3.086 Pan-Seared Ribeye with Wild Porcini Salt

-Cycle 3, Item 86-
31 (Sat) March 2012

Pan-Seared Ribeye
with Wild Porcini Salt


by Yong I

at Susan Academy (수산아카데미)

-Namyangju, Gyeonggi-

with Cho JH, Choi SW, Kim KH, Lee HS, Yong I

It was Yeonhee's birthday. We went camping.

The steak came late, well past midnight, after most of the others had drifted off to their tents, as if the chef had been saving it for the hardy few who'd earned the privilege. The chef was Yong I, a semi-regular of the group who's been with us since last fall. Apparently, he makes a lot of money as a director of television commercials and enjoys a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption. Case in point, for this trip, he'd shopped for groceries at Dean & Deluca. However expensive Dean & Deluca may be elsewhere in the world, it's double here in Korea. Among other items, he'd bought a jar of wild porcini salt, which was the primary seasoning that he used for the steak. Earlier, he'd made a big fuss about marinating the ultra-pricey cut of hanwoo (한우) (Korean beef) in some ultra-pricey Bordeaux. He also likes to talk about the fancy cooking classes that he's attended.

When it was time to cook, he heated the pan to smoking hot, drizzled some extra virgin olive oil, seared the steak for a couple minutes on each side, then finished it off by adding a splash of wine to the pan, which had the dramatic effect of bursting into flames and eliciting oohs and aahs from everyone. Done. He didn't even let it rest but immediately carved it into thin slices and served it on the cutting board with the salt.

The campsite was a typical "auto-camping" ground,
more parking lot than nature.

Last year, we all decided that we go camping too often to deal with the hassle of pitching formal tents, so everyone in the group purchased some form of the Quecha tent, which has an internal wire suspension that springs into completed form when simply tossed on the ground.

And I had the blessed fortune of tasting what may have been the perfect steak, certainly the best that I've encountered in my life. Perfectly crispy on the outside. Perfectly rare on the inside. The wine marinade balanced perfectly with the marbled beef. The mushroom salt provided a perfect touch of woodsy/earthy flavor that paired perfectly with the smoky aroma imparted by that flaming technique at the end. Even after considering certain variables that could've magnified my impressions of what, at the very least, was a very good piece of well-prepared meat--say, I was drunk and/or hungry and/or in a good mood; in fact, I was none of those--the conclusion holds firm. Upon taking a bite, I started jumping up and down, like Tom Cruise, an idiot that couldn't help himself, so overcome with intense emotion.

So long as we're camping in parking lots,
I've begun to push the convenience factor one step further by sleeping in the car.

Roomier than a Quecha, the interior allows me to stretch out my 183-cm frame without touching at either end and to sit up straight without my head touching the ceiling.

Designed for the purpose of accommodating sleepers, the backseats in the Land Rover Discovery fold 90 degrees forward and down to the floor to provide a completely level surface.

3.085 Smoked Duck with Mixed Greens

-Cycle 3, Item 85-
30 (Fri) March 2012

-Sui Generis-
Smoked Duck with Mixed Greens

* * *

at the Catholic Publishing House headquarters

-Joonglim, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, Mom & Dad,
and various maternal-side members of the family

My cousin Brita got hitched tonight. Technically, she's been married for a couple years, but circumstances had prevented the family from throwing a formal wedding until now. Though 13 years apart in age, she's the closest thing that I have to a sister, so it was a touching occasion for me (and for others, too, I suppose).

It was also the first time in perhaps nearly a decade that the entire extended family on my mother's side has assembled under the same roof. Back in the day, for holidays and other family functions, we would gather at least 4 times a year, usually more like 5 or 6, never a single person absent. We were extremely close. My wife, who only sees her aunts and uncles and cousins at weddings and funerals, which is probably closer to the norm, had a difficult time understanding why we got together as frequently as we did. But then I went off to college. Eventually, I came back, but then Brita went off to college, and later her sisters. Finally, after all these years, we're back--this time with 4 kids of the next generation.

The Wang Sisters: Minty (her real name), Brita (being a dork),
and Tara (wearing negligee top, miniskirt, and high heels)

Brita (continuing to be a dork) and Liah (a doll)

Cousins Jinseok and Minseok manning the cash register,
a duty that they'd performed at my wedding.

Getting into the spirit of things, we started doing shots under the table, fully cognizant of the potential folly in boozing while handling money; ironically, in taking extra care not to miss anything at the end, we did a double-check of the drawer and discovered an envelope containing 300,000 won, presumably left behind from a prior wedding; invoking the common law defense of privilege, whereby the finder of lost property is entitled to ownership if the original owner cannot be identified, we decided to keep the money and, in keeping with the spirit of things, concluded that it would be most appropriately applied towards the purchase of more booze in grateful recognition of our fulfillment of the wedding responsibilities charged to us.

Some guy from the K-Pop group GOD sang to the couple
(the groom was once involved with the entertainment industry).

The renewlyweds entering the dining hall for the cake-cutting ceremony;
the unusual venue, which hosts weddings and other events on a regular basis,
may be explained by the fact that our uncle, a priest, was once in charge of the Catholic Publishing House.

Some of the 2nd and 3rd generation (clockwise from bottom left):
Jinseok's wife and their 2 kids, Dominic and Wife, Minty-Tara-Liah


3.084 Kimbap and Tuna Kimbap

-Cycle 3, Item 84-
29 (Thu) March 2012

Kimbap and Tuna Kimbap

* * *

from 2001 Outlet

at my parents' home

-Bundang, GyeongGi-


For the third consecutive Thursday, I've eaten leftovers for dinner at my parents' home (see most recently 3.077 Spicy Wang Mandu). The main reason's been to see my cousin Brita's kid Liah, the Thursdays being coincidental. They're staying there along with other members of the family while in Korea for the formal wedding service that Brita and her baby daddy were unable to have a couple years ago when they were legally married. They'll be here until April 8.

3.083 Hotdog with Ketchup & Onions

-Cycle 3, Item 83-
28 (Wed) March 2012

Hotdog with Ketchup and Onions

* * * *

at Costco

-Yangjae, Seoul-


First, I've decided to relinquish a long-held attitude borne purely on the self-righteous wings of snobbery that ketchup is unfit as a hotdog topping. And yes, I realize the irony of being a snob about what may be the most pedestrian of all American fast food items. For decades, I maintained that the only proper way to eat frankfurter-style sausages is with mustard and mustard alone, supposedly in the European fashion--and dark or dijon mustard, mais oui, certainly not the bright yellow American kind, such as that made famous by the most inappropriately-named brand French's, which I still don't like very much. Mustard + saurkraut remains my favorite condiment combination. But, in all honesty, ketchup is actually pretty good, especially with raw onions.

Second, I haven't paid for a hotdog since Gray's Papaya on my last trip to New York about 5 years ago. But my yearly Costco membership renewal came with a voucher for a free hotdog and a beverage from the food court. The set normally sells for 2,000 won, which has to be among the best meal values anywhere in Korea.

Third, even better, Costco Korea upgraded their hotdog with a sesame seed bun and a much longer dog. Both the darker color and flavor suggested beef--they'd switched to pork during the mad cow scare several years ago--so I went back to confirm, but the manager told me that it was pork, "of course," and looked at me like I was nuts.

Fourth, with a total charge of 701,310 won this evening, I broke the personal spending record of 699,040 won that I'd set on my previous trip (see 3.047 Roast Chicken Quarters)! I couldn't have planned it that way. As with the prior occasion, it wasn't all for us; this time, I was buying wine for my cousin Brita's wedding. I may have to buy tires next month to keep the streak alive.

3.082 Chicken & Mushroom Porridge

-Cycle 3, Item 82-
27 (Tue) March 2012

Chicken & Mushroom Porridge

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and Nanny 6

To stretch the value of yesterday's chicken a bit further, I used the leftover stock to make porridge. Just a couple bowls of rice and a handful of mushrooms stirred in the liquid for about 10 minutes until the rice was all soft and mushy, no additional seasoning required. 2 complete and filling and tasty meals from a 5,000-won chicken--not too bad. (I think the nanny was impressed.)

3.081 Chicken & Potato Sujebi

-Cycle 3, Item 81-
26 (Mon) March 2012

Chicken & Potato Sujebi

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and Nanny 6

Sujebi (수제비) is a flour-based dough that's hand-pulled/pinched into flat bite-sized pieces and cooked in broth. Although it may be added to any soup dish (see for example 3.081 Fluke Sashimi with Chogowamago Sauce in Lettuce Wraps), the broth for sujebi at its most basic is made from dried anchovy stock. Likewise, the additional components in the soup may vary but are typically modest, such as sliced potatoes and/or onions. Historically, when flour and the other ingredients weren't easy to come by, sujebi was once reserved for special occasions. However, due to the cheap availability of flour these days, as well as the other ingredients, it's now regarded as a humble food for the masses.

Here, I substituted sujebi for the kal-guksu (칼국수) (see generally 1.149 Chicken Kal-Guksu) that I usually use in connection with baeksuk (백숙) (see generally 2.045 Baeksuk). Sujebi and kal-guksu are identical in composition but different in form. Both can be made by hand, as here, or purchased pre-made. After boiling the bird, the meat is eaten first, sort of like an entree, while the resulting stock is turned into a soup broth for the sujebi/kal-guksu to finish off the meal. It's a great way to get the most out of a whole chicken. Economics aside, I much prefer chicken stock over that of dried anchovies. Also, in addition to potatoes and onion, I often add a couple more vegetables to make it even richer, such as mushrooms or zucchini, as here.

Most whole chickens available in Korea weigh approximately 1 kg.

Aromatics for the stock include leek, garlic, peppercorns, onion, carrot, daikon.

Starting with the chicken more-or-less submerged in cold water--plus a teaspoon of salt--
I simmer it half-covered for about 30 minutes, remove the aromatics,
turn the chicken over, then cook it covered for another 1.5 hours.

Meanwhile, I knead the dough: flour + water + salt.

I've seen professionals stand over the pot,
pull/pinch the pieces of dough from a big lump with their fingers,
and flick them into the broth in rapid succession all within a few seconds;
speed is essential because the dough cooks in a couple minutes at most;
however, my inexperience requires me to roll out the dough first,
making it easier to tear the pieces quickly.

After 2 hours, the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender;
I usually take the big pieces, season them with salt + pepper + sesame seeds + scallions,
and serve them separately.

Not letting anything go to waste,
I also pick the tinier bits of meat from the bones and put them back into the stock.

Towards the end, the stock will have reduced to about 1/2 or less;
I add sliced potatoes and boil them for about 15 minutes until they begin to fall apart,
at which point I add the remaining vegetables, chicken bits, and sujebi/noodles,
cooking for another 2 minutes and seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

3.080 Gungjung Ddeokbokki

-Cycle 3, Item 80-
25 (Sun) March 2012

Gungjung Ddeokbokki

* * *

by Mother-in-Law

at the in-law's home

-Apgujeong, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, the in-laws,
and the brother-in-law's family

Whereas ddeokbokki (떡볶기) today is Korea's most ubiquitous street food (see generally 1.161 Sundae in Ddeokbokki Sauce), the dish reputedly derives from royal culinary traditions. The original version, which is now referred to as "gungjung (궁중) (court) ddeokbokki," consists of rice cakes, often with other ingredients, such as beef and/or mushrooms, sauteed in soy sauce--very different from its spicy modern counterpart.

The mother-in-law makes it for her son whenever he's over for dinner. He seems to enjoy it.

3.079 Zaru Soba

-Cycle 3, Item 79-
24 (Sat) March 2012

Zaru Soba

* * * *

by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

Though not one of my personal favorites, zaru soba (see generally 1.175 Zaru Soba) may become part of the steady rotation in our home. In Korea, where the dish is so popular that it can be found in any Japanese restaurant and in specialty restaurants that aren't ostensibly Japanese, it's often referred to as "memil (메밀) (buckwheat) guksu (국수) (noodles)." The wife has always loved it. And recently, Dominic has declared this chilled buckwheat noodle dish to be one of his all-time favorites, which now seems obvious in light of his affinity for mul naeng-myeon (물냉면) (see most recently 3.065 Mul Naeng-Myeon). It's cheap to buy, easy to make, and healthy to eat, so I see no reason why it shouldn't.

This attempt was moderately successful. While supermarkets here often carry both imported soba and domestically produced memil guksu, I went with the E-Mart brand because it was cheap. Unfortunately, it tasted cheap. Even the color was sickly pale, probably a sign of low buckwheat content. I'll need to sample additional brands before determining the ideal cost:quality ratio. Some supermarkets also offer the noodles packaged together with a serving of dipping sauce or sell dipping sauce separately in a jar, but I improvised with a mixture of stuff that I had on hand, including sukiyaki sauce, ponzu sauce, sugar, and water. Close enough. The preparation of wasabi, daikon radish, scallions, and laver was simple and straightforward. Overall, not too shabby--at least the wife and kid enjoyed it.

3.078 Yangjangpi

-Cycle 3, Item 78-
23 (Fri) March 2012


* * * * *

at Dongbuk Hweogweo Wang (동북훠궈왕)

-Dongdaemun, Seoul-

with MtG

Still my favorite dish (see generally 1.037 Yanjangpi) at my favorite Chinese restaurant in the city, though I find it difficult to believe that it's been over 15 months since my last visit (see most recently 1.338 Deep-Fried Tofu in Brown Sauce).

It was also over 10 months since my last one-on-one meal with MtG (see most recently 2.128 Pizza with Porcini Mushrooms and Basil), so I was looking forward to dinner but dreading the conversation that I had in mind for the evening. For quite some time, I'd been meaning to confront him about what I perceived to be a pattern of tightfistedness on his part when it came to spending on food/drink. More than I could've imagined, it's difficult to accuse your best friend of being cheap.

For the first time here, a photo of the restaurant's entrance,
which is located in an alley behind Dongdaemun.

I'd begun to take notice about a year ago, when our camping group was hanging out 3-4 times a week, both in and out of the city, often at multiple venues on a given occasion. While everyone else took turns picking up the tab, he didn't, not even once, at least not in my presence. In retrospect, try as I might, I couldn't ever recall him buying food/drinks for me in all the time that we'd known each other; we'd either go dutch or I'd pay. Fine, as his friend, that's my burden to bear. Within the expanded group dynamic, however, the responsibility spread to others, often compelling me to compensate by doubling my own contribution. Soon enough, the group arranged to split everything evenly, even for coffee at rest stops on camping trips, which settled the matter for the time being.

Every so often, customers are treated to small freebies,
like this plate of mabo tofu.

But then, a couple days ago, MtG caused something of a controversy by disputing a charge at dinner. According to various reports (I wasn't there), he and his fiancee arrived somewhat late and didn't eat/drink very much. Later, when paying the bill, MtG suggested that the 2 of them should only pay as 1. The person in charge of collecting money that evening insisted on full payment for 2, which MtG paid but not without protest. The situation was brought to my attention by various members of the group, who felt that he had finally gone too far. Since the system of splitting the charges was established, each member present has always paid an equal share regardless. The rationale is that it balances out in the long run. In my case, I can eat/drink with the best of them, so I'm usually at an advantage, but the group occasionally elects to go for something that I'm not really into. When the wife comes, we fully pay for 2 even though she eats very little and doesn't drink alcohol. Thus, given that he and his fiancee both eat/drink more than their share on a regular basis, it's petty of MtG to complain about this one isolated incident.

For his sake, and mine, and for the health of our friendship, as well as the harmony of the group, I had to talk to him about it. The discussion over dinner this evening covered a lot more ground than as described above, other miserly practices and acts of stinginess that have been building resentment in me and among the rest. When I was done laying it all out, he appeared shaken but not altogether shocked. He thanked me for being honest. I thanked him for listening. And we left it at that.

I paid for dinner.

3.077 Spicy Wang Mandu

-Cycle 3, Item 77-
22 (Thu) March 2012

Spicy Wang Mandu


from Gamegol (가메골)

at my parents' home

-Bundang, GyeongGi-


Pretty much the same as before (see 1.248 Wang Mandu), only spicy. What I appreciate about the spicy version is that the heat adds a slight kick without overwhelming the other flavors, which are perfect.

When I dropped by my parents' place to see Liah, my "niece" (see below) whom I discussed a couple weeks ago (see 3.065 Linguine in Beef Meatball Mash Sauce), a box of the mandu was sitting on the table. I ate 5. Still the best mandu in Korea.

In Korea (prepare for what will perhaps be the most food-irrelevant tangent in the history of the blog), relatives are measured by degrees of separation called "chon" (촌). If X represents a given person: X to parent = 1 chon (ilchon) (일촌); X to sibling = 2 chon (ichon) (이촌) (on a family tree, this could be graphed by going up 1 chon to parent and back down 1 chon to sibling); X to grandparent = also 2 chon (1 chon to parent + 1 chon to parent's parent); X to parent's sibling = 3 chon (samchon) (삼촌) (1 chon to parent + 2 chon between parent and parent's sibling) (in fact, "samchon" is the Korean word for "uncle); cousin to cousin = 4 chon (sachon) (사촌) (likewise, "sachon" means "cousin"); X to cousin's child = 5 chon (ochon) (오촌). For the sake of convenience, Liah would call me "samchon," even though technically I'm her ochon. Liah and my child Dominic are 6 chon (yukchon) (육촌). The farthest that I've personally been connected is 8 chon (palchon) (팔촌), between Dominic and my father's cousin's child's child, who is my 7 chon (chilchon) (칠촌).

my ochon

3.076 Ssamjang with Scrambled Egg

-Cycle 3, Item 76-
21 (Wed) March 2012

Ssamjang with Scrambled Egg

* * * * *

by Nanny 6

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, and Nanny 6

With the baby on the way, we hired a new nanny, the 6th in the series. Like the others, she's an ethnic Korean from China (see generally 1.251 Pork and Cauliflower Stir-Fry). Having moved to Korea just 10 months earlier, and to Seoul just 2 months earlier, she's as FOB as they come. Until Monday, her starting day with us, she'd never used a vacuum cleaner and had no idea what a humidifier was; the clothes dryer blew her mind. We soon realized that communication could also be problematic because the vocabulary of the modern Korean language (influenced largely by Japanese and English in the past century) differs dramatically from that of the Korean dialect (based on archaic Korean and augmented with Chinese words) now used in China; case in point, she didn't know "orange" or "juice." At lunch, she tasted sundubu jjigae (순두부찌개) (see generally 1.315 Sundubu Jjigae with Clams) for the first time ever. We were taken aback by how utterly unfamiliar she seemed to be with virtually everything.

But after 3 days, our initial concerns are quickly abating. She's demonstrated an unrelenting work ethic, going out of her way to find things to do (like cleaning the leaves of our plant), even when we plead for her to take a break. She asks a lot of questions and admits to being clueless (by contrast, Nanny 4 would always pretend to understand everything and try to guess the solution, like I'd ask for orange juice and she'd bring me sundubu jjigae). And she seems good with Dominic, hopefully a sign that she'll be good with the baby--the most important thing. Fingers crossed.

In fact, to make her feel welcome, I made it a point to ask about her favorite food and prepare a meal on her behalf, which turned out to be samgyeopsal (삼겹살) (see generally 1.005 Grilled Samgyeopsal). Of her own accord, she contributed a homemade ssamjang (쌈장) (see generally 3.061 Haemul Ssamjang with Red Lettuce Wraps) that included scrambled egg--a combination that I never would've imagined. As noted previously, ethnic Koreans from China have a unique culinary tradition that's neither here nor there. Surprisingly, the egg provided a nice touch of softness in terms of both texture and taste. I told my mother about the egg, and she scoffed at the notion. I'm not the biggest fan of ssamjang in general, but this I couldn't stop eating--with pork, rice, lettuce, on its own. Very nearly 6 stars. It turns out that Nanny 6 can cook, so long as the ingredients are within her comfort zone. So far so good.

3.075 Sauteed Sea Cucumber

-Cycle 3, Item 75-
20 (Tue) March 2012

Sauteed Sea Cucumber

* * *

at Hirai (히라이)

-Daechi, Seoul-

with Kim HJ

With respect to social commerce and the restaurant industry in Korea, I recently read that analysts are beginning to conclude that the coupons are not producing the intended marketing effect of bringing the customers back following the initial promotion. The main problem is that the glut of similar deals on the market allows diligent coupon clippers to try out new venues every time, never having to pay full price at any of them. As such, the transactions benefit only the customers and the intermediary companies, while the restaurant owners take a loss with nothing to show for it in the long run. (Furthermore, the concept of up-selling--whereby customers order additional items beyond the value of the coupon--apparently doesn't work in Korea, where customers are likely to migrate from place to place throughout the course of an evening out.)

One of my closest friends at work is a social commerce coupon whore. Securing a choice bargain from any of the various websites that he regularly scours, he'll go to the restaurant armed with the coupon and the full intention that the visit is to be his first and last. And then it's on to a different restaurant, sometimes that very evening. The odd thing is that he's rather cynical about the entire setup, believing that only mediocre restaurants are desperate enough to offer their menu at 50% off and that therefore the food is only worth eating at a discount. When asked why he doesn't just pay full price for good food, he responds that it's more fun this way.

For this evening, he'd purchased a 45,000-won coupon that entitled the bearer to 90,000 won's worth of food, not including booze, at some otherwise unremarkable Chinese joint in Gangnam. The plan had been for a party of 3, but the 3rd member got held up at work, so the 2 of us had to manage. Given the ridiculous prices of Chinese food in Korea, an issue that I've ranted about in several prior posts, we burned through the coupon and went a tad over with a mere 3 small-portion dishes: sauteed sea cucumber, 38,000 won; jjajang sauce pork belly, 26,000 won; yurin-gi (유린기), 28,000 won. Absurd. At least on this particular occasion, I would have to agree that the food was only worth eating at a discount. (We also upsold the tab with a relatively cheap bottle of Chinese liquor costing 40,000 won but didn't feel like ordering anything more, not even a bowl of jjajang-myeon (짜장면) to finish off the meal; we paid the difference and migrated elsewhere.)