Sunday, October 26, 2014

Seoul Street Food

I’ve found that Korea has one of the most exciting and diverse street food scenes in Asia. Not only do they dish old-school favourites like tteokbokki 떡볶이 but they also come up with new ones constantly. Tornado Potato 회오리감자 anyone?

My interaction with street food during the trip was fairly limited. It was a quick bite here and there amidst the shopping and the sightseeing. Like this corndogs we had in Myeongdong 명동, except it’s Korean style (which I’ve dubbed Kor-dog) with the sausage wrapped in fish cake to be deep-fried and slathered with sweet chilli sauce. Still unsatisfied by the sausage, we got another skewer. This time it’s a quintet of mini sausages. One of the mini sausages were actually a quintessential Korean ingredient of rice cake (tteok 떡) that has been wrapped in minced pork, before again given the same deep fried and sweet chilli sauce treatment. All the protein and carbs one needs after hours of shopping. The variety of just this one stall we visited was enormous.

During yet another long drive between cities, we stopped over at a rest area for bathroom breaks and the like. Now, if you’ve watched one or two Korean variety shows in the past, you would know rest stops in Korea are not just mere no-frills re-fuelling stations and they definitely do not serve lousy food. At one particular rest area, I remember having these elongated crackers that tasted faintly of fish. The packaging might have tipped us it was made of fish. I found out only recently from a korean reality show I was watching this elongated cracker is called fried jwipo crackers 튀김 쥐포 made from pressed filefish jerky. They were a delight to eat.

But I've got to say my favourite was the humble hodugwaja 호두과자. Originating from Cheonan, it is made by pouring batter into heated moulds shaped like walnut shells, topped with a filling of sweet bean paste and some chopped walnuts. The mould is then turned a couple of times until the dough puffs up and envelops the sweet and nutty filling. Not having any Korean vocabulary past the basic kamsahamnida 감사합니다, I can only communicate with body language with the ajumma 아줌마 who’s busily turning those moulds. Yet amidst going about her business she graciously invited me to come closer and take more pictures of how these cute snacks are made. Her little stall was in the middle of the business district surrounded by high-rise offices with no other food stalls around to speak off. Seeing how she’s still operating she must be doing some good business.

At the end of my trip, I felt like I didn’t even scratch the surface of Korea’s street food scene. Certainly something I need to correct on our next visit.


location of the stalls on google maps

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Garlic: Health Food in Danyang

Asians love their garlic. Koreans not excepted. Garlic can be found in most Korean dishes. Even their most beloved import, kimchi is made with plenty of minced garlic. In some less luxurious versions of samgyetang 삼계탕 (ginseng chicken soup), a lot more garlic than usual is added to supplement the flavour lacking from the relatively smaller quantities of the expensive ginseng.

So why do we love garlic? Well, first and foremost, garlic is delicious! A quick midweek stir-fry of bokchoy with a dash of soy sauce can be elevated with a few cloves of minced garlic. The addition of the humble Allium sativum can make a relatively mundane side dish more savoury.

Secondly, there’s this belief that garlic is health food. It is purported to lower blood pressure and reduce bad cholesterol, it’s an antioxidant and even an antibiotic! I don’t necessarily believe if these claims are true, my view of garlic is more practical, a staple and an essential ingredient in Asian cooking. But some people clearly do believe, as was the case of this garlic restaurant we went to in Danyang 충청북도.

When we arrived at the restaurant for dinner, the table were already set with more than 15 banchan 반찬 (side dishes). Our korean tour leader, Lara, told me our dinner tonight was called dolsot maneul jeongsik 돌솥 마늘 정식. Hungry from the extended spa session at the nearby resort, we did not need any urging to pick up the chopsticks. And as we ate, more and more dishes arrived at the table. It’s almost as if they’re trying to stuff us to a delicious death.

Garlic was the main ingredient in the majority of the dishes. Some dishes were better than others. I liked the banchan of garlic cloves in this green mayo dressing that is both sweet and tart. Not so much of the garlic in gochujang marinade.

The protein of the meal was bossam 보쌈, the fatty pork slices were eaten with refreshing buchu kimchi 부추 김치, spicy pickled garlic chives. And as always, I’m a big fan of the grilled salted mackerel (godeungeo gui 고등어 구이). We also had doenjang based soup that was warming and helped everything to go down very well.

To fill us up, multigrain rice was cooked using the traditional way in a dolsot 돌솥, rendering the bottom crispy. At the end of the meal, this crispy bit (nureun 눌은) was soaked in boiling tea, to be had as a sort of scorched rice tea called nurungji 누룽지. But by this stage we were too darn full to even manage a few spoonful.

Did we feel like we were healthier from eating the garlic? Maybe not. But we certainly felt more energised, ready to brave the winter chill again.

장다리식당
28-1 Byeolgok-ri
Danyang-eup, Danyang-gun, CHUNGCHEONGBUK-DO
충청북도 단양군 단양읍 별곡리 28-1
location on google maps

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bulgogi 불고기 in Pyeongchang

In Indonesia, we have this Dutch influenced Javanese stew called semur, of slowly simmered beef dominated with nutmeg and peppery undertones with a hint of sweetness from kecap manis. Every household has slightly differing version of semur, at our house we make them with potatoes and glass noodles.

It might be odd to be thinking of this dish while in Korea, but the consensus with the Indonesian tour group was that pan-cooked bulgogi is basically Korea’s semur. I am chuckling to myself here as I am writing this. It’s funny because it’s somewhat true. The bulgogi we had that night was not dissimilar to that of semur, peppery and sweet, the colour of its broth was brown from soy sauce, and it was abundant with glassy, chewy potato noodles. It wasn’t a stretch for us to make the comparison.

But of course there were differences, the pan-cooked bulgogi contained more of the good-for-you vegies, like onions, carrots, spring onions and enoki mushrooms. Traditionally bulgogi is cooked over a grill and eaten like that of Korean barbecue, plopped on top of a lettuce leaf, bulked with rice and other ingredients before being packaged up and delivered to the mouth. With this relatively newly popularised technique of simmering on the pan, the bulgogi is eaten with just a spoonful of rice. Ideally the broth is to be reduced to almost nothing so that the resulting dish is drier mimicking that of grilled bulgogi, though in some cases there would be leftover savoury broth, as is the case for our dinner that night.

However addictive the peppery sweetness of the bulgogi, it can be a bit one note without the help of banchan. That night we were served kkakdugi (spicy daikon pickle), baek kimchi (pickled napa cabbage made without gochugaru), julienned carrot, oyster mushrooms, julienned potato and of course the omnipresent baechu kimchi.

With a full stomach, all that’s left for us to do was to go skiing on the slopes of Pyeongchang before settling down for a hard-earned sleep.

그곳에가면
204-1 Hoenggye-ri
Daegwallyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, GANGWON-DO
강원도 평창군 대관령면 횡계리 204-1
location on google maps

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Soybeans of Sokcho

Soybean, and in particular sundubu (soft tofu), is a specialty for towns surrounding Mount Seorak (Seoraksan). It is said that tofu around these parts are more flavourful due to the pure mountain spring water used in their production.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ribless Chicken Ribs in Korea

Last winter, I was given a chance to go to South Korea for free, all I had to do was pack enough warm clothes for a week and get there. Being a huge K-drama and K-pop fan, it should be a no-brainer. Not to mention my long torrid affair with Korean food, my fondness was to the point where I jokingly told my husband if ever we got fired from our current jobs, we should think about starting fresh in Korea.

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