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Travelogue: Spring Break 2009 -- Seoul


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Peter - I know I have a picture of that squid snack somewhere. Lemme search my disks (have several back-up disks) for the picture of the squid snack. Let me just say sometimes that snack hits it when you're in a binge-eating, salty-sweet kind of food craving.

When are we not in a binge-eating, salty-sweet kind of food craving?

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March 21 – Eating With The Bosses

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I first came across Star Chef through Zenkimchi's excellent blog. And then I read up on it as well on equally impressive FatManSeoul journal. Both of these are outstanding sites for details on Korea, not just on the food, but also on the culture and the life, which is what really adds flavour when you’re overseas.

(These two are just the tip of the iceberg, of course. There's a wealth of material out there on Korea, in both English and Hangul, but I'll leave that to your own investigations.)

(There’s a question! Are there any North Korean food blogs? I can see the entries now “March 20: hungry……March 21: hungry again…”)

These two journals cross pollinate quite a bit, as both share the same passion for food and Korean culture, and everyone gets along well. It’s a big city, but a small one at the same time.

So, when Joe (Zenkimchi himself) told me he, EunJeong (his chief of research and attitude), two of his other colleagues, and FatMan would be hitting up Chef Kim’s Star Chef…..

Well, you know where this is going.

Joe met us at the Maebong station, across from the derelict Bennigan’s, and walked us back down the same golmok we’d been in just a few days earlier for pork neck. (Use that as a direction marker. If you get to the happy porcine family waiting to be consumed on your right, you’ve gone too far).

I’d walked right by the place the other day. It just goes to show that, no matter how much you try to take in everything in s strange town, things are going to get by you.

We were without reservations , but we just managed to crowd into the front table by the window. The rest of the modern, clean space was either packed out already with diners, or flagged with little reserved tags.

Clustered about the table, the seven of us started working over the menu.

Fusion is a fair term for the food. Nothing wrong with that. The dishes are a mix of Korean, Chinese, and European influences. The names are fanciful enough, which makes sense when I learn that Joe-Zen (that has a nice, Southern ring to it) was responsible for the English menu. He had a lot of fun with this.

While we were working through the menu, a starter dish of brocolli with fried garlic came out to the table. There was a lot of garlic in the air with this dish, which is just fine in Korea. A very simple thing, but it works well. I was slow on the camera, and only just managed to get a shot in before Scud snagged the last piece(s).

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It’s good to have children. You always have someone to blame.

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Our first plate – a bulgalbi and grilled mushroom salad - was a bit of fusion, albeit mostly in the presentation. The flavours were strongly Korean, with the roasted ribs giving up that carnivore spirit, and the mushrooms, lightly grilled, with that smell of the forest. Toss in some more garlic on top, and the greens, rather than being wrapped about the meat, are now just in the toss.

Good, solid Korean meat flavours, but with a presentation that could work well at a more Western setting.

I could do this.

Salads, in my opinion, are always good things. That is, as long as they have large amounts of meat in them.

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The second arrival at the table was the octopus salad. This came with a Mediterranean tone - rather than Korean - with oil, olives, balsamic, and artichoke hearts in there. The octopus itself was soft, easy on the teeth with that Greek marinade that I remember from days in Kitsilano as a youth.

The two salads make a nice contrast. The oiliness of the octopus, with its heritage from the West, and the cleaner, meatier flavours of the Korean meat salad. To start, they complement each other well.

We’d been drinking beer, quite a bit of it, as everyone was in that midst of shared bliss where good food is involved. Hence my typically horrid shot of the Million Won Samgyeopsal Jjim (steamed pork belly) was too blurry for publishing. This was accompanied with overfermented sour kimchi ( let’s get the right olfactory element here, shall we?). This was a thick dish, the pork finished in a thick gravy, and really called out for rice to lengthen the sauce and set off the tang in the old kimchi.

But rice just fills you up.

Obviously, with beer and food, we were talking. A lot. Our discussion centered, as expat conversation often does, on where to find things. Empenadas, for instance, can be found at Carib, in Itaewon. And a certain amount of discussion involved the recent shooting of Andrew Zimmern’s Korea episode, which Joe had done the foot work for. (I found the seafood segment with Star Chef's Kim HuNam on Youtube if you're interested)

gallery_22892_6547_2956.jpgThe Delicate Clam Soup lived up to its name. Fresh greens, small mushrooms, and clams, their mouths agape beneath a Sargasso Sea of green onions. The broth was extremely soft, but highlighted with peppercorn. This is one of those times when you just concentrate on the fluid. Korean clam broths have a certain something about them that can make you forget the traffic and the yelling and all the other noise of modern Seoul, and just take you to a quiet place.

Uh!?....Where was I? Sorry, food coma hit me.

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I had to try the ramen. Big, fresh mussels, and noodles that didn’t come from a Shin Ramen packet. Some not-so aged kimchi to keep me honest. Again, the broth on this was really worked up, with a deep, rich flavour. I was so overcome with happiness with this that I even allowed Scud to share some.

We talked more of food in Seoul, what there was and where to find it. I really needed a makeoli jib soon, listening in on everyone’s favourites. Fatman had one that sounded excellent. After a tea tasting, Fatman had been dragged by the tea shop owner to the neighborhood jib over near Anduk. Three types of makeoli. How can you go wrong.

Food shooting is pretty well accepted here. Koreans seem to be surgically attached to their huge Canons, and are shooting just about everything. Some places have become a little ticked off, as they’re getting people coming into their restaurants, taking pictures, and then leaving without eating. That does seem to be pushing it.

But if you’re a custome, they’re pretty accommodating. There’s one okonomiyaki place that doesn’t allow pictures, but that was the only one the collective crowd could think of.

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The “Amazing Fish” came out, a whole mullet, deep fried and crispy, then hit with a sauce and fresh greens. This was a very Chinese dish in presentation and in flavour. Well executed, and the mullet (it’s not just a hair style) is a pleasant fish. I like fresh herbs (coriander here) tossed onto my fish at the end. It lightens everything.

FatMan describes the sauce as “Japanese crack sauce” – mirin, ginger, soy and citrus.

And the fresh coriander snaps me awake. This is Korea, and there’s fresh coriander! Yoonhi didn’t know what coriander (or cilantro) was until well after she’d left Korea (and left Canada for that matter).

Jason and I had been discussing this earlier, the lack of certain items – herbs particularly – in Korea. You can buy dried stuff (thank you, Costco), but fresh herbs and vegetables are either part of the culture, or you just don’t get them.

It seems strange, as you drive outside of town and see miles and miles of greenhouses, but Korea is very much about “going with the mob”.

Chef Kim, however, has addressed this in part by having (I’m told) his own farm (or at least his family having a farm). This allows him to self-source, and have more control over the ingredients he has available.

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After the fish, the tangsooyuk came out, the traditional sweet and sour (the meat being beef). This is a staple of any Korean Chinese meal. The battering was very good, staying crisp even with the sauce. Very nicely done, although we were filling up by this point.

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The Orgasm Sausages (thanks to Joe for that name) had just fallen off the list of what we could manage to eat. But, when the table next to us had an order delivered to their table, the smell drew us in, and they were kind enough to tolerate our muscling in and shooting their food. We weren’t quite crass enough to eat any off of their plate, but it was a close run thing.

Okay, you get enough foodies in one place, and things can turn ugly. But everyone was laughing, so that’s a good sign.

FatMan talked about the North of Seoul, particularly the area stretching up from the palaces into the hills. I’d driven through it before, finding to our surprise that a lot of the roads had been opened up – the area around the Blue House had long been restricted access. As with Star Chef, there were funky, modern places opening up in that district that used to house Seoul University. But we’ll talk later about the sea change coming to the Korean food scene.

Talk revolved back to the subject of non-Korean eats. It doesn’t get talked about much, but Korea is the number one destination for migrant labourers at this time. Plummeting birth rates over the last few decades, and continued expansion of industry has quietly led to a shift in the “face” of Korea, although it’s not an aspect that the casual tourist (and I’m pretty casual) comes across. There are places popping up, generally at the ends of the rail lines, where the masses of Southeastern and Central Asian workers are living and eating. If you go looking you can find Filipino Sunday markets, Thai eateries, mainland Chinese, Uzbek kebab joints, and plenty of Turks.

That’s at the working level. There’s also a small Francophone part of town, the Japanese enclave is over at Icheon (the neighborhood, just on the other side of the river), and you’ll find bits of Canada spread all over (true to our national culture, it’s mainly bars).

And speaking of Canadian culture, we (at least all of us round eyes) were looking forward to cheese.

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How can you not be excited by congealed mammary fluids? The Koreans do eat cheese, kind of. It’s a question of whether or not you include “processed cheese foods” as cheese. Velveeta is a staple in budaechiggae, and I’ve found it to work well in ramen (with tuna fish) as well. It fattens out the broth. (And me, as well)

Here Chef Kim does a nice plate of cheeses, the soft white cheese coming from his own kitchen. And the serving is generous, quite a bit more than you’d find in many of the other places in town.

Service had been excellent, I must say. As FatMan said, “Table side service. Cute waitresses, hunky waiters….what’s not to like?” And the head waiter stood out. He kept an eye on the tables, handled the smoking issues discretely when they arose, and made certain that all of the customers were happy. It was obvious that he’d been trained well somewhere.

And then, of course, there’s the main attraction.

Chef Kim – Kim HuNam – had been hard at work in his kitchen during this time, only able to escape for a quick hello earlier. As things quieted down later in the evening, he stopped by to chat and I asked a few questions on his background.

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He’s been cooking for over twenty years, starting back in 1983 when he was 15 years old. He did a long stint at the Silla Hotel, and then, in 2004 went to the States, and worked in New England for a couple of years. That not only helped with the language skills, but gave him important cross training in Western methods and outlook.

Back to Korea a couple of years ago, and he opened Star Chef. And he’s been packing them in since.

Myself, I consider this an important marker. When I was talking with Mr. Young at Seoul’s Cordon Bleu a couple of years ago, much of our concern had centered about the need for Korea to “reinvent itself”. Tradition in Korea permeates everything, and if foreign cuisine was to gain a respectable foothold, then something drastic needed to happen to open up the taste buds of the nation.

Something drastic has been happening, though, in the form of the youth that are returning from their study years in Canada and elsewhere. They’ve developed a taste for different things, and some of them, like Chef Kim, have gone that extra step and have made the decision to be part of the change.

Don’t get me wrong. Korea, as I said, is a land of traditions, and things are going to continue as they have been. But there’s a point now where something different has the chance to survive - and, possibly, thrive - on the side.

And, hey, something is clicking, as Chef Kim has done well enough to already retire his bank note on this place.

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Me? I could eat here again.

I probably will.

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March 22 – What's in a name?

An afternoon’s start, again.

By the time the days baseball game was done, we were already feeling rather peckish, so we called up the usual suspects and arranged to meet a few blocks away down Horyongno, to the west of Nambu where we were sojourning.

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Strangely, not having lived to excess the night before, we were having haejangguk – hangover soup. The place itself (as you can tell from the sign) is specializing in ttang and guk.

And that, of course, got me onto my latest quandary.

What’s the difference between a ttang and a guk?

Both of them describe a soup. When I called around just now to some of my references, I drew the following response.

“They’re very different, except when they’re the same.”

To be fair, the first response was “a ttang should be all about the broth. You would have boiled down bones for a very long time to get the right consistency to the fluid. A guk could be something that you just throw water into and bring it to a boil.”

But then, consider kamjattang, the headline item here. We were having haejangguk, but really, outside of the potato (kamja) there wasn’t much difference.

Likewise, the sundae guk we’d had the other day had had just as much care put into the broth as any ttang.

I think the differences lie more in the words. “Ttang” (and someone correct me if I’m wrong) is a Chinese reading, whereas “guk” is a very Korean word.

Same same but different.

I can work with that.

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Our “soup” was a very pretty thing, a broth to die for, and, coincidentally enough, big red hunks of ham from the legs floating around in there.

I say coincidentally, as I’d just been expressing my longing for ham in a different post the other day. Life’s like that.

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Notice that they’re doing “healthy rice” here. They’d added in pad (the red beans used in the sweet filling in mochi – boiled down with lots of sugar) for colour and a bit of a different flavour.

That raised another question: what’s the Korean word for mochi? Calling around and waking people up, I came up with chapsalddeok, but was cautioned that that could refer to a lot of different things. Chapsal is really just glutinous rice, so, when pushed for a definitive answer, I was told “chapsal mochi”.

So, I’m right back almost where I started from.

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For drinks, we were back to the frog

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Good old Jinro soju. Chamiseul – “real dew”. I wrote a lot last time about soju, and the culture surrounding it, so I’ll leave that for you guys to go back and review.

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And then there’s beer. Just the thing to use to wash down soju. Cass, who’s motto is “sound of vitality”.

Funny, I thought those were just beer burps.

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Around this time, with the bowls close to done, the rice almost finished, and the happy late afternoon buzz coming on, that Jason realized that he’d seen this place before.

It’s an interesting phenomenon. Cinema induced déjà vu in your dining. In Korea there’s food everywhere, and that includes in the films. So odds are, sooner or later you’ll be eating in someplace you’ve never been to before that’s oddly familiar.

It’s either that, or a flaw in the matrix.

Cheers.

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Peter - I know I have a picture of that squid snack somewhere. Lemme search my disks (have several back-up disks) for the picture of the squid snack. Let me just say sometimes that snack hits it when you're in a binge-eating, salty-sweet kind of food craving.

When are we not in a binge-eating, salty-sweet kind of food craving?

Peter, it's a female thing; just don't go there! :laugh:

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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Peter - I finally got a picture of that squid snack. Here it is.

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Thanks, Doddie! I wonder if the Korean stores in Vancouver will have those? Our kids have always loved squid, in all its shapes and forms.

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There you go Peter. You should find it in the Korean stores there in Canada. All these talk about this squid snack is making me hanker for it. Damn! I knew I should have bought it yesterday. I'll go out and grab a couple of packs later when I talk our dog out for walkies.

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 22 – The Left Bank

After lunch it had been a hard day of shopping for studio gear at Yongsan. But that’s another story. On the road back across the river, Jason asked us if we’d want to check out the French sector.

French sector?

This was Banpo! I’ve stayed in Banpo before. Okay, it was over a decade ago……

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This isn’t the Banpo I remember. I remember the standard apartment blocks and the little shop selling tuna fish kimbap on the corner. Maybe I just didn’t get out enough?

Tidy little restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores. All of these clustered about the Lycee Francaise, the “raison d’etre” for this little cluster.

Neatly arranged tables just off the sidewalks, just calling out for a coffee and a paper (although it was pretty chill out).

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Compare this to the French neighborhood in Vancouver around the Alliance Francaise. This is pretty impressive. (Okay, Western Canada is hardly a fair comparison for Francophone content).

We focus so much on the North American ties Korea has that we run perilously close to hubris. Just as some Koreans are sending their next generation to North America, others are content to invest in a Parisian, Sydneyside, or Berliner experience (among others). And so we see a wider variety of dining coming to Seoul, a greater element of globalization. Is that a good thing or isn’t it? I do know it makes Seoul more attractive to me as a possible future home.

It’s a nice little enclave, climbing up the hill like a vine. Stores with imported oils and vinegars. More restaurants – not just French, but Italian, American,

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and also Japanese. The words “sake bar” are like chum in the water. I wish I’d had more free time this evening to explore these places. This is a neighborhood I’d want to come back to one a warm spring evening.

And with Gagniere coming to the Lotte Hotel recently, there’s a hint of a fresh spring in the air. Tastes are changing.

But we couldn’t dawdle. We had something that needed to be done this evening.

And it needed to be done deep in the dark of the night.

Next: Before that, we take out the trash

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March 22 – Takin’ Care of Business

Back home, we started prepping for the late evening.

First, given that we could barely move, we needed to take out the trash.

How the remains of the food process are handled says a lot about a place. We’ll avoid the biological element, and concentrate on the handling of packaging, though, shall we?

I’ve seen everything from methodical sort and distribute rules, to very active composting, to just throwing the junk over your neighbor’s wall. In some countries you know you’re approaching a town by the piles of refuse dumped on the side of the road. In others it’s a guilty secret that’s taken out to sea and disposed of.

While not as…shall we say “obsessive” as Canada, the Koreans do sort their rubbish carefully. Organic items, the remains of your food prep, are bagged and tagged. That is, you have official bags with ids that are purchased for garbage disposal (I’m just talking about apartment living on the South side of the river, so I can’t say if this is universal. But I do remember being yelled at by an old lady in the 90s for our putting a bag of garbage in “her” dumpster. We didn’t know then about the system).

The urban rumour has it that the city can and will track down offenders that put recyclable items in these bags.

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But this doesn’t include the massive amounts of packaging that rack up. Boxes for fruit, pizza cartons, plastic and glass beer bottles and beer tins. There might have been some plastic beer bottles, too.

These are collected in a separate room in the car park. A really, really full room.

Now, any good spook will tell you its worth looking through the trash.

What do we find?

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Garlic extract? Isn’t there enough garlic in the diet here?

I love a mystery.

(I know, I know, it’s probably good for your health……but we ourselves were eating about two bulbs apiece each day, and we’re tourists)

It was interesting to root around (although the security guard who looked in was a bit confused). Almost all of the material was food packaging. Other places it would make up some of the bulk, but nowhere near the majority that we saw here.

It’s all about the food.

Next: West Into the Night

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Compare this to the French neighborhood in Vancouver around the Alliance Francaise.  This is pretty impressive.  (Okay, Western Canada is hardly a fair comparison for Francophone content).

You're forgetting that Manitoba has the third-largest French-speaking minority population in Canada. If you go to almost any restaurant business in the St. Boniface area of Winnipeg, you can get service in either French or English!

Plus there are loads of French restaurants and bakeries (including my favourite bakery, Le Croissant) in St. B.

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Compare this to the French neighborhood in Vancouver around the Alliance Francaise.  This is pretty impressive.  (Okay, Western Canada is hardly a fair comparison for Francophone content).

You're forgetting that Manitoba has the third-largest French-speaking minority population in Canada. If you go to almost any restaurant business in the St. Boniface area of Winnipeg, you can get service in either French or English!

Plus there are loads of French restaurants and bakeries (including my favourite bakery, Le Croissant) in St. B.

:rolleyes:

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Following up on the Star Chef dinner.......

ZenKimchi has an excellent post on a visit to Star Chef's Kim HuNam's family farm. The farm is tucked in close by the DMZ, which is an interesting location. I've been up there a couple of times, and once you step over the river into the DMZ itself, it's almost like walking into a nature reserve. Fresh, clean, and untampered with (if you ignore the deadfalls and landmines).

Meanwhile, I'm messing with HD settings in Youtube. We'll see if we can link in something more dynamic for the next posts.

10 more minutes to render

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  • 4 weeks later...

March 23 (barely) - West Side Story

When I left Korea last time, I bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t fit in a return trip to Garaksijang, the big market on the East side of town. I’d enjoyed our afternoon there, and the subsequent feeding, but it had left me wanting more.

In particular, I was enchanted by the idea of a late night soju and seafood fest in the middle of the action (I’ll give both equal billing). The meal we’d had last time was excellent, but it was one of those instances where you buy your food, and then exit the market to a separate building with the restaurants somewhat removed from the sturm und drang.

So, when setting up what passes for a plan, I’d made certain we could get a few people together for a late night feed.

In Korea, there are always people available for food and drink.

But our plans veered 180 degrees. Jason felt that it might be worth hitting up Noryangjin on the West side of town, out towards Incheon and the airport.

“There’s another market?” said I. (You have to imagine my eyes going big at this).

Little did I know, at the time, that Noryangjin has become the standard tour stop for visiting celebrity chefs. Okay, that list consists of Andrew Zimmern and Tony Bourdain, but it’s still pretty good company. Looking up Noryangjin on YouTube last week (as I tried to figure out how to post the squirmy bits of this trip), I finally found out what all the fuss was about. Good episodes, and both hosts did an excellent job of portraying the Korean passion for food.

Bourdain had a lot more alcohol and cigarettes in his.

But, that’s recent news. Back in March, I was just ecstatic to find out there was more to be had.

And so, just around midnight, after a rather muddled attempt to get Danny’s jacket back to him (“What apartment was he in?”), four of us piled into a taxi and headed towards Incheon.

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We alit at the train station. It blockades the entrance to the market, and you climb up a staircase and through a hallway that looks like a set out of a Japanese horror film. No other people, and hard, industrial concrete and steel everywhere. In talking of the East we often spend a lot of time describing the zen aspects of rock gardens and such, but when you really come to grips with a lot of modern Asia, it’s fairly grim concrete.

And rebar. Lots of rebar.

Mind you, so is a lot of the world. I guess you have to visit countries that are too poor to afford concrete to get away from this.

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Coming through the overhead, your first impression of the market is a drop. A drop onto a wet, grey floor. Alluring in its own way, but hardly pretty. The seafood, however, has me entranced.

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Your second impression is the quiet. A cold, grey quiet. The sort of quiet that has every second shop shrouded in blue tarp material, like a crime scene obscured from view.

It’s around midnight, and we’re in one of those interstitial moments. The day shoppers are long gone. The mom and pop buyers who are stocking up for a party, the couples out for a fresh dinner. The restauranteur crowd won’t be here until the morning (Koreans do like to sleep), and the hardcore professionals will be doing their buying around 3ish, when the boats come in.

We just need to get into the right mindset to join the pros.

That’s what soju is for.

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In terms of size, the place is big, but not Tsukiji big. However, I find that somewhat offset by the approachability of everyone. Take what I said a second ago about the celebrity chef thing, and put that into context. Two chefs. This is not a place where you find groups of foreigners getting in the way. This is still a place where the vendors are (sometimes) happy to see an odd looking face showing up.

I say “sometimes” in brackets, because it’s late, and its really, really cold.

Breathe hanging in the air cold.

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Biscuit-tins-burning-charcoal cold.

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It’s cold.

But, we were dressed warmly enough, and, the good thing about being wastrels, we could take our time about choosing our prey.

Ambling from station to station, we were looking for large crabs and odd things in tanks.

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And octopii, we were definitely looking for octopii.

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There were enough of them, playful little things squirming about, and trying to find someplace to hide. Consider their panic. I’ve seen an octopus the size of my head disappear into a paper-thin crack in the Gulf of Aqaba. Here they’re trapped in a world of glass smooth walls. Not a crack or fissure to be found.

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Shellfish were out in all their glory, but we didn’t want to overindulge in that area just yet. They’re good, but there will be other opportunities.

Abalone, however…..well, that’s another matter.

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The sea cucumbers looked appropriately gnarly, but we had to thing about how they’d be prepped. Typically, the Koreans eat them raw, with a safety pin. We passed on these just now, but check back on the Beijing thread when I get to it in a few weeks.

However, in the background, there was gaebul.

Yes, prior eGulleters have already commented upon the resemblance.

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(Sheena, this shot’s for you.)

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The oysters were a bit of a challenge. I’m still confused about this. The market here was all about “fresh”. Breathing, flapping, squirming fresh. But the oysters were sold pre-shucked, either on the shell, or in a mass of something that looked like it came out of a brobdingnagian sinus cavity. Why?

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The abalone looked good, and we gave in and ordered some of these. Mind you, the mongae – those bright orange monster-club looking things – looked good, too, but I must admit, like gaebul, the flavour doesn’t do much for me.

The crabs looked nice, though. But these were too small.

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We were scoping out the crabs, looking for some that had the right “attitude”. Basically, something about the size and look of the Predator.

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This one looked like he’d take on Arnold.

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Meanwhile, squid pulsed serenely about in their tank, oblivious to the clamour about them. There’s a calm to squid and cuttlefish that always puts me at ease.

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After talking with FatManSeoul (FMS), I was intrigured by the skate. Citrus fruit made sense. The lemon, like urinal tablets, was there to cut the ammonia smell from the fish, we excrete through their skin.

I wonder what the reaction would be if you just put urinal cakes in the tank?

Remind me to talk more on this later, when I catch back up with FMS. (I asked Yoonhi about the “eo” on the tank. This is just the Chinese reading for “fish”).

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But, we were getting hungry, and this constant peering into tanks of good looking food was driving us to distraction.

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We picked out two of the crabs. One a hardened think of carapace and sharp bits, the other a hairy crab, with a softer shell.

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Doing a gymnast proud, they danced about on the scales. We’d gone with two medium sized crabs rather than the one monster.

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And the fish looked good. After having watched a number of these flopping about as they were chosen for the night’s feed, we figured we should do one too.

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I almost felt sorry for the fish. After it had flapped about, it lay there gasping. It almost had that look of “darned I’m tired. Things can’t get worse than this, can they?”

The answer, of course, is they can get a lot worse.

Feast – (with apologies to John Gulager)

You can find the YouTube version of this part of the write-up

Note: it was posted in HD, but I find the feed is slow, but that may just be my connection over here. Good luck.

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Yay! Peter's back and he's got penis worms pics. I love those crusty, warty crabs. Billy and I could demolish two crabs in a heartbeat. And the flesh is sweet and succulent as long as you don't overcook them.

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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So assuming ones command of the Korean language is say.... a complete zero on a scale of 1 to 100. What are our odds of accomplishing something like picking out some fresh crab & abalone out of a tank and getting it cooked/served at either fish market?

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You point and say what you want in English and use a god-awful amount of body language. Works everytime for us. :)

I'm with Doddie. In fact, the markets are the easiest place to get fed if you can't read Korean. Point at the critter, and it's yours. And once you get to the restaurant, if you just smile and bob your head, one of the aunties will happily take charge of your appetite.

Mind you, if you can recognize some Korean food names, I do recommend learning to read Korean. It's one of the easiest written scripts to pick up. (As an alphabet, it's more approachable to us Westerners. Everyone say thanks to King Sejong). This means that, with a little struggle, you can mouth out names you'll recognize, and then you can point them out to the waitstaff.

Just remember to smile and bow. :smile:

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March 23 – Mountain Octopus

Our purchases settled, the young lady bundled our stuff up in one very animated sack, and walked down the strip a few meters to the nearest hole in the wall.

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Chungnam Restaurant definitely fit the bill. It was jammed into the side, down a short alley fronted by a massive display of red spicy sauce.

It’s gotta be red.

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After the sauce, you hit an odeng stand (when don’t you?) and across from that is some good looking fresh tempura.

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This is my idea of what a good restaurant should be like.

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Ondul (heated floor for sitting) on one side, and tables and chairs on the other.

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A tastefully modern brushed hutch for the chinaware, and the mod con of a very large fridge for the soju.

The whole place is nestled under the railway tracks, so every now and then (while the trains are running) you get that satisfying rumble of giants overhead that reminds you of what it’s like to be a worm.

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The dinner settings are wrapped in saranwrap, and they’re chomping at the bit to get on with the feeding frenzy that’s going to break out any time real soon.

(to be fair, there were a few other tables occupied, back on the other side of the tracks. I think we were the only people not wearing rubber boots.)

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The standard set came out. Garlic, chilis, lettuce, and gaenip. Some fresh wasabi (geja) smeared into a small dish…..and soju.

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And for condiment, along with the ubiquitous bottles of red, some green stuff and sesame into a chunky splurt of red sauce.

I’d actually been dallying outside shooting, so some of the stuff came out in lightning speed. If you ask me what luxury is (and there’s probably an eGullet list to this effect around somewhere) I’ll have a list.

That list will include:

- good caviar

- foie gras

- champagne

- salmon roe

- raw meat of good quality

- truffles (black, white, or Arabian)

- Pacific salmon cheeks

- Good chocolate

- Abalone, fresh and raw

(Yoonhi says "just listen to Diana Krall’s Peel Me A Grape"…okay, maybe that’s more “decadence”.)

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Give me the opportunity to eat fresh abalone, still squirming from the cut, and I’m a happy man.

(note: my list changes all the time. Ask me next week)

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Add in some cold soju and I’m off and gone.

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Our fish arrived. The flatfish (I told him things would get worse last entry) and a big chunk of sashimi grade salmon we’d scored for 20 kilowon in the market.

An aside: a topic of conversation arose. It seems, if you really want to load up on salmon (as any of the many resident Vancouverites always want to do in Seoul), you’re best bet are the wedding halls. These commercial ventures generally run buffets of good quality for prices that are reasonable (but not cheap). If you’re really cheap, just crash one of the weddings being held in the halls ala The Wedding Crashers. I might try it if I looked more like Owen Wilson…..but I don’t.

They’d also thrown in a half dozen of those dubious oysters. Really, oysters should be sold alive, not shucked and in saran wrap. Still, Korea isn’t a place where I worry about food poisoning. The Koreans get kind of irate with people that don’t practice proper food handling.

Think angry mobs with pitchforks and torches.

In short, we ate the oysters. They’re not Fanny Bays or kumamotos, but they were okay. A little flaccid, but okay.

And then the main attraction!

Mountain octopus.

Well, actually, it’s fresh octopus, but “san” can be read both ways. I’m just not going to let Yoonhi forget it (I live for these small victories, however pointless).

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Live. Live to the point of wriggling. Live to the point where Scud was eating one, and the tentacle was curling about outside of his lips, looking for purchase to get away. Live to the point where Jason was in glee as to the way they pull themselves up onto the chopsticks.

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There’s no way I can really do justice to the look of the dish (or the one that’s still to come – there’s a teaser for you), so that’s my main reason for taking a break and working out how to fit HD onto YouTube. You can go

There, video may have killed the radio star, but I’m now free to talk about the taste.

With san nakji, it’s the taste and the sensation, neither of which should take second place.

On the taste side, this is obviously almost as fresh as you can get (really fresh would be just downing the whole thing. Scud tried to do the head, but gave up before his gag reflexes kicked in…..still, it was neat when the ink sack burst). The meat is tender, and with every bite there’s that squirt of the sea to be had. The suckers give a final resistance after the rubbery yield of the main flesh of the tentacles.

For the experience – you feel this all over the inside of your mouth. The suckers are grabbing onto your mouth, and, if you let them, there’s that interaction with the sensitive nerves on your lips as the tips struggle to escape. Add in the before-mentioned “squirt” of salt water, and it’s hard not to enjoy this.

At least for me.

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The first crab showed up, the hairy one, and we savaged it fairly quickly. White, flaky flesh. Sweet, like good crab should be. The carapace was soft enough that we could break it apart with our fingers.

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Scud was getting some attention from outside the window.

Before I could stop Stupid Boy, he’d opened the window and offered that cat a piece of fish. Luckily, he did it with steel chopsticks, as he would’ve probably lost his hand otherwise. That cat was fast.

A lesson our kids obviously haven’t learned….don’t assume that cute animals are going to behave that way. Korea doesn’t have the rabies problems you get in the Middle East, but those wounds may not heal the same way.

At least he got new chopsticks.

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Our ranks were swelling as the clock ticked on. We’d started with four, but Jason had been working the phones, and we were now up to about seven. It gets kind of blurry.

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There was a brief break in the eating, and I strolled outside to shoot more video of the food. When I got back, they’d taken away the crab we hadn’t finished – the lungs, the brains, and the odd bits of meat, and mixed it up and packed it back into the shells.

That’s always a fun part in Asian restaurants. The Koreans do this a lot, but I’ve also had the same in Japanese, Chinese, and Thai places, where you eat to a certain point, and then the food will be taken and transform it to something new.

Of course, at this time I’m on the my 10th bottle of soju, so I made the mistake of letting Scud have the first bite. You’d think I never feed that boy.

The next dish was my favourite of the night. More san nakji, but this time it had been hit with sesame oil and a topping of roasted sesame seeds. Not only did it taste excellent (I like sesame), but the oil made it even harder for the octopus to grab onto anything, and the result was something akin to the death scenes of the Kraken.

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This one you really have to see on the video.

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We asked them for some tempura (the munchies are a horrible thing) and they popped back out into the alley and came back with some large prawns draining out onto paper towels. Hot from the oil, and crisp.

At around 3 a.m. I’d wandered out onto the killing floor to see the fish auction. It didn’t feel like long, but when I came back an hour. The other crab, the hard one, had come and gone, and I missed getting a shot. Still, we had a good crowd, and they needed to eat, too.

Our guardian ajima had taken the leftover abalone, and brought it back as congee “juk”. Thick, full of fat, and as good as any risotto (well, okay, maybe Giusto’s with that slab of foie gras and truffles might be better….).

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This shot is for all of you juk fans out there. Just don’t expect me to go to a juk restaurant. I have my limits.

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By 4 something it was “Scallops? When did we buy scallops?” Still, they were steaming, and they were there. We ate them, and had some more soju.

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It wasn’t dawn, but the trains were starting to run again. We woke Scud up (and some others), thanked our waitresses, and shambled out into the cold.

Not a bad night. It was going to be a pretty rough morning, but not a bad night.

Next – The Missing Hour

[Note: for the video work, Yoonhi was correct, as always, and I did back out a lot of the identifying material. It's fairly public, so it's best not to get too graphic. Scud with tentacles coming out of his mouth may come back to haunt him in the future.]

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Peter, you really had 10 sojus? How bad a headache did you have later, and how can you remember anything after all that alcohol? I admit I'm a lightweight, but I can tell you, when I have a couple of glasses of soju, I feel a bit unsteady upon standing up. No way could I have 10!

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Peter, you really had 10 sojus? How bad a headache did you have later, and how can you remember anything after all that alcohol? I admit I'm a lightweight, but I can tell you, when I have a couple of glasses of soju, I feel a bit unsteady upon standing up. No way could I have 10!

It sounds like a lot, but......okay, it's a lot.

But remember, soju's not really that strong, only around 19 or 20%, and the bottles are small.

Of course, makkeoli is even lower in alcohol, but the headaches from that can be wicked.

More on wicked headaches soon.

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I wonder how they eat tempura in Korea? With ten tsuyu? And, how they eat fresh abalone and flatfish and salmon sashimi in Korea? With soy sauce and wasabi?

Thanks for posting intriguing photos as always!

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I wonder how they eat tempura in Korea?  With ten tsuyu?  And, how they eat fresh abalone and flatfish and salmon sashimi in Korea?  With soy sauce and wasabi?

Thanks for posting intriguing photos as always!

Hi, Hiroyuki!

The sauce is something associated more with Japanese tempura. In Korea, tempura is eaten as is (that's according to Yoonhi). Modern Korea seems to like adding it to ddeokbokki, but that's not something that went over well when we did it.

As for the sashimi ("hwae"), traditionally it would be eaten with chojang (vinegar and gochujang - the red chili bean paste). But here they immediately put out some wasabi (maybe because of me?). The ketsup bottles in the background are probably chojang.

The Koreans normally don't have a selection of small pieces, but rather go for one fish that's been fileted, cut into thinner slices, and then laid out. Maybe for this reason smaller fish are more in demand.

This goes to the "fresh" thing, which is why the markets here do well with day trade as well as the commercial buyers. The Koreans want a fish taken flapping from a tank. Outside of Korea, I've had some wonderful grouper this way, with the meat taken off of the fish while it's still allive.

Gruesome, but definitely fresh.

Anyways, I better get around to that missing hour.

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Can someone fill me in on the gaebul? I have to admit that the picture up-thread took me aback and I am absolutely sure that if I had ever seen them before I would remember.

I tried to google, but most of the info is contained in blogs and I'm at work so that content is blocked. :hmmm:

I did get that they're eaten as sashimi. What else? What do they taste like?

Thanks

Rhonda

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