to remember some saying about "Fish and [ ?? ]:
two things that one should never buy at a discount."

At the flagship E-Mart in Seongsu-Dong, at 10PM every night, all the fresh seafood and chicken gets marked down to 50%, which I can't resist snapping up like last-minute tchotchke gifts at the airport duty free store just prior to departure.

2.262 Oxtail Jumeok-Bap

-Cycle 2, Dinner 262-
24 (Sat) September 2011

-Korean-
Oxtail Jumeok-Bap

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic,
and the wife's friend Sung Hee and her kids

Not to lionize corn per se, but I can't overstate the importance of canned/frozen corn in my kitchen. Dominic will eat anything that contains corn, kinda like bait, which explains the presence of corn in so many of my home-cooked dishes. He doesn't enjoy corn by itself--say, corn-on-the-cob or a bowl filled just with corn--only when it's mixed with other ingredients, allowing him to dig through the food and find the individual kernels and yell "corn!" (Personally, I only like corn when it's mashed and distilled and aged and bottled into bourbon.)

I mention corn within the context of my first attempt at jumeok-bap (주먹밥), which I described in a prior post (see 2.233 Mini Jumeok-Bap). I followed our nanny's basic technique of making a fried rice, waiting for the rice to cool, then forming the balls with crushed/shredded laver. Unlike her version, I made them full size, about the size of a baseball (or a fist). I used bits of leftover oxtail from a soup that I'd made a couple days earlier, the characteristically soft-yet-stringy meat providing an interesting texture contrast to the rice. I added corn as a matter of course but discovered that it prevented the other ingredients from coming tightly together and resulted in the balls crumbling at first bite. Lack of integrity aside, they were good. I'll post a recipe next time.

2.261 Wang Tonkatsu


-Cycle 2, Item 261-
23 (Fri) September 2011

-Japanese-
Wang Tonkatsu

* * *

at Namsan

-Namsan, Seoul-

with Dominic

In one of my even-more-verbose-than-usual posts, I provided some general background on the Japanese tonkatsu and how it's (d)evolved in Korea (see 1.302 Tonkatsu).  Like most Koreans, I consider the Koreanized version to be essentially Japanese, because it's still just a deep-fried breaded pork cutlet, even though the thickness of the meat and the size of the bread crumbs differ significantly, even when it's served with Korean side dishes.

The pumped up big brother is the so-called "wang" version.  The descriptor "wang" literally means "king" but it's often used to describe something especially large.  In my two experiences with the dish, both have come not as a single large patty but rather as a pair of largish but not necessarily huge patties, which seems to be something of a cheat, like offering a jumbo shrimp but giving two medium shrimp.


This restaurant is famous for wang tonkatsu.  The establishment also offers fishkatsu, hamburg steak, and a combo plate of all three.  Located just a short stroll from the cable car station for the landmark Seoul Tower on Namsan, it was once a popular destination for couples and tourists, as well as locals, giving rise to a string of competitors along the same street.  In recent times, all but one of the other restaurants have gone out of business and/or transformed into fancier establishments serving pasta or whatever.  But the original remains, old-school as ever, still doing quite well, apparently.

Self-service side dishes, all distinctly Korean, nevertheless suited for the main dish, come in a container that's passed from table to tableclockwise from bottom right: fresh chilies, ggakdugi, kimchi, spicy pickles.

For the first half of the meal, everything seemed copacetic.  The breading was perfectly crisp.  The brown sauce was sweet and savory (maybe a bit too sweet).  Even my picky kid was digging it; in fact, it had been his idea to come.  A pretty good value at 8,000 won.  But then, through the open window of the kitchen, I noticed the cook dumping big scoops of shortening into the deep fryer.  Hence the crispiness.  I have no idea about the trans fat content of domestically produced shortening, nor much of an idea really about the dangers of trans fat, especially in small quantities on rare occasions.  Nevertheless, I started feeling a bit queasy just at the thought of it, even though I'm not at all fanatical about the evils of food additives.  The sauce also became suspect, probably loaded with MSG.  That sweetness suddenly seemed to taste like saccharine.  Old-school, indeed.  I put my fork down.  I didn't stop Dominic from eating but neither did I encourage him to eat more when he started to slow down.

2.260 Regular Chicken Wings


-Cycle 2, Dinner 260-
22 (Thu) September 2011

-Sui Generis-
Regular Chicken Wings

*

at Dillinger's

-Itaewon, Seoul-

with Jang HJ

But I don't know what to make of these wings. Among the 4 to 5 varieties on the menu, we went with the "regular" because they seemed the safest bet. Just to be sure, we asked the server if they were like typical "buffalo" wings, and she said, "Yes, kinda like that." No, as we would soon discover, not kinda like that at all. The wings were coated in a sickly sweet syrup of a glaze that not only tasted horrible but left a sticky residue on our fingers and lips that wouldn't come off with wet tissues. Unpalatable and untouchable. An hour later, by which time we had managed to get through two wings between the two of us, the glaze had dripped down onto the fries underneath and solidified to encase them like miniature logs in a prehistoric tar pit. Disgusting.

Whereas any foreign food that succeeds in penetrating the Korean mainstream is then usurped by that mainstream and bastardized beyond recognition--a cultural custom here that I generally oppose as a food purist who believes in preserving the integrity of the original form or adhering to the fundamentals embodied therein--the act is often justified on the grounds that the end product has been made to conform to local tastes and/or that it's an evolutionary improvement on the real deal. But neither of these rationalizations, or any feasible rationalization, applies here. It was as if the chef had decided to take the concept of the deep-fried chicken wing and mangle it with malice. How apropos of a restaurant/bar named after John Dillinger, a criminal who made his living by rapine and murder.

In a recent issue of 10 Magazine Korea, an English-language culture & events periodical that's available for free in many expat hangouts around the country, the writers listed their top ten favorite joints in Seoul, respectively, for burgers, for wings, and for pizza: Dillinger's ranked 5th on the lists for burgers and best wings. That apparent endorsement was the primary force that got me into the place. Afterwards, in going through the magazine's website to reread what they'd said specifically about the wings, I discovered that Dillinger's is a "supporter" of the magazine, as are several restaurants and bars on the lists. I'm not saying that there's a connection. I'm just saying.

2.259 Farfalle with Turkey, Bacon, and Oyster Mushrooms in Cream Sauce


-Cycle 2, Dinner 259-
21 (Wed) September 2011

-Italian-
Farfalle with Turkey, Bacon, and Oyster Mushrooms
in Cream Sauce

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

In our family, the most irrefragable indicator as to whether something tastes good is Dominic's initial reaction upon tasting it. When he was around 6 months old, and we began to introduce various broths into his diet as part of the weaning process, he would respond very eagerly to soups made from (expensive) top-grade Korean beef but refuse to eat more than the first sip of a soup made from (cheap) inferior imported beef. Despite the amusement early on, a matter of unbridled bragging for a food enthusiast about his child's precocious palate, it quickly became and remains a pain in the ass to satisfy the kid three times a day every day. Still, having personally been persecuted throughout my life for being a picky eater, I now like to point out that Dominic proves my long-held defense that the pickiness is not merely psychological but rather a physiological response to the flavors, both good and bad, that my hyper-sensitive taste buds can recognize--to which my mother, whose dealt with her own pain in the ass for nearly 4 decades, always retorts "It's not the pickiness, it's your nasty attitude."

Fortunately, Dominic isn't nasty about it, not yet. Like with tonight's dish, a passable but far-from-extraordinary cream sauce pasta, he took a bite and thought for a second and shrugged his shoulders and finished around half without ever changing his expression or uttering a word. I'm thankful for small blessings.

2.258 Kimchi-Cucumber Bibim-Myeon

-Cycle 2, Dinner 258-
20 (Tue) September 2011

-Korean-
Kimchi-Cucumber Bibim-Myeon

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Bibim-myeon (비빔면) is a Korean dish consisting of thin flour noodles seasoned with gochujang (고추장) (red chili paste), sesame oil, soy sauce, and sugar. Other ingredients may be added, usually crunchy vegetables, such as onion, carrot, cucumber, etc., as well as kimchi and dried laver and sesame seeds (as I always do). The "bibim" means "mixed" and the "myeon" means "noodles." With contents that are always available in a Korean kitchen, about 5 minutes from start to finish--bringing a pot of water to boil for the noodles, the seasonings are spooned out and the toppings are sliced and everything is combined in a large bowl; the noodles are boiled for 2 minutes, drained and rinsed with cold water to bring them down to room temperature, then mixed by hand (preferably gloved) with the ingredients in the bowl--it's one of the quickest and easiest dishes that I know.

Of course, to get it right, the trick is to balance the spicy-savory-sweet-salty-sour flavors of the individual components, which I can usually accomplish without fail.

That said, what threw me off tonight was my concurrent objective of nailing down a recipe that I could post on the blog. I tend to cook by feel, eyeballing amounts and adjusting along the way as necessary. But, in trying to establish exactly how many tablespoons of this ingredient and how many teaspoons of that, I got so lost in the details that it ended up being overly or underly spicy-savory-sweet-salty-sour all at the same time. While the ability to make a dish without referencing a set recipe may be the acme of a chef's prowess, the transcription of those instincts onto paper is another ability altogether.

For no particular reason, another in the recent series of cloud photos,
this one in front of my office as I was getting ready to go home.

2.257 Fried Chicken


-Cycle 2, Item 257-
19 (Mon) September 2011

-American-
Fried Chicken

* * *

from E-Mart
[takeout]

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

Although fried chicken straight up has always been one of my favorite foods and thus a happy choice for any given meal, I'd been avoiding it at dinnertime during the past couple years because of the blog, especially within the current cycle's self-imposed restriction on repetition. I'd been saving the fried chicken post for a special occasion or for a particular plate of fried chicken deemed worthy of the singular honor. After 310 days (see most recently 1.312 Fried Chicken), the long-awaited revenant turned out to be a bucket of cold bird on 30% markdown at E-Mart. It's pretty good in a piece or two as a snack, especially when it's just out of the fryer, but not so much as an entire meal in itself, especially when it's been sitting around for a few hours. But the price of 5,235 won for a full bucket was irresistible.

I'm a huge sucker for E-Mart's late-night, last-minute, everything's-gotta-go sales (see for example 2.217 Jambalaya Chicken, 2.243 Sutbul-Hyang Steaks).

2.256 Farfalle with Oyster Mushrooms and Corn in Blush Sauce

-Cycle 2, Dinner 256-
18 (Sun) September 2011

-Italian-
Farfalle with Oyster Mushrooms and Corn
in Blush Sauce

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Pleonasm.

2.255 Turkey Breast and Mozzarella Salad in Caesar-Tapatio Dressing


-Cycle 2, Dinner 255-
17 (Sat) September 2011

-American-
Turkey Breast and Mozzarella Salad in Caesar-Tapatio Dressing

* * * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

After the boiled chicken breasts and the sausages smothered in cream sauce from the past two days, I've settled somewhere comfortably in between the extremes with this light and tasty and nutritious dish. Now, if I could eat something along these lines every day, followed by a postprandial stroll or some other physical activity to kick the metabolism in gear, then I'd have a bona fide diet going.

2.254 Assorted Sausages in Carbonara Sauce

-Cycle 2, Dinner 254-
16 (Fri) September 2011

-Italian-
Assorted Sausages in Carbonara Sauce

* *

at Woodstock

-Gangnam Station, Seoul-

with Kim JO and Kim HS

Woodstock is not a restaurant but a bar. Located near Gangnam Station (강남역), an area teeming with English language schools and English language teachers, the management clearly caters to the younger expat crowd with the loud music (mostly rock and classic rock from their CD/LP library proudly displayed behind the bar), the types of booze (microbrews and other imported drafts), and the low prices (happy hour 10,000-won pitchers of local draft from 6-9PM, sausages were 12,000 won).

I'm definitely getting old, as evident in the need for me to point out that the music was loud. We were there because my friend Jay, who wears skinny jeans even though he's my age, wanted to listen to loud music.

As a bar patronized by customers who don't insist on anju, the food choices were limited to a few appetizers and snacks, such as these sausages smothered in cream. From a punctilious perspective, the dish in all its fatty glory would appear to void the extreme diet that I had launched yesterday, but we shared it between the three of us, so the net calories were kept to a minimum. Then again, we also shared 2 pitchers of beer. And I had 3 double bourbons. So, yes, maybe the diet is thankfully over already.

2.253 Boiled Chicken Breasts

-Cycle 2, Dinner 253-
15 (Thu) September 2011

-American-
Boiled Chicken Breasts

* *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

solo

In a resounding and resolute end to the relentless bacchanalia that was my summer vacation, I place myself on yet another crash diet. Just the sight of these chicken breasts, which look this way because they came from a whole bird, is enough to kill my appetite for days to come.

With the start of the fall semester a couple weeks ago, I dusted off my work clothes--trousers and dress shirts that I haven't worn since the end of the spring semester--but realized with horror that everything was stretching at the seams. Today, one of my students had the gall to comment, with an undisguised snicker, that I appeared to have enjoyed myself during the break. What a jerk (me, not the student).

2.252 Calzone

-Cycle 2, Dinner 252-
14 (Wed) September 2011

-Italian-
Calzone

* *

at Costco

-Yangjae, Seoul-

solo

Introducing the newest item on the food court menu at Costco Korea: the calzone. It comes in only one style consisting of ground beef and bits of sausage (the kind found on their combination pizzas), along with minced onions and bell peppers and a whole lot of oregano, mixed with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella in a folded pizza crust. 4,000 won. It wasn't entirely awful, just a little awful. If it sells well, then I anticipate the bulgogi calzone to inevitably follow--and that will be awful entirely.

Speaking of awful, the loyal patrons of Costco Korea have created their own unique side dish to accompany the calzone or whatever they've purchased to eat at the food court. Concocted on the spot from the complimentary condiments available, it's nothing more than ketchup, mustard, chopped onions, and sweet pickle relish mixed together into a redish-yellowish-whitish-greenish mash. They do this on a separate plate, requested for this very purpose, necessary because they make so much of it, a fey look on their faces as they pile it on, most of which they'll throw away. Not only does it taste vile and look disgusting, it's also wasteful. Awful. Without exaggeration, 9/10 tables feature this monstrosity. Costco Korea probably goes through more ketchup, mustard, onions, and relish than all the other Costcos throughout the world combined.

Leftovers from a group of women at the adjacent table;
when I asked to take the photo, one of them said, not knowing my objectives,
"We can tell you how to make this for yourself."

In essence, it's a kind of banchan (반찬), the small side dishes that come as a matter of course with any Korean meal (kimchi being the most common) (see generally 1.058 Nurungji Baekban). By force of extended habit, banchan are also served with any non-Korean meal here in Korea: Italian restaurants have pickles, Chinese restaurants have pickled daikon, even Indian/Thai/Brazilian restaurants have been forced to create their own spicy/sour banchan, Mexican restaurants are fortunate to have salsa and jalapeno peppers that fit the bill. Koreans traveling abroad are notorious for their single-serving packages of kimchi, which are conveniently sold at the airport.

2.251 Abalone-Corn Chowder with Toast


-Cycle 2, Dinner 251-
13 (Tue) September 2011

-American-
Abalone-Corn Chowder with Toast

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

I added the toast in hopes of upping the panache but instead it made the dish look (and taste) rather gauche.

2.250 Deep-Fried Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce

-Cycle 2, Dinner 250-
12 (Mon) September 2011

-American-
Deep-Fried Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce

* * * *

by my cousin Jinseok [shrimp] and me [sauce]

at my uncle's home

-Seongsu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, Mom and Dad,
and various maternal-side relatives

Happy Chuseok (추석).

The occasion is usually celebrated with a wide variety of traditional Korean foods (see generally 1.021 Jesa Spread). But my mother and our family members in that generation have reached the age where full compliance with tradition has become too much of a physical and psychological burden, and they were never sticklers even in their prime. As such, the number of offerings on the table has significantly been cut down to a bare minimum in recent years. No one really seems to mind, as overeating and regretting it has always been a problem on this food-centric holiday (for most families, I'd imagine).

Within the next 5 years, I anticipate that the next generation will take over the food responsibilities--not only for this particular holiday but for all of our family gatherings. Until that time, we're dilatorily phasing toward a complete transition by contributing a bit more every year. Lately, we've been charged with appetizers. At present, however, out of all the cousins and their spouses comprising this next generation, only 2 individuals are able to cook and both of them are men and one of them is me. This means that our contributions collectively have thus far tended to be somewhat more masculine (e.g., deep-fried shrimp) and/or less Korean (e.g., cocktail sauce). Unless the others get involved, which I don't see happening anytime in the next decade or so, the whole family will soon be having ribs and pasta on New Year's Day.

2.249 Smoked Salmon with Artichoke Hearts and Capers

-Cycle 2, Item 249-
11 (Sun) September 2011

-Sui Generis-
Smoked Salmon with Artichoke Hearts and Capers

* * * *

at The Terrace
(Grand Hyatt Hotel)

-Namsan, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

In response to the surprised disappointment that I expressed over the food, my wife declared that the Hyatt buffet had always sucked. But I could've sworn that it had once been one of the better spreads on the scene, back when buffets in general were cool and hotel buffets in particular were primo. "And when was that?" she asked. "Around when I was in high school," I replied. "That was more than 20 years ago," she said. "Fuck," I said.


The meal was part of the Grand Hyatt Hotel's "Chuseok (추석) Package," a deal that included overnight stay. 150,000 won for the stay (single, facing the rear), a pretty good value per se insofar as the occupancy of a hotel room can really be worth that much money, but certainly more reasonable when factoring in the complimentary use of the swimming pools the following day. 80,000 won for the meal (two adults, kid free), not too bad in light of what it normally costs (55,000 won + 10% service charge + 10% VAT per person) or what we might've paid at a full-service restaurant elsewhere in the hotel, but the quality and creativity and variety of the food were all subpar: the buffet was a single circular table with a handful of salad items and appetizers, sushi, carved meats, and hot dishes, none of which was particularly tasty or interesting; the featured photo shows something that I made, which rated 4 stars only because I was so happy to find artichoke hearts, a rarity in Korea.

Arguably the grandest and most elegant entrance of any hotel in Korea,
especially at night during the Christmas season.

Chuseok, Korea's most venerated national holiday, represents the celebration of the autumn harvest. Ideally in large gatherings of the extended family (if possible), ideally in the family's ancestral hometown (if possible), ideally with obscene amounts of traditional food and drink (if possible), it's celebrated over 3 consecutive red-letter days, the middle day being the main day, allowing a day each for getting ready (food), gluttony (food and drink), and recovery (drink). During this time, many/most families also engage in elegiac rituals for their ancestors, a somewhat incongruous part of the otherwise life-affirming festivities. It's calculated on the lunar calendar and thus corresponds to different dates on the solar calendar every year (for the gainfully employed, the best-case scenario is to have the 3-day period start on a Monday or a Wednesday and thereby create a 5-day vacation when combined with the weekend on either side); this year, for example, it began on a Sunday (making it a 4-day vacation with Monday and Tuesday being free).
Our rear-facing room was 30,000 won cheaper than the frontal rooms that face the Han River,
but I found that the view of Namsan and Seoul Tower was pleasant.

The room was nicely modern and minimalistic.

The more expensive rooms across the hall came with complimentary oranges,
which we discovered when we snuck into one that was being cleaned by housekeeping.

The package came about in connection with our 5th wedding anniversary. Being a romantic soul, I had initially hoped to have dinner with the wife and kid at the Ritz-Carlton on September 12, where and when the actual event had taken place. Unfortunately, September 12 this year is the middle main Chuseok day, when my mother's side of the family always gathers for dinner. We thought that the next best thing would be to spend the night at the hotel, where we could toast the occasion at the stroke of midnight. But we looked around and discovered that the Hyatt was offering a better deal, and had a better view, and a pool, so to hell with romance.

The kiddie pool

2.247 Haemul Doenjang Jjigae with Shiitake Mushrooms and Green Cabbage

-Cycle 2, Item 247-
9 (Fri) September 2011

-Korean-
Haemul Doenjang Jjigae
with Shiitake Mushrooms and Green Cabbage

* * * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Well over a year ago, I described doenjang jjigae (된장찌개) as "arguably the most popular and most commonly eaten stew in Korea" (see 1.174 Doenjang Jjigae) and then never gave it a second thought. I seek to rectify this long neglect by presenting my recipe for the dish.

Pulmuone is a local company that produces a wide variety of foodstuffs, particularly quick-fix items, such as sauce bases (see Pulmuone's page on "Traditional Pastes,Sauce& soup" (for some reason, the home page doesn't seem to work)). Although they don't market their products or their image very aggressively, they've somehow managed to cultivate a reputation for quality and reliability. They were pushing organic before it became chichi.* Personally, it's the only Korean brand to which I would claim brand loyalty, although I don't know why and can't remember how it started. But it's gotten to the point where I'll buy Pulmuone-brand ice over others if given a choice.

One of my favorite Pulmuone products is their doenjang jjigae sauce base, the haemul (해물) ("seafood") variety. First, it's convenient: unlike pure doenjang, which requires a stock and additional seasonings, this sauce base just needs water. More important, however, I like the taste of it: unlike pure doenjang, which can have a funky smell of varying degrees resulting from and depending on the length of the fermentation process, this sauce base is virtually funk-free. I much prefer it this way, though purists (who equate funkier with better) would likely disagree.

*Not that I need to make things more complicated, but I'm going to try incorporating dictionary.com's corresponding Word of the Day into each post.

----

Recipe for Pulmuone Haemul Doenjang Jjigae
(serves 2-4) [a]

1 (130 ml) package of Pulmuone Haemul Doenjang sauce base [b]
500 ml water [c]
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped leek
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms [d]
3 cups chopped green cabbage [e]
1 cup cubed tofu
2 tbsp diced scallions


1. In a medium pot over high heat, add the sauce base + water and bring to a boil. [f]


2. Add the remaining ingredients except the scallions and bring back to a boil.


3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.


4. Remove from the heat and sprinkle the scallions on top.

5. Serve with steamed rice or as an accompaniment to Korean bbq.

NOTES

[a] The number of servings depends on the context: if served as a main dish, it should be enough for 2; but if served as a side dish, it should be enough for 4.

[b] Although it's a seafood sauce in name, and the label does indicate that it contains several types of seafood extracts, the finished stew doesn't overtly taste like seafood. Adding clams or shrimp, for example, would give it seafood flavor and make it look like a seafood stew. I've never felt the need because I believe that it's fine as is.

[c] The instructions on the package call for 400 ml of water, but I find that the broth is too salty with that amount, so I add 100 ml more (even 200 ml more would be acceptable).

[d] Here, I used 1 cup of shiitake mushrooms because that's what was available in the fridge. Feel free to use any combination of vegetables in whatever amount that will fit in the pot, including other types of mushrooms, potatoes, zucchini, celery, etc.

[e] 3 cups may seem like a lot at first, but the cabbage will immediately wilt down (even 4 cups would be acceptable).

[f] The instructions suggest that the water and other ingredients be added in stages: 200 ml with potatoes and zucchini and then the other 200 ml with the sauce base and finally tofu and chili peppers at the end. If using potatoes or zucchini, which take longer to cook than other vegetables, then it makes sense to add them first, but I don't understand why the water and sauce base can't all be put in from the beginning.

2.248 Mandu Jeon-Gol

-Cycle 2, Item 248-
10 (Sat) September 2011

-Korean-
Mandu Jeon-Gol

3.5

at Seolmae-Ne (설매네)

-Sinsa, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and the In-Laws

I've discussed jeon-gol (전골) and mandu jeon-gol before (see generally 1.067 Mandu Jeon-Gol).

This is one of my all-time favorite haunts, a humble establishment that focuses on a handful of classic dishes and does them very well.  It's not a norther restaurant in name, but the simplistic style suggests that the owner or chef has some inclinations in that direction.  On weekdays, it's always packed with old men who look like they don't tolerate a lot of bullshit.

I've come to observe that old Korean men are the most reliable bellwethers of good old-school Korean restaurants.  It's a cultural phenomenon that I attribute to 3 factors.  First, working Koreans regularly eat dinner right after work with their colleagues and/or clients, as opposed to going home for dinner. Second, a work-related dinner is often a drawn out affair that involves food and booze in copious amounts, both in terms of volume and variety, best served one plate and one bottle at a time so as to facilitate conversation and bonding.  And finally, up until recently, men constituted the majority of the workforce.  Thus, old Korean men, with decades of experience, know where to go for good eats and drinks at reasonable prices in a relaxed atmosphere.  Any Korean restaurant packed exclusively with old men on a weeknight is guaranteed to be good.  I'm calling this the "Ajeossi Bellwether Standard" ("ajeossi" = "old man").

The restaurant is located in the basement of nondescript building
one block from Exit 3 of Apgujeong Station.

I hadn't been here in years, but I was happy to discover tonight that the food was as excellent as I'd remembered.  The broth of the jeon-gol was perfectly clear and yet rich in beef flavor. Definitely worth 25,000 won.  And their nokdu bindae jeon (녹두빈대전) (see photo below) was gorgeous and crispy and tasty.  Definitely worth 18,000 won.  My only regret was that we weren't all that hungry at 6:00 PM, so we didn't order more.

Get a look at those crusts.

Address: Seoul Gangnam-Gu Sinsa-Dong 609-1 (서울시 강남구 신사동 609-1)

2.246 Deep-Fried Blowfish

-Cycle 2, Dinner 246-
7 (Thu) September 2011

-Korean-
Deep-Fried Blowfish

* * *

at Dokdo (독도)

-Suwon, GyeongGi-

with Kim HJ and Park HY

The freshness of fish is important, of course, but especially so in fish like blowfish because of its distinct taste and texture. Ideally, blowfish shouldn't taste like anything at all, the purer the better. If it's not eaten immediately, however, the off-flavors soon become apparent. This forces restaurants to freeze leftover fish to preserve purity. But the other appealing aspect about blowfish is the texture of its white flesh, which is both pleasantly fluffy and slightly chewy at the same time. Unfortunately, that texture is delicate and breaks down once the fish is frozen, leaving it flaky or crumbly. Thus, unless the fish is just-out-of-the-water fresh, it'll lack either the proper taste or texture.

To accommodate their many customers,
the entire 1st floor is a parking lot;
they're also very proud of their name:
"Dokdo" (the islets whose ownership is disputed between Korea and Japan)
can be seen in 4 places even before entering the premises.

The blowfish at this restaurant was about as fresh as I've ever had. High customer turnover probably had a lot to do with it. Having a tank of live blowfish on site also helped.

The funniest thing, the fish sleep in clusters at the bottom of the tank,
sometimes on their sides or upside down.

Freshness aside, their finished dishes weren't all that spectacular. The deep-fried appetizer featured here was edible, but the batter was too thick and lacked crisp and overwhelmed the fish within. 25,000 won. The stir-fry (see 2.207 Cham-Bok-Jjim) was okay but had a slightly bitter aftertaste. The sashimi, which allowed the freshness to come through without distraction, was certainly the best part of the meal. Overall, the restaurant is worth a repeat visit.


Dried blowfish skins