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Travelogue: Spring Break 2009 -- Seoul


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My coming to Seoul is one of the worst kept secrets, I know.

As I've said, I fall further and further behind, but, given that I'm having far too much fun, I don't feel too bad about that.

But, it's been an excellent week so far (aside from the fact that I've had limited time to post, and when I get time, I'm going to finish Bo.Lan)

I've met some of my favourite bloggers - ZenKimchi and FatManSeoul - and I've been an albatross about my nephew - Jason Lee - for too long already.

But, as I've said elsewhere. for food, I'm torn between Bangkok and Seoul. So, if I can do a trip like this....well...I'm happy.

Some of what I post will be a repeat of the last Korea trip. We do have our favourites. But others, like this day's meals, will be completely different.

So, have patience, and, if you have recommendations, let them rip.

Now, I'll return to my Hite.

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Teaser (and completely out of sequence)....

Korean baseball food culture!

Japan beat the US this morning, so it's K v J tomorrow!

This is going to be more intense than a Park Chan Wook dental clinic. :smile:

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March 16 – Chickens Are Forever

(With apologies to Ian Fleming)

It was a poor breakfast on Korean Airlines, I’m sorry to say. I’d hoped for some soju, but they didn’t have any in stock. How can Korean Airlines not have soju, I ask you?

Rather than bother Jason about going back and forth, I’d taken down the details for the bus, and, once I’d hit a cash machine for some kilowon and grabbed a couple of cell phones, I hopped onto the bus to Nambu Terminal and was off.

Early morning in Seoul. Well, relatively early. It was an hour and a half on the bus, with Nambu the last stop. Driving in, I admired the wealth of food, the abundance of restaurants, and the presence of life sized velociraptors for sale as garden ornaments.

I do like this town.

By the time I arrive at Jason’s place, I’ve worked up a good hunger. Our first order of business was to hit up my favourite pig joint.

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Well, maybe it wasn’t quite the first order of business…….

I must say, it was Nakji's beautiful pictures of pork that had driven me to distraction a few weeks back, and helped to trigger this trip. And this place, just down and around the corner from home, tucked into the golmok (food alley) downhill from the bus terminal, is one of my favourite places on Earth.

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Their flagship outlet (“boncheom”). This is a fine example of ssamgyepsal – slabs of grilled bacon.

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Just looking at slabs of meat like this brings poetry to your heart. (But it's dong dong ju that brings it out of your mouth)

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The quintessential Korean restaurant. Extractor fans, menus on the walls, and burners built into the table. You sit on the floor, with heat radiating from the ondul (heated floor) beneath you.

It’s a wonderful thing to have a plate of pork, mushrooms, ddeok (rice cake), tofu, onions, and kimchi.

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The simple goodness of pork, slabbed out like this on a hot stone tray, is something you can’t quite describe. It’s not just the sizzle and pop, or the smell, but the light misting of fat coming off from the tray, and the slow bleed of kimchi juice draining away like a bloody glucose drip.

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It was still early in the morning, so we limited ourselves to some beers and a small volume of soju.

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And they always drop off a bottle of cider (Sprite). We don’t drink it, but they always put it out.

(Note: Korea – land of scissors)

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As the first of many Korean meals to post, I do need to spend some time on the side dishes (banchan). Here we had a crimson marinade and some spring onion that would go into the ssam (the wrapping of the meat in greens).

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And what greens! Fresh, fresh lettuce (three types here) and ggaenip (perilla), which is a taste I thought I’d never grow to love. But having it fresh is much different from the nasty oiled stuff from cans I’d known growing up.

Cool, pickled cucumber spears there, a form of water kimchi.

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And, what’s a Korean meal without potato and apple salad in mayonnaise? Oh, and that daikon, slinking in pickle water like eels, is a thing of beauty. The angry red sauce is another accompaniment to the wraps.

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Give a little time, and the transformation of heat takes the lovely colour of the bacon and transforms it – like alchemy – into flavour.

Oh, and did I mention the garlic? After paying a small fortune for garlic at a horumon joint in Tokyo last year, it’s so refreshing to just call for more and more garlic as we need it. The Korean table never stints you on the side dishes, and an uncharitable soul would feed just on those dishes.

To eat the meat, we dredge it in that marinade you saw, and place it on a layer of lettuce and gaenip held in your other hand. Some of the angry red chili bean sauce goes in, and then you top it with the spring onion and the roasted garlic.

When we were sated with pig meat, we asked for them to mix up our rice (bokkum bap).

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The remnant kimchi, pork, and stuff is chopped up, a bowl of rice plopped on top, and an egg introduced (“Egg, stuff. Stuff, egg.”). Then you get some squeeze bottle sesame oil (don’t you love a country that keeps handy squeeze bottles of sesame oil?)…..

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And then a Kim Jong Il haircut of shredded kim (seawood/nori) is piled on top, before the whole thing is mixed up with some serious paddle work.

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Once it’s been bokkum’d properly, you flatten it out

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and let Nature bring it to that miraculous point of flavour.

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While that was cooking, they brought us some chiggae. How do you describe a chiggae? It’s thicker than a soup, but thinner than a stew. Jason doesn’t care for Rachel Ray, but he does give her credit for the term ”stoup”.

This was a simple kimchi chiggae, but, in my opinion, it’s hard to beat simplicity. This broth of pork fat and kim chi, with a good pork bone stock, is a hard thing to surpass.

Immensely cheered, we walked home to sober up. Luckily, we had a few hours before we had to get scud from Incheon.

Picking up the Boy was fairly straightforward, but we were tight from time. Jason had to be somewhere, so we went straight from the airport, beset with fog, to a display of traditional Korean sports.

Yes, we went to a hockey game.

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I’d like to say that the gyopo won, but it was more a case of them watching the other team lose.

Hey, I’m a tourist. I have to see these things.

Poor Scud, by this point, was cold and hungry. Especially cold. But every Korean hockey team should end with chicken, so we were shortly back across the street from Jason’s place at the Chicken Hof.

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Hof is an interesting term. There were a lot of Koreans in Germany in the 50’s and 60’s – either as coal workers or nurses – and so learning the German language was important, and (like the Philippines now) this provided a steady income of hard currency. Now, if you see “hof” (or worse yet “ho”) you know that beer will be at hand.

Scud was hungry, but you know with a Korean place you’ll be eating.

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We started with an omelet, a tidy stuffed affair, with a splurt of ketsup down the spine.

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Alongside this is typical bar food. Puffed rice, and mu mulkimchi (daikon in pickle water). This is what I crave when I’m drinking a lot of beer.

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After the omelets, the chicken started crowding the table. This came loaded with garlic, and sided with coleslaw and mayo.

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And then came the main attraction. First he he cuts the chicken into 2 parts, takes off the neck, then bbq’s the two halves. Then he cuts each half into 7 parts, and then each part is scissored 3 or 4 times to maximize the surface area. After which the sauce (with 22 ingredients) is coated on the bird, and then the whole affair is finished on the hot plate.

Jason actually tried this at home last year, and the owner gave Jason a tub of the sauce. Jason had the whole show of how to do this, and, as he says “it’s like watching a surgeon”.

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And the fries. Let’s not forget the fries. These are so good, done up (according to Jason) in beef fat. Crisp, refreshing, and the balm of all unease. Plus, Jason and the gyopos (which would make an excellent Greek myth, come to think of it) have prevailed upon him to serve these with mayo as well as ketsup.

Life is good.

Jason and his friends had found this place by fate. They were out after a game one night, and they passed by all the other chicken places on this strip.

And there are a bunch of chicken places on this strip.

With girls, too.

But, somehow, they figured this was the best place to eat.

And they were right.

They’ve been to the other places, and they just don’t compare. Girls come and go, but good chicken is forever.

Or something like that.

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[...]They’ve been to the other places, and they just don’t compare.  Girls come and go, but good chicken is forever.

Or something like that.

:laugh:

Thank you. If you didn't exist, some inspired one would have to create you!

I look forward to the rest of this report.

It's interesting how many different influences Korean food has assimilated. Ketchup, I'm guessing, is a legacy of American troops? And cole slaw, too? Mayonnaise? Which items come from Germany, other than beer? Potato salad, perhaps, or was that introduced by Midwestern American troops?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Great report Peter, and I'm really looking forward to the rest!

We (husband and I) will be in Seoul for a week in June (well, mostly in Seoul - a couple of days in Daegu too). I'm drooling in anticipation of the food there! :wub:

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[...]They’ve been to the other places, and they just don’t compare.  Girls come and go, but good chicken is forever.

Or something like that.

:laugh:

Thank you. If you didn't exist, some inspired one would have to create you!

I look forward to the rest of this report.

It's interesting how many different influences Korean food has assimilated. Ketchup, I'm guessing, is a legacy of American troops? And cole slaw, too? Mayonnaise? Which items come from Germany, other than beer? Potato salad, perhaps, or was that introduced by Midwestern American troops?

The origins of popular Korean cuisine would merit a PhD thesis or 10 (Hmmm.....with a title like "Dr. Green" I could make it into the next version of the Clue game). There's the back and forth with America, of course, and Canada is having a huge influence on Korea now, with large numbers of gyopo (returned Koreans) here, as well as equivalent numbers of young Koreans doing homestays in Vancouver and Toronto.

And, as I've written about in the Japan and China trips, there's a huge amount of interaction between the Koreans, the Japanese, and the Chinese. The Chinese can be separated more easily (noodles = Chinese), but the Japanese/Korean influences are far more difficult to pull apart.

Both Zenkimchi and FatManSeoul cover this topic to some extent in their blogs, and it's something I'll need to put more serious study into later.

Of course, that would require me being serious. :rolleyes:

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March 17 – The bottom falls out

After a great start, disaster had to be lurking around a corner somewhere waiting for me to be caught unaware.

There are few things more terrifying to me than stomach problems while traveling. Fractured toes and such structural damage is easily enough dealt with (you can fix anything with duct tape), but internal actions that limit my ability to eat are, well, just not right.

So, after a very bad morning, I had to force myself out for food.

Jason drove, thankfully, and we headed over to Samsong to meet Peter and Sandra.

If you’re guts are giving you troubles, then fight fire with fire. We were going to Hadong Gwan for myeongtang. Stomach lining and innards.

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This is their second outlet. The original is in Myongdong, and has been in operation for 70 years now. The old fellow who headlines was about. You could recognize him as they had a couple of pages of a manhwa (comic) blown up to wall size behind the cashier. He looks pretty much the same in life as he does in print.

It’s quite an established process here. You pay when you enter, and there’s only the one main dish. You don’t come here for choices.

We took a place at a table near the entrance. It was 11:30, and it was filling up.

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As soon as we were sat, the bowls came out. Excellent broth, and big hunks of mystery cuts floating in there. Surprisingly, the bottom of the bowl was filled with rice. Yoonhi always complains about me putting my rice directly into my soup, but they didn’t have a problem with that here.

Behind us was the ubiquitous Korean kettle. This was full of kimchi juice, which you could pour into the soup to spice it up. The big communal bowl of spring onions is there, along with kimchi, so you can get your vegetable allotment for the day.

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Mind you, this place isn’t about vegetables. Peter ordered an extra plate of meats, but I was having a hard time just finishing what I had in my bowl.

Still, soup is good for you, and if I was going to avoid the horrors of dehydration, I needed to get this down.

We’d just beaten the rush. The restaurant is only open until 4 p.m., and when it was time to leave there was a line stretching out the front to the sidewalk.

I asked Peter about the original outlet, and he prefers this one. He said that the broth here was cleaner, with the original being greasier. My stomach was happy with this.

After lunch we drove over to Costco and did our supply run. I’d messed up last time, and had done this late in the trip, and so had made a point of loading up on coffee, wine, muffins, cheese and bagels early on. I love Korean food as much as I do Thai, but you need variety in life.

I stared longingly at the bulgogi wraps in Costco’s little restaurant, but knew they were beyond me now.

We dropped Peter and Sandra back at home, and then stopped in Togok for Jason to get his hair cut, and took the opportunity to drop in on Star Super.

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This is a small outlet of Shinseggae’s. It isn’t as overpowering as the big department store’s food floor, but does have a fine selection of food and gear. There were some very pretty Japanese kitchen knives I was lusting after, and if I had the weight allowance I would love to bring back some of the pots.

The produce, as you’d expect, was stunning. But they don’t like photos here, so I constrained myself. The mushrooms, in particular, have a certain earthy glow that I just can’t explain properly. I should just buy a bunch and bring them home to shoot, but I suspect they’ll go to waste.

And, something I’d been missing, the store was full of insa-ladies. I realized that, over the decades, this was passing away – the pleasant ladies who would be stationed about the stores. Sure, they have the girls dancing cars into the parkades, but that lacks the old style grace of a quiet smile and a bow.

And back in the drinks section, I found something interesting. I might not be up for it now, but I could set this aside for later.

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Beakhwa subok (I think). From the details on the box a Korean recipe going millenia, based upon a triple fermentation of rice.

It looks like sake to me!

And while I gloated over this find as best I could, The Boy was starting to enjoy his vacation.

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There’s nothing like internet access and a large bucket of jelly bellies to make a boy happy.

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Hmmm, myeongtang, I should remember that word. It has everything I like soup and innards. I should look for a myeongtang restaurant here in Janghowon. My husband was asking what was the Boy's name and I forgot - good thing you posted his name here. And he also asked how old he was, I told him ah, early college? Was I right? Sorry if I made a mistake.

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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March 18 – Curse you , Bile Gastroentitus!

The night before, my insides didn’t improve, so I missed dinner. Pity. Jason and Scud went out for grilled pork neck, eaten as sam with gaenip leaves and lettuce and the usual. My worthless child forgot to take pictures.

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I forced myself to go out for lunch with Scud and Jason, who’d been at work (Scud has to do work shadowing to get the credits to graduate). This was at 4 p.m. We went to the nearby Cheonggukjang, cheongguk being a soup of overfermented denjang.

It wasn’t far. Just across from Nambu Terminal, down the street, and in right at the sign for the Jungto sect (religious groups in Korea post their websites on the walls). Turn left at whatever it is that Jungto is, and you’re there.

First thing you need to appreciate is that you know when you’re in a cheongguk jang joint. Opening that door and breathing is even funkier than the Moscow Underground in July. But this smell could grow on me (Russian subways are another matter).

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The headline dish is this thick, diarrhetic pool of creamy brown, with lumps of tofu frolicking in the mire.

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But it’s not just the mire. To eat it properly, they’ve posted clear instructions. You start by putting your namool on top of the rice, then dishing on 2 ladles of the cheongguk jang. Then you add one dollop of gochujang (that happy red paste of chili and beans) and then give it a good mix up, like you would a bibimbap.

And so, what did we have for namool?

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Kong namool – big, healthy sprouts. And chives, and what I think were garlic stems.

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Jason recommended the jeon here. We have a ripened kim chi chon, a satisfying thin pancake with fresh spring onion and kim chi that’s been allowed to go over to the dark side.

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And we also ordered some stuffed peppers. Minced meat and veg, dipped in flour and egg, and then put in a pepper and deep fried. This is chae seo stuff – the food that is put out for the ancestors on the proper dates. I always liked chae seo, as we’d eat really well at school for days afterwards as Yoonhi would unpack her lunch.

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There was also a soontubu dish – soft tofu. Eating this is, well, like eating silk. It’s an intensely comforting dish, and one of the items I’d been eagerly looking forward to on this trip.

Okay, I eagerly look forward to a lot of things. I look backwards and sideways, too, to Scud’s regrets.

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And, something I hadn’t seen before was kongbiji chiggae. This is a sort of proto-tofu, the early beginnings of tofu, that have been chiggae’d here.

Together, we had a really nice triumvirate of bean products. The proto, the fresh (and soft) and the over the hill. Consider it the Goldilocks of bean products.

Part of the function of this meal was that these bean dishes, particularly the cheonggukjang, is considered to be healthy for you, and so I was interested not only in dealing with starvation, but in getting myself back up and out there again.

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To settle the deal, I was drinking dongdongju. This is the early, rough side of sake (think nigori) with a creaminess in contrast to nigori’s silkiness. A fine line, but it is different. However, both are excellent drinks, sparkling still with life in them, the beads popping up above the rim. The sort of thing that dreams (and hangovers) are made of.

Together, it did sit well in my stomach.

The only problem was the regular burping.

But I could live with that. Everyone around me might disagree…….

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Afterwards we went for a traditional Korean evening of entertainment.

We went to Coex Mall to see the Watchmen. (Scud and dad, the two geeks, think well of it).

Scud indulged in a melon flavoured ice cream bar, and I was carefully feeling better.

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Alongside this is typical bar food.  Puffed rice, and mu mulkimchi (daikon in pickle water).  This is what I crave when I’m drinking a lot of beer.

Thanks for another intriguing travelogue! I wonder if that's really puffed rice. It looks like puffed corn to me.

The Korean sake sounds interesting. Does it taste like Japanese sake?

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The Korean sake sounds interesting.  Does it taste like Japanese sake?

Hi, Hiroyuki,

The sake was pleasant. Soft, and with hints of fruit (pear?). Nothing to complain about, and it reminded me a lot of Masa Shiroki's jyunmai from Vancouver.

My only complaint is that I bought just one bottle when I had the chance.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Today, we're off for Janghowon. Soon I'll be at rest for a bit, and can catch up.

Cheers,

Peter

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I know that "maeuntang" basically means "spicy soup" but I thought maeuntang specifically meant spicy fish soup? Or am I just imagining things?

I just had some kongbiji chiggae the other day. My mother grinds raw soaked soybeans and stews them in pork broth with gochgaru, pork ribs, and sour kimchi. The spiciness with the slightly al dente coarse beans is an amazing combo.

I think it's funny that your wife gets upset when you put rice in your soup. Just tell her you're making gook bap (:

BEARS, BEETS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
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I think it's funny that your wife gets upset when you put rice in your soup.  Just tell her you're making gook bap (:

I tell her that I'm making gook bap, and she tells me I'm just making a mess.

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Where was I......

Oh, getting back to my notes, I see I forgot our stop at Burger King.

Myself, I just had some water, wanting to avoid dehydration. But, while our group chowed down on burgers and fries, I looked over the posted menu.

Now, I may just be really out of touch, but is the Burger King honey potato burger meal readily available worldwide, or is this just a Korea thing?

We wrapped up back at the Chicken Hof, with a string of the usual culprits coming in. I couldn't eat much of anything, but the conversation was good, so I toughed it out. The topic was The Watchmen, at first. One of the things I like about this film is that in a very short time, it has generated a better level of conversation than much of anything else I've seen for ages. Then, on a moments notice we turned to Korean movies, particularly the ones that started up the K-Wave, titles likeJSA (Joint Security Area, which was really, really good). This was the film that opened up the purse strings for Park Chanwook (who's more famous in the West for Old Boy, which is my favourite dentistry film), and Swiri, a spy flick that also led to the money flowing into the film industry. The owner, who we already like, proved to be a great database on Korean films, and we were yelling questions back and forth into the wee hours.

The reason I bring this up is that there's a certain atmosphere you get when the cook/owner of the restaurant is so engaged with his customers on a topic completely out of left field. Especially at 4 a.m. But the people here have a fierce nationalism that covers everything Korean, and that's part of what I like here.

We'll get to baseball soon enough.

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March 19 – Finding Closure

I woke, and I knew I was better.

I’m one of those people that can almost enjoy being ill for the sake of that too brief moment when you fully appreciate how good it is to feel well.

I sprang out of bed, the hour still early, and rousted the boy to wakefulness. This was our opportunity to fulfill his obligations to his mother.

We had to go see culture.

Our first stop was the Rodin Gallery. Yoonhi had been very unhappy to find it not open when we’d been here a couple of years ago, and made me promise that I’d go there with Scud.

There was just one problem.

It wasn’t open.

In fact, it was looking pretty darned “shut for business”.

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I took a picture of Scud in front of the building, establishing that we at least tried.

I don’t know the story on what happened here. I know the Korean economy has been badly hurt by the economic crisis, and I wonder if the sponsorship of the arts is drying up, in much the same way that the 1997 crisis saw the end of ssireum and other corporate sports.

In the early 90s, with the economy riding high, traditional Korean wrestling was a hotly contested sports, with all of the big chaebol having their teams carrying their banners. Some of Jason’s first work here was in covering the wrestling, and back then it was something I’d wanted to see, fought on a raised dirt dias, both contestants often being knocked out by the final fall from the ring.

When we returned in the 2000’s, the onus had shifted to culture (as seen with Leeum – the Samsung museum of art).

But, the wheel of dharma has once again revolved.

What else could I do of culture with the Boy?

Well, how about Korea’s National Monument #1? Nam Dae Mun, the famous South Gate?

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Nope.

In 2008 (February 10, to be precise) a disgruntled Chae Jong Gi torched the gate to express his lack of gruntle.

Luckily, the Koreans had done a major review of the gate, and blueprinted everything a few years earlier, so restoration won’t be a problem.

But we were still batting 0 for 2.

Next, I dragged Scud back up the street towards the palaces, but then had a sudden reality check.

Like his mother, Scud needs to be fed regularly. At this point, I needed to put food in him.

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The first place I found looked really good. Fire grilled duck. It also turned out to be really closed.

We checked another couple out. They weren’t going to fit the bill. The boy was getting disgruntled, too (but I keep him away from matches).

Finally, I found what I needed. A tent with trays of stuff. When in doubt, point and throw money.

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While Yoonhi holds that the best ddeokboggi is to be found outside the schools in the clusters of little shops, I have a preference for the little tents that are peppered around the streets of any Korean city (with the possible exception of Los Angeles, but they have the bulgogi taco truck).

Here I had a perfectly acceptable plate of ddeokboggi, smothered in the traditional red sauce, and Scud ordered a set of pork skewers, likewise lathered up in a cheerful orange-red.

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I miss fresh ddeok – soft, chewy rice cake.

I’m always amazed at how much they can fit into these little places. Seating for a dozen, and a range of cooking from the simmers and grills we were eating, to the big bowl of saran wrapped sundae that I’d missed on entry. They were frying eggs for kim bap, and throwing together chiggaes and other dishes as called for.

And everyone was really happy, with the staff chowing down at the next table with some of the regulars who’d dropped in.

Fortified, we set out in search of culture.

It’s not hard to find in Korea, and it must have been the lack of food earlier that had jinxed us.

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Close by was Deoksugung, the palace used by the royals after the Imjin War (1592-1597) left much of everything else razed to the ground. Later it served as the residence for the deposed King after the Occupation.

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It’s a tidy palace, not spread out as the others were, but more approachable as a living area. Maps show the encroachment of the palace grounds, with tall modern towers now sitting on what were once the grounds.

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They also had a singijeon launcher. This was covered on Myth Busters some time back, and was confirmed as functional. You can’t argue with the Discovery Channel. This neat little item came in various sizes, and could simultaneously fire hundreds of rockets.

You need things like this to keep boys like us engaged in culture.

Tempering that were two major galleries, exhibiting the adoption of modern artistic methods and expressions in Korean arts. Interesting material, and it works best, as you’d expect, when it folds back into traditional Korean themes, and jars when it’s simply a lifting of foreign motifs to the local.

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We ended with the changing of the guards. Colourful, and anachronistic, with the drum and bugle corps parading out onto the uber-modern streets of down town Seoul to hand over responsibilities for this palace.

I wandered a bit, and poked into the golmok – those little allies filled with food. There are always interesting finds.

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Consider “Wine Camp”. How come my parents never sent me there when I was young?

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And how about the “Power Lunch” at Star Beer? How had I missed this earlier in the day?

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And tucked into a side alley was this lonely kitty, begging for a passerby to blow the dust off of these bottles of sake .

As a final reward for having tolerated all of this, Scud was indulged in a traditional Korean treat.

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Baskin-Robbins ice cream in a waffle cone.

Next – Home is where the heart is….and the liver, brain, kidneys……

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What? No second lunch at Star Beer? I'm shocked! Disappointed! Stunned at your lack of fortitude!

I want Korean fried chicken. I've never had it, but I think I'd like it. Could I have it without going to a hockey game first? I hate hockey. And are those fries frozen, or do they use a special machine to cut them all wrinkley like? I'd hate to think they waste tallow on frozen McCain's fries!

BTW, I'm done. :biggrin:

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my mouth waters! lol @ 'wine camp'. love Korean food and it is on my travel list. soon. soon. maybe after Japan, Syria, Mauritius etc :-)

[omg they have plastic cover for plates and bowls in Korea too? i've only seen that in China.]

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What?  No second lunch at Star Beer?  I'm shocked!  Disappointed!  Stunned at your lack of fortitude!

I know, I'm a mere shadow of my former self.

And are those fries frozen, or do they use a special machine to cut them all wrinkley like?  I'd hate to think they waste tallow on frozen McCain's fries!

I suspect there's somebody with a special machine somewhere nearby, providing the material for the bevy of chicken hofs in this area. We asked for more fries around 4 a.m., and it wasn't a problem, he just needed time to get the fat back up to temperature.

Korea has taught me a lot about the uses of tallow. I'd never realized that it was the best way to clean a grill, too.

I want Korean fried chicken.  I've never had it, but I think I'd like it.  Could I have it without going to a hockey game first?  I hate hockey.

Yes, you'll have to go to a hockey game and cheer. It's the law. Trust me. :cool:

Edited by Peter Green (log)
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[omg they have plastic cover for plates and bowls in Korea too?  i've only seen that in China.]

While it was pretty common in China, you don't see it much here. The only time I've come across it is at street stalls and low end places. I see it as a way to minimize on dishes, and retain some level of hygiene.

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Interlude

What do you bring the man who has everything?

Well, maybe not everything, but everything he craves.

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I’m seeing a pattern here, what with Old Dutch deliveries to both Japan and Korea. Jason was ater ketchup last time, too, and added on the dill pickle flavour this time around.

I also brought out a box of Stoned Wheat Thins, as I’d hold them up as the perfect example of a cracker. And Jason and I like cheese.

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I poured out a couple of glasses of the subok. It was clear, crisp, and with overtones of fruit. A good sake, not too dry, with some strong minerality, and a perfect companion for some fresh fruit.

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And so I put the boy to work, carving up some of the box of pe ( Korean pears) that I’d picked up at Costco.

We took our minor feast back to the television, and watched traditional Korean sports….

Starcraft!

We spent the next couple of hours watching young people with bad complexions sweat profusely while the crowd went wild, thundersticks crashing and screams of victory over every Zerg outpost leveled.

The Starcraft show….I love this country.

Next: back to plan – sundae guk

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I know that "maeuntang" basically means "spicy soup" but I thought maeuntang specifically meant spicy fish soup?  Or am I just imagining things? 

Sheena,

As usual, you're quite correct. My fact finding team just showed up here in Luang Prabang (okay, it's Yoonhi, Serena, Jason, Peter, and Sandra, along for a good New Years) and I asked them, and what we had was komtang (which Yoonhi would've translated as "bear soup"....but she's still stuck on "mountain octopus").

Once I get to the next stage of this trip (part V) and have decent internet access, I'll try to get more updates posted.

:wacko:

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March 19 – Sundae, Bloody Sundae

Peter took charge of us for the evening, as he has a shared love for offal, which not all of our common friends do.

Scud doesn’t get a choice. He eats with us.

Peter was taking us to his favourite sundaeguk place, one his aunt had shown him. He didn’t say, but it may have been this that led him to settling at Yang Jae. The restaurant is just down the hill on the East side about two lanes, and then into the golmok.

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I’m noticing that a lot of the pork places have a common advertising theme of having a happy pig on the window, waiting in canabalistic glea for the forthcoming feast.

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But maybe I read too much into these things?

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The banchan was as banchan does. Excellent gakdugi (the mu kimchi, spicy and cubed), and a good (but limited) selection of other kim chi.

A lot of people are intimidated by Asian restaurants. In Korea (most of the time) this is unnecessary. All you need to do is hold up as many fingers as you have people, and they’ll bring you whatever it is they do best.

Here, it’s sundaeguk.

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In a large, heavy bowl you receive hunks of sundae (blood sausage with vermicelli), various organ meats, and a few hunks of blood. The whole thing is simmering in a very good pork broth. To this you add some chili to taste, and some other seasoning.

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Give this a good stirring; taste and adjust the flavour if needed; and then get your head down.

gakdugi

It’s an important note that a lot of these dishes aren’t about the component parts, but about the broth, and the flavours that come out and take up residence therein.

Still, I like chewing through the parts.

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I wasn’t as certain about the “extras” though. Peter ordered an additional plate of liver, more sundae, and other stuff (on the left) and an interesting collection of flabby bits that were generally “from the head” (on the right).

I had some issues with the liver, as this came across very dry, to the point that I was forced to go for a beer and some soju (yes, that must shock you) in order to get it down. It was sort of like eating dried Elmer’s glue. The darker bit and the sundae, however, were very good.

The flabby bits were what took my by surprise. I’m no stranger to fat (as anyone who’s met me will attest) but there was something about the feel of this in my mouth that started to induce a gag reflex in me. Peter was delighted, and I knew he’d enjoy my blasting Scud ala Mr. Creosote, but I contained myself…barely.

It was even harder eating the second and third pieces.

Having proven myself (it’s a guy thing: we’re stupid), I turned back to the broth, and the bloody sacks of intestine bobbing about in there. This was really good.

I really like sundae. I clearly remember the first time I had it. We were in Cheju City, in the market. Scud was less than 2 years old and we were in the market. I came across an old woman with a big steel bowl who was stuffing the pig intestines with the mix. I immediately popped into the wooden shanty and had Yoonhi order me some cooked.

The blood gives a solid, rich, iron tang; the bits of mystery meat provide something to bite down on; and the vermicelli and casing give you a real chew to appreciate. Although my stomach was still iffy, I cheerfully ate through the extras with this memory as a beacon.

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After dinner, we wandered down through Namgang, taking in the crowds and the architecture. I like Korean architecture now. It’s a good mix of the traditional (which is being restored, and which I’ll get to in a few days) and modern. For two long (as in the 1970s – 1990s) Korean architecture was distressingly utilitarian, lacking in any charm or grace (I know, I’ll be criticized for this, but you still see these identical building blocks from that

Our primary purpose was to hit up Kyobo Bookstore, an extensive building of English, Korean, and other books.

I picked up an interesting cookbook, and a couple of pieces on Korean textiles. We asked after a couple of the famous old Korean movies on our list, but, unless something’s really old, it doesn’t stay stocked for long in this country.

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Returning outside, we thought about stopping in at the (then) official sponsors of Jason’s team, but gave it a pass in the interest of a relatively early night’s sleep.

My health was returning, but there was no sense in over exciting myself.

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March 20 – Age has its privilige

I woke the next day to health. It’s a wonderful feeling to be well after having suffered. It almost makes the suffering worthwhile.

Almost.

I put this recovery down in part to the sundaeguk, and in part to liberal doses of a Korean drink that looked very much like their yogurt shots, but was labeled “bulgureesu”.

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I tried looking this up on the ‘net, but all I can find are entries related to things you would use on your car’s headlights.

I don’t think that’s it…..But I could be wrong.

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If you’re used to me, you know I have certain “needs” in terms of equipment. My first order of business now that I was more ambulatory was to check out the gadget shop next door to Jason’s place.

I was feeling the need for another power bar, and I could see that this was going to be a trip with lots of photos.

(Note: duct tape on the G4 thanks to Serena’s somewhat incautious stress testing of the laptop just before the trip – luckily, you can fix anything with duct tape).

Technomarts seem to be sprouting up all over town. You’ll still get a better price over at the big electronics market at Yongsan, but there’s something to be said for locality, and this behemoth was only a couple of hundred meters away.

And, the technomart here comes with a Lotte grocery floor on the ground level, and a food court up on top. Bonus!

Our first order of business was storage, so we hiked upstairs, and were immediately ensnared by the two floors of games and gaming systems.

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If you hadn’t realized it, Korea is big on games. We’ll come back to that later.

Korea is also big on learning English, and I must say that it’s become a lot easier to get around here now than, say, twenty years ago.

So many young Koreans have done homestays in North America (particularly Canada), and there’s such a focus on learning English within the country, that there’s almost a feeling of panic about it.

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But is there such a panic that an emergency center is needed?

After picking up some disk and other gear, we stopped in at the Lotte supermarket on the bottom. No pictures allowed, unfortunately, but what I did find was a good selection of produce, with those fantastic soft brown and grey mushrooms I lust after; the wall of Pocky (which Scud helped himself too); beer, beer, and beer; makkeoli in plastic bottles (like a medium sized soft drink in Canada); and meat.

A lot of meat.

Not only were there good, everyday cuts of beef, but they had one counter dedicated to han-u, and another to wagyu. I’ll leave it to the experts to fight over which is better, but I will say that, visually, the marbling in the han-u is just as pleasing as the wagyu I saw.

We picked up some milk, Pocky, and makkeoli, a loaf of bread, and some cokes, and popped back home.

Work done, and my body holding together, I asked Scud to take me back to the place he and Jason did lunch at the day before, while I was convalescing.

This wasn’t far, just at Maebong station, two hits up the line past Yaejang where we’d been yesterday.

Ascending from the underworld, the first thing I saw was a Bennigan’s. A big one.

“I thought you were dead!”

Although Bennigan’s was eradicated in North America Bennigan's was eradicated in North America almost a year ago it’s been an interesting that several survived the disaster, and have set up alliances around the rim the old empire in a bid to survive. I’d seen the one in Bahrain, and now I’d found a larger, more massive survivor here.

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I could see an interesting story in this; the shattered remnants of this once mighty franchise searching for a new corporate home.

In Sheena’s honour, we could call it Bennigan Galactica.

Tearing my overactive imagination away from the far side of the car-motorcycle continuum, I picked up on this gem on the side of the golmok we needed to enter.

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Cone pizza. How come I never thought of that? It’s a much tidier way to eat a pizza, treating it like a temaki.

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Down the lane, my innate restaurant senses started to tingle as we passed an oddly familiar traditional Korean drinking spot….

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I recognized the place. This was the same Mappojjib that we’d eaten at on our last trip.

Just as with the neighborhood samgyepsal place we’d started with, I was happy to be back. While a good trip should be about discovering new things, there's also a place for enjoying prior treasures again.

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I was here for pork neck (and they do ribs, too). Cheju pork, the famous black pigs….I was looking forward to feeding on their throats. Grilled pig neck is one of my favourite beer foods in Thailand, a cut which you can’t help but love.

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The meat is brought out in a wet marinade, scissors, those crucial cooking items, ready to come into play.

One of many benefits in Korea, age matters. So Scud had to do the cooking. Plus, Scud being Scud and I being myself (sometimes), the ajimas all looked to him for communications and left me alone.

Yes, I’m evil.

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It's good training though. Scud’s getting the hang of this scissoring thing, but he’s still not as confident as he should be. Practice, practice, practice.

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This allowed me time to concentrate on catching up with other interests, although I didn’t neglect my fatherly duty of encouraging him in taking up new skills.

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As usual, we tossed on as much garlic as we could. After my Roppongi Incident I now treasure a freeflowing supply of garlic and banchan.

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The chiggae was as good as I remembered, but I couldn’t figure out how to order the extra cubes of blood we’d had before. I considered running through a mock display of slitting the boys wrists into the soup, but wondered if this might alarm the staff.

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Scud’s finished product was quite edible…..so I ate it. Soft, juicy cuts of pig neck with that smell of charcoal grilling upon them, dabbed with marinaded spring onion, and wrapped up in ggaenip (perilla) and lettuce, with a dab of ddeangjang and a piece of roasted garlic under there.

I was feeling better, but not 100% as far as my appetite went, so we passed on the nengmyun. It had been good, but those cold mung bean noodles fill me up too much.

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We did take the time to enjoy our dessert, though. Sikkae – a sweet bowl of rice and sugar water – very similar to khao chaer in Thailand (which is something I’ll get to in Part III in due time)

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Again, the age thing. In this country I can order the boy to take care of the check.

Jason’s actually gotten out of tickets by playing the age card. A cop pulled him over and started to write him up. Jason’s passenger leaned over and yelled “How old are you? Do you know how old he is? You can’t give him a ticket.” With that the police politely bowed and backed away.

As a rule, most of the standard Korean restaurants have you take care of the bill at the register. There’s none of this calling for the bill to be brought to your table, rather you take care of money matters at the source, away from the food.

A fine meal, one that had me feeling (albeit tenuously) a bit more like my old self.

Back on the street, we wandered about, and further admired the traditional scenery of a Korean eating alley.

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I’ve often seen big bags of puffed rice (and corn. Hiroyuki was quite right earlier .) I’d wonder about who would buy a cubic meter of this to eat at home.

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But it’s obvious now, this is to be sold on to the bars in the neighborhood.

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We were early enough in the day that we could enjoy the pre-dinner choreography practices outside the restaurants. This is a ritual I’ve seen here and in China. I wonder if it would ever catch on in North America?

To finish, as the Boy had done well in looking after his infirm father, I took him back to the same gelato place I’d taken Serena.

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Scud reacted favourably to this.

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“Mildly enthusiastic” might sum it up.

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When Yoonhi and Scud had done their walking tour in Italy a few years back, Scud had taken to staking out the gelato places so that he could hit them as soon as they were opened, at which point he would fall upon them and order the first scoops of the day.

It’s good to have a passion in life.

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Here he had a very smooth espresso flavoured gelato. Just the thing to wrap up a good Korean meal.

Myself? I was feeling like I could handle a night out again.

Next: A Night Out

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Interlude – Big Game

I’d mentioned in the last post that the Koreans are big on games.

The Koreans are really big on games.

There are a number of aspects to this.

First, let’s consider drinking games.

Given that, if you’re Korean, you’re going to be spending a certain portion of your life in the company of other Koreans enjoying the benefits of alcohol, you need things to amuse yourself.

Games are big here.

I’ve only covered a few. There are the riddle games, the singing games, and then there are the “things to do with soju bottle cap” games.

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In one, you take the twisted ring element strand, hold it firmly, and try to twack off the rest of the cap. This is passed about until the cap is off, with drinks for the losers. By the time the cap does come off, the bottle is finished, so you then can get a new cap to play with.

Another game includes guessing the number under the cap. Same result.

One item that caught my eye was a new game that Jason and Peter had brought back from Thailand.

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In this game, you take a nail, and, with one hit, drive it into the stump. If you miss, you take a slug of soju and try again.

I’m waiting for this to take off here.

At that point I expect to start seeing a lot of people with bandaged thumbs.

(Note: drinking games deserves a thread of its own, but feel free to jump in here with others)

Scud and I watched the Korean Starcraft championship channel on tv while kicking back after lunch. Screaming crowds; thunder sticks; adolescents with bad skin sweating profusely over the controls; and the commentators roaring with a passion even Italian football fans can’t come close to.

It’s pretty intense.

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Scud cooled down from the excitement with a Big Jaws shark ice cream bar (it was grey flavour).

Myself, well, there was that plastic bottle of makkeoli chilling in the fridge.

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We'll come back to this topic later, when we ponder the importance of dried squid tentacles in baseball.

Edited by Peter Green (log)
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For some reason I thought I read dried squid testicles not tentacles. Now I have a hankering for dried squid. Damn you Peter (off to search the pantry for dried squid to fry).

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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