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Korea - Land of the Morning Calm


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This is going to be rather on again, off again, I'm afraid, as I can't hook my laptop up.

We're on day 3 of the trip....and I didn't get everyone up until 2 pm. I think the 3 a.m. finish might have something to do with it......

I was warned of this, but paid no heed. Well, okay, I probably did heed. Actually, I was looking forward to it! :biggrin:

I'll get the details up soon, but for now it's been samgyopsal, budae chigae, kalbi, panchan, mussels, Hite, Max, soju, and some fruity wine (sansachun which is similar to paekseju - a variation on rice wine) I'm growing attached to that comes in cute bottles.

Plus Grasshopper, McNalley's, Traditional, and Warthog......about 8 liters if I recall.

We're off to eat.

More news later.

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the quick review again, until I can start getting some real writing posted....

After getting out of the house by 4p.m. we did some excellent duck (more later) and then followed this with Krispy Kreme donuts.

Later that night we did some excellent grilled beef (with bokkum bap after).

Today was excellent. We bussed out to Icheon (famous for their pottery, rice, and chillies) and did lunch with Doddie and Billy, doing the whole sliding table thing.

back in Seoul tonight, it was grilled pork, and then Yoonhi took Serena home, and Jason and I stepped out to Rodeo Drive in Apujeong for apple soju and sea snails.

It's good so far.....I just need to find some time of peace and quiet to write.

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the quick review again, until I can start getting some real writing posted....

After getting out of the house by 4p.m. we did some excellent duck (more later) and then followed this with Krispy Kreme donuts.

Later that night we did some excellent grilled beef (with bokkum bap after).

Today was excellent.  We bussed out to Icheon (famous for their pottery, rice, and chillies) and did lunch with Doddie and Billy, doing the whole sliding table thing.

back in Seoul tonight, it was grilled pork, and then Yoonhi took Serena home, and Jason and I stepped out to Rodeo Drive in Apujeong for apple soju and sea snails.

It's good so far.....I just need to find some time of peace and quiet to write.

Thanks for posting about your trip! I hope there will be pictures **beg** The dinner with Doddie sounds fun, and sea snails!!! :wub: Oh did you try the rice paddy snails, if so how did you like them?

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Hi, y'all,

Milgwimper, no paddy snails yet, but anything is possible!

Sheena, it's good to hear from you. Doddy and I were talking about you over lunch, and I do have to go on a soondae splurge for you at some point here.

Now, let's see if I can get some posts to work...

Next: Day (night) 1

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Korea

October 8

After a day’s flight, my nephew Jason was there at the airport to gather us up pack us away in his car. We were home in a half hour, washed, and looking forward to our first meal.

It was a Samgyepsal joint for dinner. Big slabs of meat, nice humpty dumpty mushrooms, ddtok, onions, garlic, kim chi on a very hot stone bonded with steel. The stone is actually kept over the flame, so that it remains sizzling.

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This is eaten as sum (wrapped in green leaves – lettuce, sesame, etc), and then the remnants on the stone are diced up, sesame oil added, and rice worked in with the oil.

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Above, we have a typically heavy-on-the-mayo Korean salad, and our selection of greens for wrapping and flavouring.

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Next it’s bokkum bap time. All the remaining bits are chopped up, and the leftover greens scissored into the mix.

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Then a bowl of rice is introduced to the heat.

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And then it all gets bokkum’d.

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This is allowed to cook in, and then was topped with gim (nori) – which I forgot to shoot. The result is a finale that ensures you’re not hungry. Plus, you get the really crispy bits from down on the bottom of the mix.

All of this was washed down with large amounts of Hite beer. I’ve always been happy with the Korean brews, so no complaints there.

This place, close (walking distance) to Jason’s place in Seocho-dong is in his top three for the town, which is a good mark, as, like all good Koreans he eats out a lot.

A whole lot.

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fun day today. we made it out to the Seoul International Food Exposition and Korean Food Awards. Not too crowded, as it's a work day, so we could move around fairly easily and get some shopping and rubbernecking in.

Excellent looking food, and (as usual) some good eats.

More later.

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October 9

Not an early start, but not too late. After the morning ritual of gossiping about family and friends, downloading photos, and waking up Serena, we headed out for budae chigae.

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We went to Song Tan Budae Chigae, in Shinsadong just next to Apujung – the Rodea Drive of Seoul. This is Jason’s favourite budae chigae place. If you’re doing lunch in Korea, try to get to your restaurant before noon. It’ll be fairly empty. Come 5 minutes after, you’ll have to scramble for a table anywhere. As he says, “if I was going to open a restaurant, I’d do it in Seoul. Everyone eats out for lunch.” And probably 50% of the people go out for dinner on any given night.

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The budea chigae comes in a covered dish, all steam and condensation, but you can still discern the two slices of processed cheese and the canned cocktail weenies in the mix (for some reason we didn’t choose to put Spam in, I don’t understand why not).

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For drinking, my attention was riveted on the odd, peach coloured bottle they were advertising on their signboard. Jason told me this was a “lighter” version of soju, more like a wine, really, fruit based, sweeter, and only around 14% alcohol.

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Well, I had to have some, didn’t I?

Jason gave the bottom of the bottle a good spanking (to mix it up) and then poured out the cups.

It’s a good taste. Not the paint stripping flavour of soju, but rather a sweet (but not cloying) wash of fruit juice. Probably closer to a dessert wine than anything else.

I would probably draw glances askance if I swigged it from the bottle, but, then again, this is Korea. But it looks pretty in those little thimble cups, so I wasn’t too badly tempted.

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After we’d eaten down the hot dogs a bit, we ask for some ramyun for the stew. This came in the form of two Shin Ramyun packages. No need for false formalities here. We broke open the foil wraps, and dropped the two wafers of noodle into the broth. This drew up most of the fluid, so the ajimas (older ladies) working there poured in more broth, which is dispensed from a big aluminum kettle, the kind we use at home for making boricha (barley tea).

There’s a question. I’ve been used to using the terms ajima and agashi – for older and younger women, respectively (and respectably). Now that I’ve progressed into the frostier years of my life, should I be referring to women that are younger than I as “auntie”? (The answer, in part, is to refer to them as “imo” – auntie – nowadays).

I asked Jason about the broth, as to its base.

“Is this bonito, or chicken, or vegetable?”

“I think it’s pure MSG.”

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The chigae was quite good, the broth (even refreshed) thick with starch, and the deep, bright red that the Koreans accomplish so effortlessly in their food (and I can only get as close to a bad breakout of acne).

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I hadn’t talked of the panchan (side dishes). Crisp, marinated bean sprouts. Big cubes of daikon (mu) kimchi, fish balls (red with chili, of course) and water kimchi (mulkimchi) which Yoonhi took over as her own provenance (it went quick).

And purple rice. This is meant to be healthier for you, and was all the rage a few years ago. It’s good to see it’s lasted through the fad stage (I’ll talk about Korean food fads later).

We wrapped up the rice, and could feel the hovering presence of people that wanted our table. You don’t linger over your food here. In one of the pamphlets I collected I read the same concern from the ambassador of Switzerland, H.E. Christian Hauswirth: “Why do Koreans spend very little time at the table, when the rich settings with all the side dishes and specialties are made as real festive meals?”

Just busy, I guess.

After lunch we packed back into the car, and headed across the river.

We were just getting onto Itaewon (the “foreign enclave” of Seoul, adjacent to Yongsan, the US base) when, as will naturally happen in Korea, we found a relative.

“Isn’t our nephew’s museum around here?”

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Well, it’s not really his museum, but he’s the assistant curator. The museum belongs to Samsung, or rather to Mr. Lee and his family – hence the name Leeum – The Samsung Museum of Art. The name comes from the popular Korean habit of combining terms to come up with new not-quite-Anglo terms. An example is music video becomes mu+vi for muvi. In this case it’s Lee+/muse/um=Leeum..

It’s a stunning collection of buildings - fronted by the War of the Worlds’ Spiders - built by three architects over a period of close to a decade. It had begun back in the mid-90’s, but the IMF shut things down for a few years. Then, with prosperity back in hand (you don’t keep the Koreans down for long….well, unless you’re Japanese, but I won’t get into that) they had returned to the work, inaugurating the three museums in 2004.

You start on the fourth floor of the first building, with a collection of some of the finest pieces of celadon to be had, tracing the evolution of the art from the early motifs through to the beautiful elaboration of the Koryo period, and then the degradation after the 13th Century, which in turn gave rise to the Buncheong {“blue-green”) style of the Joseun dynasty.

It’s very stylized, with certain motifs - such as the diving crane and the angling fish - running through the centuries. And it’s very pretty. There’s something about that oft-copied green glaze over the craclature of the pottery that you can’t help but admire.

But, what’s a “prunus vase”?

There was one little oil bottle, in particular, that grabbed my attention, with a detailed pattern of branches and leaves that was stunning. However, even though we’d done a marathon viewing of Oceans 11, 12, and 13 just the week before, I kept my kleptomaniacal urges at bay.

To descend, you drop down the rotunda stairway, reminiscent of a mini-Guggenheim. The architect has funneled the stairwell, expanding the top and contracting the base to give the parallax impression of greater depth. It’s one of those Escher like things where you want to tilt your body to match the canted walls.

They do advise to “please let your children not to run on stairways”. At least not unless your child is Rod Serling.

The third floor houses more and varied pottery, and on the second floor they hold the paintings. I really like Korean paintings. They’ve generally got a lot more life to them than the Japanese and Chinese works of the same periods, spending more time on people and their activities. And, in Korea, “activities” is going to involve drinking, eating, and playing games. And drinking.

And when you get to the ground floor, it’s a Buddhist finish, with some very good examples of the metal work the Koreans are famous for.

Museum 3 was closed, in the midst of renovations, but Museum 2, which housed the contemporary arts display was up and running, so we took in the more modern Korean works. These included a number of very striking pieces, while there were enough others that gave me material to string together some stories to keep Serena amused (“And this is the man eating cow on a rampage….”).

There was one – I Must Learn English - a collection of woodblock “tiles” each juxtaposed with adjectives and nouns in English. With this went a background audio track of conversational English lessons. Jason was pretty certain he recognized the people who were doing the voices from some of his work.

That was on the second floor. On the first they had a Warhol, and exhibits of Damian Hearst and Andreas Gursky’s 99 cents.

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We sat with the family in the coffee shop, giving Serena the chance to stock up on Black Forest cake and Yoonhi to get in an unwise cappuccino (Yoonhi should not drink caffeine after lunch).

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The collection comprises some 20,000 pieces (there’s another museum an hour away near Everland, the Hoan (?) Museum. They generally have around 200 pieces on display at any time, rotating 3% each year (but the painting move four times a year, due to concerns over their maintenance).

The primary material is the collection of celadon on the fourth flour of the first building. According to my nephew (I can actually trace the family lines on this fairly easily, but you have to know that it’s a large net you cast when you fish for family relationships in Korea), the pieces on display on that floor would cover the cost of the buildings (which came to around $300 million – Hey! I don’t have to differentiate between US and Canadian anymore! Cool!).

Up until spring of this year, the museum was by appointment only. In part, they didn’t want the neighborhood (mainly residential) to be too disrupted by too many people, and they also had a long list of people who wanted to the chance to see it first.

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From one museum we moved to another, closer and dearer to my heart. The Kimchi Museum. This’d take ages to go through in detail, but the brief is that you get the historical background on kimchi (chilies were fairly recent – the primary theory is that the Japanese brought them during the 1592 invasion, and that the Japanese had them through their trade with the Portugese); the function side of how to make kimchi (with lots of dioramas); and the chemical side, with explanations on what is going on in the ferment, and how all of this is good for you.

Note from the disturbing model in the photo above (c’mon, it does look kinda ghoulish): in Korea, kitchen gloves come in red. They figured that they were just going to end up that way anyways, so you might as well go with fate.

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Most important, you get to see a lot of different types of kimchi. My favourite for sheer beauty is the pomegranite kimchi. No pomegranates were harmed in the making of this, they just cut and pack the pickle so that the shape looks like a pomegranite (or a pod from Alien).

This was fun with Yoonhi there, as she can remember her mother making all of these. There was one long soliloquy of “I remember this” and “this was so much work”.

Years back I’d scoured the area below the Tower looking for this museum, but had no luck. It had moved at that time, coming to rest in the Coex Mall, a huge thing of a mall that encompassed several wings, movie theatres, hotels, and an aquarium. Obviously, Serena was going to have to go to the aquarium.

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First, though, the troops needed some sustenance. We made our way to the bottom of the Hyundae Department Store and picked up some ddok for Yoonhi and Serena. Everyone is giving advice on how to cook it, and we can’t quite get it across that Serena is just going to chow down on them as is.

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Rice gets worked into an amazing variety of tidbits here, with package after package of sweets on display.

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Then the girls headed off for the undersea world, and Jason and I wandered through the food floor, checking out the produce.

The melons ranged in size from the recognizable big greens and cantaloupes to beautiful little tiger striped things. And there were piles and piles of green onions, sesame leaves, lettuce, and cabbages.

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The mushrooms I really wanted to shoot, but I was waved down after initially brandishing my camera and told that photos weren’t allowed in here. I contented myself with tastings.

As a note, if you’re down on your luck and starving, get to a Korean grocery store. Every two or three feet you’ll have someone pressing a food sample on you. Mushrooms, fish, sausages, meat, it’ll be just a toothpick away.

The beef is the crowning glory. The Korean beef (Han-u) is a thing of beauty. Like all such things, it’s not cheap – running around $115 a kg for the stuff we were looking at. This was 5 Star beef, stunningly marbled with the white distributed evenly throughout the meat. I have to find some place where I can get this as yukke (the Korean tartare).

Jason and I, after a brief lustful glaring at the beer selection (more later) bought a couple of bottles of aloe vera drink (spank that bottom) and headed out into the mall to catch up to the girls.

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The mall was what you’d expect of a mall. There was a huge Hello Kitty (Sanrio) Store, and there was a Totoro shop right across (specializing in anime knick knacks). Lots of clothing shops, and lots and lots of restaurants. Jacky Chan has one of his in here, with Jacky’s likeable face plastered everywhere.

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We got the run down on the omu rice fad that swept through a couple of years ago. Omelet and rice, but one place (Omuto, I think) came up with “fusion omu rice” and rose to fame with 30 different variations. Of course, once someone gets popular with an idea here, the “vultures’ move in, and set up shop right next door with their imitations. The idea is that they can hopefully either waylay people before they get to the original, or else get the leftovers when the famous place fills up.

It’s a neat little characteristic here, as this has, over the decades, led to “streets” of certain types of foods, and neighborhoods that become famous for their particular style as the work of one person is almost immediately replicated…..sort of like amoeba.

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And, according to Jason, who would know, Kraze Burger is the current reigning king of the burger wars in Korea, playing on the “organic” and “healthy” card.

The mall also hosts one of the arenas for the world video game championships. I wonder if Scud could get a scholarship for this sort of sport?......

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For dinner, having done pork in two of its manifestations (sam gyep sal and budae chigae) we opted for beef, dropping in at Tae Do Sik Tang. This was excellent (although not the $115 a kg stuff), and took us through grilling and eating with sum (leafy wraps) through to the bokkum bap stage at the end.

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For the beef, you start off with a big hunk of fat to get the pan ready. I love this place.

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Scissors are definitely part of any table setting in Korea, and nobody’s going to whinge about being intimidated by them (I did have to suppress an urge to grab them, though, and go running).

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The meat is well marinated, but not sweetly so like bulgoki. This is also a reasonably thick cut for Asia.

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Jason took care of the cooking, setting to the cutting and flipping with a certain level of glee.

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The beef went down with Prime Max beer – “delicious idea”, and a cheerfully tubby little bottle of San Sa Chan – another fruit based wine at about 12% - “Korean rice wine for the next generation” it says, but we’ll drink it now ourselves anyways.

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The bokkum bap saw the remnants covered up so the flavours could coalesce.

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We’d peek a few times to see how it was going.

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And when judged ready, the rice went in, and the mixing started.

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And then things are finished with a flattening off of the top.

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After dinner, in Korean tradition, we drank until 3 a.m. at Big Rock, with traditional ale, Warthog, and McNalley’s. The Canadian presence really does come through in town, with a lot of Maple Leaves showing up around the place. Of course, that could just be a bias on our part, as our family members and the people we know are going to have the Canuck Connection (Vancouver’s population swells each summer with the volume of home stay students that come over for English immersion).

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When you drink in Korea, you’re expected to order a food platter of some sort. It’s just not right to drink without eating something…..and the platter is where they make their money. So they were somewhat concerned that we’d just settled into beers with a vague promise of getting a platter “later”.

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However, once we’d ordered the second 4 litre tank of beer, they just brought a plate of mussels around for free. Another aspect of Korean bars is, if they recognize you, or just like you, they’ll send around free stuff. This confused us at first, with bottles of Sprite and Coke showing up at dinner, and us trying to figure out where they came from.

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Around 2 something things seemed to be slowing down, and we suggested maybe it could be a good time to slip away. We clawed the girl away from the fussball table, and called it a night.

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Or is that a “morning”?

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(note: edited because I'm not bright enough to check the Hangul before I write down restaurant names)

Edited by Peter Green (log)
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Woot! We finally get to see some pictures!

It was really fun meeting you Peter and Yoonhi and the lovely Serena. My son was enamored with her. I asked him what they chatted about and Billy said they were talking about hypnosis and stuff like that. Kids?! LOL :biggrin:

Here's an easy recipe for that ddok (rice cakes) that you picked up for Serrena.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp oil

julienned carrots

julienned onions

julienned mushrooms

julienned cabbage

thinly sliced leeks

1 pack vienna sausages, sausages cut in half

1 tbsp minced garlic

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup cooking syrup

1 pack of ddok

Heat up the pan and add the oil. Add the ddok and stir for a minute. Add the rest of the veggies and stirfry for about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and the soy sauce. Cook for a little bit and then add the syrup. Continue stir-frying and mixing everything up for about a minute. Serve hot with toothpicks for everyone to pick and dig in.

This recipe is like ddokbukki but not spicy. My korean best friend taught me how to fix this.

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea

The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos

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some of my favorite things about korea has already been mentioned:

their love of drinking :wub:

and

their love of not wasting food - "bokkuming" everything or adding leftovers to soup.

I don't know what I like better, eating raw fish or adding the leftover bones and flesh to hot and spicy maeuntang soup. I love that picture of the budaechigae. It looks like they threw the remnants of a big mac on top of the soup and I still want to eat it. Nothing like throwing processed meat products, water, and kimchi together to make a memorable meal. Just stay close to a good toilet shortly afterwards if you know what I mean.

speaking of bodily functions....cross any awful hole in the ground toilets yet?

BEARS, BEETS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
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speaking of bodily functions....cross any awful hole in the ground toilets yet?

Nothing (outside of the Middle East, that is) can cast the slightest shadow upon the Chengdu washrooms.

Scud is still scarred by that.

:biggrin:

P.S. - Kopchang, yang, and machang tonight, with way too much soju (okay, any amount of soju is way too much)

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speaking of bodily functions....cross any awful hole in the ground toilets yet?

Nothing (outside of the Middle East, that is) can cast the slightest shadow upon the Chengdu washrooms.

Scud is still scarred by that.

:biggrin:

P.S. - Kopchang, yang, and machang tonight, with way too much soju (okay, any amount of soju is way too much)

I have to agree with Yoonhi and take over the mul kimchi, although I love fresh perilla with grilled meat! ::Wimper:: The food picks look so good; my mouth was watering at each post. So many things I want to eat but can't get here!

I hope you can get a chance to eat the rice paddy snails I would like your opinion on those.

I love kopjang especially if they have been marinated and grilled! Yummy! Although I do like them in chongol too...You're making me hungry I need to leave! LOL

YES! Please do a soondae run! :wub: Although I do love deokbokki and odeng too... :rolleyes:

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Woot! We finally get to see some pictures!

It was really fun meeting you Peter and Yoonhi and the lovely Serena. My son was enamored with her. I asked him what they chatted about and Billy said they were talking about hypnosis and stuff like that. Kids?! LOL :biggrin:

Here's an easy recipe for that ddok (rice cakes) that you picked up for Serrena.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp oil

julienned carrots

julienned onions

julienned mushrooms

julienned cabbage

thinly sliced leeks

1 pack vienna sausages, sausages cut in half

1 tbsp minced garlic

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup cooking syrup

1 pack of ddok

Heat up the pan and add the oil. Add the ddok and stir for a minute. Add the rest of the veggies and stirfry for about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and the soy sauce. Cook for a little bit and then add the syrup. Continue stir-frying and mixing everything up for about a minute. Serve hot with toothpicks for everyone to pick and dig in.

This recipe is like ddokbukki but not spicy. My korean best friend taught me how to fix this.

Domestic Goddess thanks for posting your recipe! I love all versions of deokbokki. I will have to give these a try...Although lately finding deok has been interesting, and fustrating lately. :sad:

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You're welcome, Milgwimper!

Hope Peter doesn't mind me hijacking this thread by posting another ddok recipe.

A VERY SIMPLE DDOK recipe

small bamboo skewers

1 package of ddok rice cakes (tubes ones, about 2-inch length)

1/4 cup oil

ketchup

1. Take a bamboo skewer and skewer dokk cakes in the middle until you get about 4 or 5 on a stick.

2. Heat up the oil in a shallow pan. Put the skewered dokk and fry for about 2 minutes on each side.

3. Drain the ddok on paper towel and brush with ketchup (or gochujang) and enjoy your snack!

This is a favorite street snack for kids here in Korea. Lemme see if I can find a picture of it in my files.

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea

The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos

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Oh yeah, that ddeok on a stick is a classic. Peter, it's great to see all these photos of Korea. When I was living there, that museum was still by appointment only, but I wanted to go in! Maybe when I get back for a visit. I don't suppose you remember the name of the artist that did those spiders? Because I'm sure they have one of them in Tokyo, in Roppongi Hills. It's hard to forget something like that.

I need to get back to Korea so I can catch up on the trends for bottled liquors - I miss sansachun. (But I don't miss Hite).

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Peter: I just wanted to let you know that the samgyupssal pics are killing me here! :sad: But please keep posting!

Domestic Goddess: LOL wow I haven't had ddeok and ketchup in a long time! Thanks! I sitll haven't gotten any ddeok in my pantry yet. *sigh* :hmmm:

I wonder if they still set Poke (not the hawaiian type) I think it was sugar abd baking soda or powder in liquid hot form. I know they sell it by cooling it and imprinting designs on it, but when I was a kid they used to sell it in a ladle all hot a bubbly and you ate it with one lone chopstick. :wub:

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You're welcome, Milgwimper!

Hope Peter doesn't mind me hijacking this thread by posting another ddok recipe.

A VERY SIMPLE DDOK recipe

small bamboo skewers

1 package of ddok rice cakes (tubes ones, about 2-inch length)

1/4 cup oil

ketchup

1. Take a bamboo skewer and skewer dokk cakes in the middle until you get about 4 or 5 on a stick.

2. Heat up the oil in a shallow pan. Put the skewered dokk and fry for about 2 minutes on each side.

3. Drain the ddok on paper towel and brush with ketchup (or gochujang) and enjoy your snack!

This is a favorite street snack for kids here in Korea. Lemme see if I can find a picture of it in my files.

Doddie,

I never mind you stepping in, as I know I won't get Yoonhi to post recipes, and I'm too old and lazy to sniggle them out of her.

Post more, and then I can try (all our Korean cookbooks are in Korean. I can read them, but darned if I can understand them).

Cheers,

Peter

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Peter: I just wanted to let you know that the samgyupssal pics are killing me here! :sad: But please keep posting!

MilgW,

More pictures tomorrow, I promise!

We just spent the last couple of nights on the East Coast and Seoraksan, and I could sneak away while the rest of them are hungover to get some writing done over kimchi chigae and dongdonju (unfortunately, I burped and gave away what I had been up to to Yoonhi).

Once I can get the photos up, and the links loaded, we're back in business.

Except now, my nephew has a bunch of his friends that thing we really need to go out for beers and chicken.

Cheers,

peter

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October 10 Wednesday

I should’ve brought more coffee.

It was 1 p.m. in the afternoon, and not a creature was stirring, just only the mouse. The pig and the cows were still zonked out, but I’d put in a couple of hours trying to catch up on writing.

By 2 p.m. there was some movement, although it was painful to watch. And by 3ish we were out the door and off for lunch.

Our desitination was Nolboo Family Duck. This is a chain of restaurants, each doing something different. This is quite a different tack from the usual places, as you’d expect.

You can recognize the places by the maniacal goateed face with the odd hat. Once you’ve been to one place, you see him everywhere, leering at you from the hoardings. On the way here, walking through the mall from the underground, we’d passed one of their restaurants doing soondae, and another doing bibimbap (mixed up rice). As the days passed, he would laugh at me from all across town, every time with something different to tempt me with.

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The place is oddly located (at least for me) sort of out in the middle of nothing, across from the express bus terminal (near the Marriott) and on top of a parking arcade (which brought it uphill to street level) and its shopping arcade - but once you step inside it looks great, and had won the 2001 design award for Seoul restaurants (I do know how to read a plaque, you know).

Clean lines, an upstairs and downstairs, lots of dark wood, and a wonderful façade of medicine chest drawers to remind you that what you were eating (and drinking) was healthy.

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Everything in Korea is healthy for you. Trust them. Chicken, pork, beef, soju, beer, rice, veggies, donuts, it all has the stamp of approval as being good for you.

Why are these guys so rail thin?

Koreans don’t hide their beverages. Any place you go into is likely to have a fridge somewhere in line of sight with the goods for viewing. Here you’ll notice that the king of beverages – beer – has been demoted to the bottom shelf. Soft drinks rank slightly above, soju holds down the middle ground, and the variants hold the high ground.

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I’d held a firm respect for soju in the past. Anything that can cause me that much pain deserves respect. But, like the other evening, I was captivated by the variety of alternatives, with sweeter, fruit based flavours. These are more like fruit wines, and can be quite addictive.

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We went for a bottle of Bok Bun Cha, a blackberry wine. Blackberry has become extremely popular in Korea since it was decided that it was healthy for you. Plus, it didn’t hurt that, at the World Championship Poker games in Vegas a couple of years ago, the winner was chowing down regularly on bowls of blueberries.

Gambling benefits aside, blueberries have become extremely popular based on the health thing, and, this being Korea, that means they’re going into booze. I found it wasn’t too bad, a bit like Vimto, but not something I had to be in a rush to have again soon. My preference has to be for the pear based drinks.

Our panchan was good if not really spectacular. The white radish (mu) was memorable, with a “water” that tasted of salt, a slight horseradish/wasabi/mustard trace, vinegar, and sugar. The other kimchis were normal, mu kimchi,

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cucumber kimchi, pickled cucumbers, salad with mayonnaise (Koreans love to load up their salads with mayo), and pickled garlic.

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But, you don’t go to a restaurant for panchan. We came here because it was Jason’s favourite duck anywhere. Our other nephew, Clark, was here a year ago, and he raved about this bird, too. Myself, I’m fond of a good duck (and you can see the China thread for more than you want to see of ducks) and I was looking forward to this.

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The bird is roasted for four hours in a double clay pot; stuffed with rice and a variety of wonderful things (which we’ll talk about soon) and sprinkled with pine needles to get the smell right. It comes out a glowing brown, rather than the crisp golden of a Beijing duck, and it’s soft.

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A bird like this, you don’t eat it up all at one time. We peeled back the skin and flesh to reveal the glutinous rice that had been stuffed inside. This was supplemented with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, pine nuts, and chestnut.

As I was coming to understand about Korea, health in cooking is very important. Or, at the very least, you should believe what you’re doing is healthy. I don’t take much convincing, myself. But they had also added some ginseng, some figs, and a bark that had a texture like burdock root, but was very bitter.

We called over the expert wait staff (20 something, barely) and asked, and they went into a meltdown. They called over someone older (22 something), and he advised us that it was “that Chinese herbal thing you put in the rice”. We were much older and wiser for that.

But forget about such distractions. This is a great duck. The meat is soft, pulling away from the bones (and there’s a large metal spittoon for the remnants to go into), and the flavour of the bird is permeated by the stuffing, while the same holds in reverse for the rice, steeped in the rich gaminess of my favourite waterfowl.

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There was more panchan brought around as time went by. A nice sunimon style salad of thin rice noodles topped with a salsa of chilis and green onion, and broccoli with a healthy pile of gochujang to go with it.

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To wrap things up they brought out a drink of sugar and cinnamon, with the sweetest grains of rice floating in the liquid – soojongha. (And I forgot to take a picture). Clark remembers his grandmother (Yoonhi’s mom) keeping the rice for this jarred out in the back, soaking up sugar water, and he would sneak out and grab extra rice for his dessert.

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And we finished with lychees stuffed with pineapple.

Lunch out of the way, we did the mall.

This was a study in contrast. At first we did the traditional Korean underground station mall. This can be translated out to “young women’s clothing”. That’s it. We may have seen four or five places that did something else, but they weren’t common. And this goes on for, well, it felt to me like eternity. At least there were occasional restaurants to break the monotony.

These malls, attached clinging to the corridors off of the subways like cholesterol from your arteries, are all about traffic. I’m always confused about how such places sell enough to stay in business, even with the average Korean female buying a new wardrobe every season. But, with the sheer volume of people flooding through, you’re almost guaranteed to make some sales every day. Heck, we bought stuff – sun visors and hair bands for Serena.

Finally we broke clear and made it back into the upscale section – Shinsaegae Department Store and its environs. There we immediately fell into a food floor, which is always a good thing.

In prime place was a large amount of roots and barks and dried mushrooms. All things that will do you good (gotta remember your health). And there were stands selling ice creams and kim bap and, and, and……

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With the “mountain goods” on hand, Yoonhi took it as an opportunity to try and figure out what the bark was that they’d used in the duck, but to little luck. This was going to remain a mystery, at least until we could get back with some of our Korean friends back home (and they’ll just tell us it’s “the Chinese medicine thing you put in rice”).

I insisted on dragging Yoonhi into the grocery section proper, to show her the marbling on the beef. She wasn’t quite as enthused as I’d been, but did admit it looked really good. I would love to get some of this in yukke (raw beef).

We wandered about a little bit more, taking in the multicultural aspects of modern Korea – the coffee shops, Italian gelato joints…….and then we stumbled upon Krispy Kreme.

We had to stop in. And, yes, they still give away free samples, hot from the assembly line. As we bit into ours and felt them evaportate in our mouths, Jason and I were pretty sure they’re just a lightly bonded fat in the shape of a donut. There’s no other way they could be this light.

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Given that they were advertising hardbodies at one of the fitness studios in conjunction with the donuts, and given that there must be a “health” angle here somewhere, we ordered a dozen to take home.

We’ll feel better for it, I know.

But the effects of the night before, although not as obtrusive, were still haunting the edges of our existence. We’d debated catching a movie, but decided to hold off for now, as I’d probably just go to sleep.

But, having dumped the donuts and some other shopping at home, we headed out to do an Itaewon run.

As much as the rest of Korea has changed, Itaewon still looked the same. It’s good to know some things are destined to stay dingy and run down, and the strip looked just as I remembered from a decade ago. We picked up some candied ginseng, argued with a vendor who knew better than we did how old Serena must be, checked out hockey jerseys for Jason’s team (the new ones don’t come with removable crests, darn it) and then got out of Dodge.

And then it was dinner. Chuncheon Dak Kalbi, one of Jason’s regular spots, across the street from one of his prior residences in taechidong near the Hanti subway station (‘yok’).

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The ajima (“auntie” is the easiest translation) running the place was happy to see Jason, and went into full interrogation mode, cheerfully grilling him on who we were and where we were from.

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Her chicken came out coated in the marinade of hot pepper, with lots of sweet potato, ddeok, cabbage, and sesame leaves in the pot.

As this was going to be way too evil for certain little girls, we ordered here the old stand-by: omurice.

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She wasn’t thrilled.

Serena is definitely not an omelet and rice sort of girl, which is a shame, as the dish looks very good (and would feed way more than one little girl).

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But, her issues with food are her problem. The chicken cooked up, with active stirring on Jason’s part, and we dug in with the appropriate level of abandon. The chicken was yielding, soft like a good gung pao chicken, but this had that brutality of Korean gochujang about it that just works your mouth way, way up. A good glowing burn that builds as you eat more and more.

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We dropped in some noodles – jolmyun. These are the stretchy ones, that have an elastic band texture to them. You have to pull and tug, as they desperately try to hang onto the food.

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And, finally, we had to bokkum the remnants to get our rice the way we wanted it, with the flavour of the chicken and the remnant broth worked through.

I should make a comment here (you know you can’t stop me). As you drive down any major street in Korea, you’ll be impressed by the number of restaurants lining the street. It’ll seem like you’re never more than five or six steps to food where ever you stop.

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Okay. Sound good? Now go into the street just behind, the one running parallel. Everything is beer, soju, whiskey, and food. The only relent will be the small 7-11 type marts, but their main purpose is to sell food and drink, too. Miles of food. Everywhere you go in Korea (South that is) you’ll find these back up streets. They service the business of the front streets, either as a place for lunch, or as delivery of food. At lunch time and early evening you’ll see trays and stacked metal containers of food racing across the streets into the main buildings.

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We dropped in on one place to get the girl her gelato (now, there’s a Korean treat, eh?). Chocolate chocolate was her choice.

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Myself, I was holding my appetite for something crispier.

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Along with all those restaurants we mentioned, there were also the carts. These’ll take up position at the street entrance. And, oddly, there’ll often be more than one of them, but all selling the same thing.

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What we were after here were sausages made by wrapping seaweed (gim) around the noodles, rice, and offal stuffing that would usually go inside of soondae - gim mari. These are then crispy fried.

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After frying, the sausage is cut up and served with ddeok bokki (which is good enough to eat on its own) – a stew of rice cake (ddeok) and gochujang. All tidily served in a nice plastic dish with plastic wrap, you hunt down your tidbits with a skewer.

Ambling back down the street to the car, we took in the other shops. Lots of chicken in this area, besides the Chunchong Dak Kalbi and its vultures, there was fried and grilled chicken, fast chicken, and slow chicken. But there was also a lot of pig on hand, and beer. Lots of beer. One place, the Cool Hof, was advertising the coldest beer in town, and we could see chilled kegs on the talbes inside.

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However, as tempting as it might be, it was a work day for Jason the next day, and he needed to be in reasonable shape. So, instead of heading home at 2, we were back at the cheerful hour of midnight.

Besides, we had more beer to drink at home (Sapporo) and there was one last treat to eat.

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What kind of pringles are those in the background of the Krispy Kreme?  Some kind of unusual flavour?

Ketsup flavour! But I brought those from the Middle East for my nephew to try out on his friends who haven't seen these.

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