2.299 Dotori Muk Muchim

-Cycle 2, Item 299-
31 (Mon) October 2011

Dotori Muk Muchim

* * *

by Wife

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Made from acorns, this is the most common type of muk (묵), a gelatinous cake of various types that I described in a previous post (see 2.271 Tangpyeong-Chae).   In Korean, acorns are called "dotori" (도토리).  While some enterprising Koreans are certain to have formulated other ways to eat acorns, this is the only one that I've ever seen.  The muk is wiggly yet crumbly with a nutty, slightly bitter taste (sorry, but that's the best description that I could muster).  Typically, it's cut into bite-sized pieces and dressed in a spicy soy sauce along with raw vegetables, such as cucumbers, carrots, and various greens; "muchim" refers generally to the tossing of ingredients and seasonings into a salad-like mix, as here.

This dish always reminds me.  When I was growing up in California, a gigantic oak tree stood along the main road running through the suburb where we lived.  For the first month of the 4th grade, when we were finally allowed to ride our bikes to school and back, prior to the realization that taking the school bus made everything so much easier, independence be damned, my friends and I would pedal past the tree in the morning and later again in the afternoon.  On the way home one day, we were approaching the tree from about half a mile away, when I spotted a small person crouching on the ground below the tree.  Immediately, I knew that it was my grandmother, my mother's mother, who was visiting from Korea and staying with us.  She was scrounging acorns to make dotori muk.  I'd seen her elsewhere on other occasions, with a ratty paper grocery bag, in broad daylight, on the cadge for stray walnuts or persimmons or whatever nuts or fruits that had been left to rot by the people and squirrels of the neighborhood.  I'd implored her to stop, for the sake of my personal reputation, our family's good name, and the dignity of the Korean nation.  But she couldn't resist, of course, not one to let perfectly good food go to waste.  Looking back, we were both right.  The best compromise would've been for her to do it at night, ninja style, with me on the lookout.  Anyway, getting back to the old woman picking up acorns on the side of the road, I was about to suggest a detour to my friends, but too late; one of them said, "Hey, isn't that your grandma?  That bag looks heavy.  You should carry it home for her."  In college, in a class on Asian-American studies, I wrote about this incident for a paper concerning culture clash.

2.298 Pan-Grilled Chadolbagi

-Cycle 2, Item 298-
30 (Sun) October 2011

Pan-Grilled Chadolbagi

* * *

at Gaboja (가보자)
(Gyeonggi Rest Stop)

-Somewhere in GyeongGi-

with Wife, Dominic, Ahn HY + Kim IT + JH, Cho JH + Kim KH, Lee HS + Yun YH

In Korean barbecue parlance, "chadolbagi" (차돌박이) refers to a cut of beef located between the chest and belly.  Generally translated into English as "brisket," it's more precisely "lower brisket" (UK) or "point brisket/plate" (US).  The upper part of the brisket flap is referred to in Korean as "yangji (양지)," which is typically used for soups (see for example 1.322 Muu Guk).  The term "chadolbagi" literally means "marbling," but Koreans use the English word "marbling" to describe marbling.  In fact, relatively absent of internal marbling, chadolbagi is encased in a thick outer layer of fat, which isn't trimmed but served as an essential part of the cut.   Frozen whole then sliced paper-thin cross-sectionally, the pieces are grilled for a scant few seconds, just enough to get the meat crispy and the fat rendered down to a shriveled lace along the edges.

On our way home from camping, the caravan pulled over at a rest stop for a quick break but decided to stay for dinner when we saw that it had a barbecue restaurant.  It was one of those butcher shop cum restaurants in which the meat is sold, usually in bulk, at or near market prices (see generally 2.190 Grilled Brisket).  Here, the chadolbagi was 45,000 won for 600 grams (600 grams is equivalent to 1 geun (근), the traditional unit of measure for meat), which would be pretty cheap for a restaurant but a bit pricey for a butcher shop, especially since the meat wasn't that great.  Still, the final bill only came out to 120,000 won, not bad for 8 adults and 2 kids.

The campsite had been chosen for its proximity to a pier where we were set to go fishing in the morning. We crawled out of our tents at 5:00 AM, having crashed a couple hours earlier, and drove (drunk) to the pier because we'd been informed that the fish--mackerel and bass--would be at their hungriest between 6:00 and 9:00 in the morning. At the pier, we met up with a second group of friends and were taken by boat to a floating dock anchored a couple hundred meters off the coast. The dock, like all the other docks clustered in the area, was equipped with chairs, a picnic table, a porta-potty, a room that had a TV and a gas range, as well as an assistant to help with baiting the hooks and other tasks. 30,000 per person for the whole day. The idea was ingenious: catch loads and loads of fish, get back to the campsite by noon, and cook them for lunch in a variety of yummy ways. But after a couple hours, we'd caught squat. Even worse, nobody had been in a (sober) state of mind to pack anything--food, warm clothing, entertainment--a very unusual situation for people who are usually so overprepared when camping, so we were hungry, cold, and bored. We had to wait until 9:00 for the nearest restaurant to open, at which point we promptly ordered kimchi jjigae via boat delivery. Immediately following breakfast, some of us got the hell out, including me and the family, returned to site, crawled back into our tents, and slept. The stalwart others returned around mid-afternoon with a grand total of 5 lousy fish, which we forgot to eat.



Jinhee caught a tiny throwback fish within minutes, prompting us to make prematurely smug comments like, "It won't be much fun if it's too easy."

These docks are the fishing counterpart to car camping--a bit too convenient and artificial.

Dumbasses drinking soju at breakfast--"to sober up," they said.

2.297 Octopus/Sora/Minari/Sesame Oil/Salt/Pepper

-Cycle 2, Item 297-
29 (Sat) October 2011

Octopus/Sora/Minari/Sesame Oil/Salt/Pepper

* * *

by others

at Hakampo Camp Grounds

-Taean, ChungcheongNam-

with Wife, Dominic, Ahn HY + Kim IT + JH, Cho JH + Kim KH, Lee HS + Yun YH, MtG + girlfriend, et al.

Whereas we once went together like frama lama ka ding ka da ding da dong, our camping group has since ceased to represent the default unit on any given weekend. This was the first occasion in over 3 months that all 7 of us had come out (see 2.199 Monkfish Kara-Age). It was fun while it lasted.

The sora (소라), a type of small conch, were purchased fresh
at some kind of wholesale distribution center along the beach.

A few side dishes prepared by Yeonhee, all outstanding.

The location was one of those "auto camping" parks that I really despise. Organized on a measured grid with alphanumeric designations, each site consisted of a bricked-paved space for the car and a grassy patch of land for the tent, along with an electric socket. On the upside, the restroom and sink facilities were immaculate. And it was within walking distance of the beach. But really, it was just camping in a parking lot--in fact, we were literally in the parking lot adjacent to the main grounds because someone had failed to secure a reservation and didn't tell us, hoping that we'd be able to squeeze in on a last-minute cancellation.

Recently, I can't seem to avoid mandu. Earlier in the day, Yeonhee suddenly busted out the ingredients for mandu and put everyone to work. I declined to participate. By lunchtime, the others had made several thousand. We ate them for lunch, and dinner, and at night, and for breakfast the next day, and we still had piles remaining. Maybe it was my less-than-overwhelmingly-joyous attitude throughout the process--saying snarky comments like, "Are we going to trade these to the fishermen for something good?"--but I didn't receive any of the leftovers from Yeonhee when we parted company, while the other families did (except for MtG and his girlfriend, but that's another thing altogether).

2.296 Wang Mandu

-Cycle 2, Dinner 296-
28 (Fri) October 2011

Wang Mandu

* * *

from ?

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-


Pretty much the same thing in terms of form as the 6-star mandu (만두) from last cycle (see 1.248 Gogi Mandu). This type of mandu in the bread-like bun are often called "wang," which literally means "king" but refers figuratively to something large, because they're the size of a fist, much bigger than their smooth-skinned counterparts (see 2.278 Steamed Mandu).

Our nanny (Nanny 2), who no longer lives with us but comes in twice a week to tidy up the place, always, always, always brings a bagful of these mandu from some takeout joint near her home, even though we keep telling please not to. They were quite good the first couple times, especially when they arrived warm, but we've grown rather sick of them, especially when they've been sitting out all day.

2.295 Bulgogi Burger

-Cycle 2, Item 295-
27 (Thu) October 2011

Bulgogi Burger


at McDonald's (E-Mart)

-Seongsu, Seoul-

with Dominic

Selling Out the Integrity of the Blog for Just a Few Additional Hits, Part 4: Bulgogi Burger.

This on-going series features items offered by international chain restaurants only in the Korean market (see 2.282 Spicy Tender Crispy).

The Bulgogi Burger is the first and longest-running item developed by McDonald's Korea. It consists of a patty that seems, based on the taste and whitish color, to be made of pork--the local website describes other burgers as "beef " or "chicken" but doesn't specify an animal for this one. Nothing wrong with pork per se, but bulgogi (불고기) is essentially a beef dish (see 1.003 Bulgogi, 1.014 Bulgogi, and most recently 2.284 Bulgogi with Enoki and Broccoli Stems). The patty is slathered in a thick, dark, bittersweet glaze with a hint of soy sauce, which bears little or no resemblance to actual bulgogi marinade. Topped with a sprinkle of iceberg lettuce and a dollop of mayonnaise, the Bulgogi Burger comes in a standard-issue sesame seed bun.

I used to like the Bulgogi Burger, but apparently no longer. How sad that my list of guilty food pleasures seems to be shrinking with time.

2.294 Deep-Fried Mandu

-Cycle 2, Dinner 294-
26 (Wed) October 2011

Deep-Fried Mandu

* *

at Mandu Hyang (만두향)

-Sinsa, Seoul-

with Wife

This restaurant offered mandu (만두) steamed, boiled, or deep-fried. The name of the place means "dumpling (mandu) aroma (hyang)," which sounds marginally less strange in Korean. On the upside, the skins were hand-made, as appropriate at any self-respecting establishment proclaiming to specialize in mandu. Hand-made skins, in contrast to factory-made (see 2.278 Steamed Mandu), are denser and chewier and tastier. On the downside, the filling was somewhat bland, more tofu than meat and not enough seasoning, even for a someone who prefers the subtler style of North Korean mandu (see 2.201 Mandu Guk). And though the deep-frying added a nice crisp to the texture, the flavor of the oil was unpleasantly overpowering.

Then again, I may not have been in much a receptive frame of mind at the time, given that I was threatening my wife with grave bodily harm.

As announced ever so obliquely in yesterday's post, we are expecting our second child.

We visited the hospital this evening for a checkup and hopefully good news about the child's sex--in that order, I would've thought. The ultrasound initially showed the fetus crouched over to obfuscate a clear view of the crotch, prompting the mother and the doctor and the nurse together to poke at the tummy and beseech the little thing to spread its legs, all the while giggling giddy with anticipation like they were playing a goddamn peekaboo game. We saw glimpses of an ambiguous cylindrical shape, which at this early stage could've been a small penis or a large clitoris. "That doesn't sound good, either way," I remarked, in complete seriousness, unintentionally eliciting more giggles. After a few minutes, I asked, "How about pausing the fun for a moment and determining first whether the baby appears healthy?" Yes, thankfully, healthy. We then saw the scrotum, a sure sign, and realized that we would be having another boy.

With that, the festive mood suddenly turned funereal. The mother wailed in anguish, the doctor and the nurse consoling her as if the exam had revealed the kid to have tusks. "Noooooooooooo! It can't be! What am I to do? Woe is me! How can I go on?!?!" "Don't worry. It'll be all right. You can always have another." Another?!?! Could we please focus on this one for now?!?! What the fuck was the matter with all these people?!?!

I was disappointed myself but recovered real quick and settled into an anoesis of pure gratitude. While I'm not the most positive of people, I am a realist. We flipped a coin and didn't get the call. Alas. Fuck it. Let's be happy that he doesn't have tusks.

Over dinner, I got fed up with the wife, who kept whimpering and wondering aloud what she possibly could have done wrong to deserve such a miserable fate. I swore to her that I would strangle the breath out of her if she didn't shut the fuck up and rejoice.

2.293 Oden Soup

-Cycle 2, Dinner 293-
25 (Tue) October 2011

Oden Soup

* * * *

by Wife

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Yes, folks, that's right: by Wife, again.

During my frequent absences from home over the past couple weeks, I noted with growing dismay that the wife had been taking the kid and our unborn child to eat out at restaurants or, even worse, resorting to take-out, delivery, and instant foods. I also found myself eating more crap than usual. At dinner last Saturday, I explained my concerns to the in-laws not in censure but rather in preface of a request for assistance in getting their daughter to begin cooking at home. I earnestly thought that the mother-in-law would jump at the invitation to take an active involvement in our daily affairs, something that I've endeavored to minimize through the years. Silly me.

What I failed to remember in a moment of despair is that MIL, who spoiled the girl for over 30 years to the point of rendering the adult utterly incompetent with respect to fundamental household tasks, now prefers to defend the disability that she created instead of doing anything to rehabilitate the condition. Before I could get to the request part, she cut me off and launched into a passionate tirade about how much of a strain cooking can be for a pregnant woman. If not one thing, then it's another: prior to pregnancy, it was how much of a strain cooking can be for a career woman. While fully and gratefully acknowledging the burdens of pregnancy and career that the wife has borne for our family, I refuse to concede that either constitutes a basis for outright exemption from the kitchen.

FIL, on the other hand, who is always optimistically diplomatic, loathes conflict but loves playing conciliator if ever a dispute should regrettably arise. He weighed in with a spiel about the motivational wonders of positive reinforcement, citing his own marriage as an example of domestic bliss sustained on a constant flow of praise. Though offered on its face as a proactive solution, I considered his long-standing disapproval of the son-in-law's proclivity to criticize and interpreted the proposal as yet another affirmative defense of the daughter. Ever so briefly, I contemplated a quip about the lack of criticism from him being to blame for the mediocrity of the food in that home. But no, I simply said: "Well, sir, if your daughter were ever to honor me by cooking something--as I have done for her, day in and day out during the past 5 years, with or without her commendation--then I would be thrilled to applaud her for the effort, but unfortunately she has yet to do so, and I refuse to express joy over an empty plate merely for the sake of encouraging her to engage in an activity that she should be doing of her own accord as a wife, a mother, and a functioning grownup human being."

That said, I turned to address MIL, only to be thwarted by the wife's sudden intervention. To make a long story short, she pled guilty to the charges, parental defenses notwithstanding, and pledged to start cooking, spousal approbation regardless.

Thusly, for the second straight day, she has cooked dinner, both times to great success. This oden soup--with a remarkably rich and almost creamy broth made from her own anchovy stock in the Koreanized style--is better than any oden soup that I've ever made, and I was thrilled to applaud her for it. The accolade was real, not merely a trick to keep her ass over the stove. Now that FIL's chicken-egg cycle of positive reinforcement has been set into motion, legitimately, I look forward to seeing and eating what comes of it.

2.292 Beef & Bell Pepper Stir-Fry

-Cycle 2, Dinner 292-
24 (Mon) October 2011

Beef & Bell Pepper Stir-Fry

* * * *

by Wife

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Yes, folks, that's right: by Wife. For the first time in our 5-year marriage, the wife cooked dinner. To be fair, she's made ramen twice and, on a handful of other random occasions, she's set the table with items made by others, but this was her first time creating something from scratch. In fact, it may very well have been the first time in her life--seriously.

Regardless, the inaugural effort was simple yet tasty, based on a recipe from a book about cooking for kids. Beef, onions, and bell peppers stir-fried in oyster sauce. She'd even taken the extra step of first deep-frying the beef before stir-frying, which made the meat especially tender. Thrilled by her own handiwork, she suggested that we invite my parents over for dinner next weekend so that she could cook it for them. I admire her ambition.

"Why are you taking a photo?"
"If I'm going to report a Bigfoot sighting, I'll need photographic evidence."

2.291 Dongpo Pork with Broccoli

-Cycle 2, Item 291-
23 (Sun) October 2011

Dongpo Pork with Broccoli


by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Dongpo pork is a Chinese dish.  In its original form, consists of pork belly braised for several hours on low heat in soy sauce and rice wine, seasoned with 5-spice and/or other fragrant herbs used in northern and eastern China. According to legend, it originated by happy accident during the 11th century in the city of Hangzhou, when Su Dongpo, a renaissance man reputed to be one of China's original gourmandd, was simply stewing pork but left the pot on the stove for too long.

At Chinese restaurants in Korea, where the dish is called "dongpa yuk" (동파육), the "yuk" meaning "meat," the pork is often first deep-fried to quicken the cooking process and dressed in the soy-sesame-oyster sauce ubiquitous to Korean-Chinese cuisine, along with a touch of star anise (one component of 5-spice) to give it a whiff of authenticity.

This was my first attempt. I was inspired by a recent acquisition of 5-spice (thanks Lisa!) but otherwise employed the Koreanized method out of convenience. Despite the deep-frying, the meat came out a bit dry. I also failed to thicken the sauce sufficiently. But it tasted okay, I guess.

2.290 Grilled Daechang

-Cycle 2, Dinner 290-
22 (Sat) October 2011

Grilled Daechang


at Obaltan (오발탄)

-Nonhyeon, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and the In-Laws

Intestines of various sorts have been featured on 2 previous posts (see 1.278 Skillet-Fried Gopchang, 1.282 Grilled Makchang), neither of which has much to do with the other except for being part of an animal's digestive tract.

In this latest installment, I'm happy to report that I've come across a restaurant that offers a third variety and does it right, even though the name of the place, "Obaltan" (오발탄), surely ironic on purpose, means "misfired round." It's a chain with 18 locations throughout the country, as well as one in China. We went to the one in Nonhyeon.

One of their specialities is daechang (대창), the cow's large intestine, which comes marinated in a delicate spicy/sweet soy sauce. Grilled over coals, the tubes render down to about half the original size, leaving a chewy casing that bursts open with fat. And nary a trace of the stink associated with other types of intestine. Absolute perfection. At 27,00o won (plus 10% tax) for a 180-gram serving--more like 90 grams in the end--the dish is extremely expensive, but well worth it.

The fat dripping over the coals creates a crazy amount of smoke,
which is sucked up by a powerful vacuum hovering over the table.

The cooked tubes are cut into bite-sized pieces.

In addition to other side dishes,
this salad with what appears to be the same dressing provides a refreshing counterpoint
to the otherwise overwhelming greasiness of the daechang.

Address: Gangnam-Gu, Nonhyeon-Dong 106-1 (강남구 논현동 106-1)

2.289 Hanjeongsik

-Cycle 2, Dinner 289-
21 (Fri) October 2011


* * * *

at Gyeonghi Sikdang (경희식당)


While the term "hansik" (한식) refers to Korean food in general, "hanjeongsik" (한정식) refers to a Korean (han) set/course meal (jeongsik) in which all the individual items together are regarded in their totality. A typical Korean meal, both in restaurants and at home, consists of rice, soup, a variety of small side dishes called "banchan" (반찬), and maybe a central dish of meat or fish (see generally and most recently 2.237 Return of the Typical Korean Home-Cooked Meal). In the southern provinces of the country, most famously Jeolla (전라), the jeongsik concept has been taken to the extreme: the more variations, the better. Quality is essential, of course, but the holistic experience in itself is largely the point of it all.

On our way to the annual faculty retreat, three buses loaded with professors from Ajou University School of Medicine stopped by this famous hanjeongsik restaurant. Amazingly, we were all eating within minutes; granted, we had called ahead, but the logistical efficiency of the staff was remarkable nonetheless. I counted 43 individual items. I overheard a colleague, who had eaten there years before, complaining that the spread used to be much more impressive with an extra layer of dishes brought out on a separate tray. Anyway, it was more than enough as is. The dishes weren't that spectacular in terms of taste, but I was too busy sampling everything to notice. Fun. 22,000 won per person.

In the kitchen, the tables are stacked and ready to go.

We were seated facing each other in groups of four with an empty space in between,
waiting for the table of food that would be placed in front of us.

The aftermath.

2.288 Jeongtong Sundubu Jjigae with Firm Tofu and Eggplant

-Cycle 2, Item 288-
20 (Thu) October 2011

Jeongtong Sundubu Jjigae
with Firm Tofu and Eggplant

* * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-


In a post last month on doenjang jjigae (된장찌개), I sang the praises of the food company Pulmuone and their sauce base that I'd used to make it (see 2.247 Haemul Doenjang Jjigae with Shiitake Mushrooms and Green Cabbage).

Here, I present another product in the same series, this one for sundubu jjigae (순두부찌개). One of my favorites, the dish has been discussed in several prior posts (1.315 Subdubu Jjigae with Clams, 1.345 Sundubu Jjigae), many of which involved the sauce base; in fact, I mentioned the product in post 1.315, noting:

My quality of life improved the day that Pulmuone, a Korean food company, released their packaged sundubu jjigae sauce. Within 10 minutes: sweat garlic and onions in oil (ground pork here, if that's your thing), add sauce, add water, add veggies (clams here, if that's your thing, but not if you've already added ground pork earlier, please), add tofu, add egg. Done. It's flawless.

The dish was also featured but not discussed in a recent post (see 2.279 Sundubu Jjigae with Clams).

Whereas sundubu jjigae is made with silken tofu--that's what sundubu is--it works okay with firmer forms of tofu (as here), though of course the texture will be different. Eggplant isn't a traditional ingredient, but the strong flavors of the stew allow for the inclusion of almost any meat or vegetable.

I despise eggplant.

2.287 Hobak Galbi-Jjim

-Cycle 2, Item 287-
19 (Wed) October 2011

Hobak Galbi-Jjim

* *

at Doore (두레)

-Insa, Seoul-

with participants of the WHO WPRO Expert Consultation on Public Health Law, including members of Yonsei University

This is a LANDMARK EATERY (see generally posts on landmark eats).

Essentially the same thing as standard galbi-jjim (갈비찜) (see 2.030 Galbi-Jjim), only the ribs were served in a gourd that was dramatically sliced open at the table and eaten along with the meat.  I can't say for sure how traditional this manner of presentation may be, but I'd never seen nor heard of it before, so it's certainly not commonplace. Way overpriced at 40,000 won, especially considering that the ribs themselves weren't that great.

The gourd is called "dan hobak" (단호박) in Korean, which means "sweet" (dan) "squash" (hobak), the orange flesh tasting like sweetened pumpkin pie mix with the soft yet slightly fibrous texture of cooked sweet potatoes. Galbi-jjim aside, dan hobak is more commonly pureed into a soup or deep-fried like tempura or just steamed and eaten as is. Steamed and mashed through a strainer, it was one of the first things that I made for Dominic when he was being weaned. Not really my thing.

On our final evening together, the participants of the WHO workshop had dinner in the neighborhood of Insa-Dong (인사동) in Seoul. Though commercialization/gentrification in recent years has buried much of the neighborhood's original cuteness/quaintness, it remains one of the must-see destinations for tourists, known for art galleries and antique shops and souvenir stands and tea houses and restaurants in traditional Korean houses called "hanok" (한옥) offering traditional Korean food called "hansik" (한식) served by women wearing traditional Korean garb called "hanbok" (한복). If I'd been in charge, I would've taken the group to a real Korean restaurant where real Koreans eat real Korean food.

Seoul has restaurant hygiene ratings?