Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Curry, and Fishy Goodness as Fresh as it Gets!

I dropped by Itaewon the other day to check out a bookstore that sells books in English. While in the neighborhood, I dropped into a "foreign foods market", and found that they had Thai curry paste and coconut milk/cream. So I grabbed some and decided to make some curry.

Normally I would probably use some beef or lamb, but pork is what I had on hand here, so pork it was. It was ok, but not as good as it usually is. I don't know if it's because I don't have all of my normal ingredients here with me (no fish sauce, no basil), or if the curry paste I got had a slightly different flavor. It satisfied my curry cravings in any case.

Tonight, after roaming the streets a bit trying to decide on a place to go have dinner, Younggyun, Paul and I went to a "Korean Sashimi" restaurant. Basically a raw seafood joint, but most westerners are more familiar with the term sashimi.

Here are some of the hapless victims.

So one dish that we got was San Nak Ji (산닉지), which is super fresh octopus tentacles. Basically, we saw the chef grab an octopus out of the tank (similar to the previous picture), slap it on a chopping board, chop the tentacles into pieces, throw it on a plate and throw it on your table. The time from tank to table is so short that the tentacle pieces are still squirming about while you eat them! The suckers still function as well, so they will latch on to the inside of your mouth. It's important to chew thoroughly so that none of them decide to latch on to your throat while you attempt to swallow. For a better idea of the wriggliness, I uploaded a brief clip on to YouTube:

The other dish we got was flounder sashimi, which according to Younggyun is a very typical fish for Koreans to eat sashimi-style. There was also some sort of fishy stew to finish off the meal (no picture) that was very spicy. A good time was had by all (except for Mr. Octupus).

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Osaka, Day 3 and 4

We woke up and got breakfast at "Cafe Brownie" which was right across the street from L's.

Fried egg, slice of ham-like meat product, incredibly buttery toast, and some sort of cabbage-based salad (slaw really). Served with a pretty decent cup of coffee.

After visiting the shrines and tori at Fushimi Inari, I grabbed a little snack. This is sort of a local delicacy I'm told: a pair of sparrows (suzume) skewered on a stick and grilled with some sweet and salty sauce (standard yakitori-like soy-based sauce). The feathers have been removed, but I think that's about it. You otherwise just eat the little guys whole... heads, bones, beak, organs, etc. It tasted fine, although there was probably a little more chewing (bones) involved than is desirable.

After that, I also got this skewer of mochi (glutinous rice). It had been pre-mixed with soy, mirin, and maybe something else and then grilled. This was pretty tasty... similar in taste to the rice crackers you can buy in Asian markets (e.g., Ranch 99 or Atlanta Farmers Market), but different in texture.

We met up with one of L's friends in Kyoto and grabbed some lunch. This was kind of weird. It was a pork cutlet on top of an omelette thingy, which covered what the menu called "Turkish rice". Each component was ok in of itself, but the combination was a little weird. The rice also contained bacon, which is fine by me, but seems inconsistent with it being "Turkish" as there's very little pork to be had in Turkish cuisine.

We also got some green tea soft serve (which was good... the green tea flavor was far stronger than any green tea ice cream I've had in the states). The funny thing however was the sign on the stall with instructions on how to hold your ice cream cone... I kind of figured that most people figure this out as kids without the need for explicit written instructions.

Another snack. Some sort of little cake with a sweet, white bean paste in the middle.

Assorted fried objects on sticks (fish cake I think). I had one with burdock, which is a kind of root.

I didn't eat here, but the combination seemed pretty funny. I think I'll stick to chicken and waffles.

For dinner, we went to a local Izakaya back in Osaka. The food was sort of more Tapas like.

Some collection of roasted vegetables (you can tell this is a nicer place because the plates are a lot larger than the actual food...).


Cheese plate. I wanted this just because I really like cheese, and in Korea it's been a little harder finding both the variety and quality of cheeses that I can find back home just in Publix (forget about the bajillion cheese you can pick up at Whole Foods or cheese-specific shops).

On the menu, L thought this item said "horse", so we figured why not since you don't get a chance to eat horse every day. However, there must have been something lost in the translation as it was just pork. It was certainly tasty.

I was still a little hungry after dinner, so I grabbed takoyaki to take back to the apartment. The guy flipping the takoyaki had really fast hands. I filmed a little bit of the action, but for some reason Youtube's format conversion sped things up by a bit (original footage was 11 seconds, Youtube's is 9).

On my final morning of the trip, we dropped by a Mister Donuts for breakfast. I had had Mister Donuts back when I last visited Japan in 2002, and they're as tasty as I remember.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Osaka, Day 2

Surprisingly, I don't have too many food pictures from Day 2...

I didn't actually get any of these, but they're little cake things but in the shape of people. L thinks that they are caricatures of Japanese comedians.

For lunch, we hit a ramen joint in Osaka. You actually pay for your food at the vending machine, which then spits out your change and a ticket. You then give your ticket to the guy behind the counter and he gives you:

Ramen! Note that if you haven't had fresh ramen before, this has little to do with the 3-minute chicken-flavored top ramen that you ate in college.

Later, we stopped for a snack at a somewhat traditional teahouse. This green tea was very strong and was a little frothy on top from being whipped. The dessert things are just some sort of mochi (glutinous rice) snacks with sweet bean paste in it.

For dinner, we met up with a couple of L's friends and we had okonomiyaki, which is a sort of pancake-like object. My brother said I had to try this since it is a specialty/regional food of Osaka (or perhaps the greater Kansai area). It was tasty and pretty filling. This was at a joint in Umeda, which is in the northern part of Osaka.

The only other consumption that night was a few drinks at a local pub near L's apartment.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Osaka, Day 0 and 1

On the first night when I got into town, we went to a local Izakaya called "Sommelier" where L knows the owner. We got some pasta there. Pretty simple, but done well. One of the dishes had thick slices of browned garlic in there. Mmm...


This is a big jug of chestnut shochu. I had a glass of this... it tasted familiar but I couldn't place it. It's on the stronger side (higher ABV than sake and Korean soju, but not as strong as western spirits). For a place called "Sommelier," they apparently didn't serve any wine until L pestered them about it which I found to be funny.

I can't remember what, if anything we had for breakfast the next day. We were up relatively early, so I think we just had some tea and then hopped on the train.

Outside of the Umeji castle, I bought some of these custard cake ball things. What a rip off! It cost 500Y (about $4) and they had the texture of stale dough balls. Not good eats.

Chicken on a stick. Much better eats. The sauce is sweeter and much saltier (soy based) than its common Korean counterpart. I actually thought this was perhaps a little too salty, but the Korean ones are sometimes a little too spicy. I need something in the middle.

For lunch, we had soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles).

L described this as an "Okinawan Doughnut," which we had purchased in one of the train stations. I thought it was a little too dry for my tastes. Might have been better with a cup of black coffee.

These are the octopus balls (Akashiyaki) that we went to the town of Akashi for. These are different from the more common takoyaki. The inside is almost custardy. I think I actually liked these better than the normal takoyaki which often ends up getting over sauced. This was also served with some sort of broth that you can immerse the Akashiyaki in, although I was happy eating them on their own. Combined with a cold beer, this was an excellent snack.

While wandering around Osaka castle, we ran into a guy selling fruit on a stick. We both got a chunk-of-pineapple-on-a-stick each. As the guy selling them said, "very sweet!"

Around the corner from the Osaka castle is an arena where they play concerts. We happened to wander by before the show started (Beyonce was performing that night), and so the area had plenty of souvenir stands and, more importantly, food stall stands. This is some sort of fried chicken... sort of what chicken nuggets are supposed to be. Very, very tasty and as healthy as they look! =P

Later that night we wandered through a fancy market at some point. Watermelon for 4200Y ($35) anyone?

The famous Kobe Beef. Didn't actually eat any during this trip.

For dinner, we went to a kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) place. Above are a couple of the items from round one. From the top left going clockwise: scallops, baby squid, unknown fish, and squilla.

This was a grey-looking paste that we did not know what it was. I decided to try to anyway since I had not seen it before. After checking with the waitress, it turns out that this is kani-miso (crab with fermented soybean). It wasn't all that good... I guess grey pastes usually aren't.

Another interesting one. This was filled with some sort of smallish fish (the white translucent things - you can see an eyeball here and there). The fish actually had a neat texture; sort of gelantinous but not in a gross squishy way. Also present are some fish eggs (probably tobiko or masago) and some cellophane noodles (I think).

Post dinner, we finished off our GI-tracts with some cake and coffee. I had fun laughing at the Engrish on the menu.

Mmmm... Coffe and Froats.

And "Heab"? I think it was supposed to be "Blended Herbal Teas" and maybe someone just got too excited about compressing things.

Anyway, here are the cakes and coffees. I got some sort of light fruit and shortcake-like object (bottom right). L ordered something from the case which looked like chocolate and strawberries... which it was, but then there were multiple other flavors in there as well. I only remember banana, but when we rechecked the case on the way out, the cake was aptly named "the whimsy of the chef" (which to me means random experimentation).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More Street Food

Ok, so this first picture is not street food. This is the Bulgogi that we had for lunch on the DMZ tour. After the tour, Sue and I walked along the CheongGyeCheon stream from where it starts all the way down to GwangJang market. There are a lot of food stalls there.

First stop, kimch mandu. Pretty tasty.

Next stop, some sort of pancake. They had a bil stone mill that they were using to freshly grind some sort of cereal. It looked to me like the large-style couscous that you sometimes get, but Sue thought it was some sort of bean (could have been soybeans I suppose... the color was about right). The pancakes themselves were filled with soybean sprouts as well. Freshly fried, so it had to be good (and it was).

From the market, we just kept wandering east. We went through DongDaeMun (watched some more pop groups perform in front of the department stores, including a horrible wannabe punk-ska band), and then we just kept on going until we finally got tired and headed back into the subway system at the Changsin stop.

On Tuesday night, we went over to the university areas surrounding Ehwa Women's University, Yongsei University (KU's arch-rival), and HongIk University. With three schools next door to each other, this made for a lively area. Lots of shopping, restaurants, bars, etc. And lots of street food stalls.

Some sort of chicken on a stick with a piece of ricecake (tteok) on the end of it. This had a very interesting cinnamony flavor.

Japanese-style "takoyaki" (grilled batter balls with a piece of octopus inside topped with shaved dried bonito and some sauce).

This was an odd but very tasty one. On the inside is a piece of ricecake again, but the outside is a wrapping of some sort of ground meat, and then finally the whole thing is dunked in some sweet and spicy sauce.

Another variation of chicken on a stick. This time battered and fried. The frying keeps the chicken on the inside very moist. Yum!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Noodles, Dumplings and Meat

At lunch time yesterday, Sue and I hit a random noodle place (aptly called "Noodles Restaurant").

I got a bowl of fresh, home-made noodles with seafood.

Sue got a bowl of fresh mandu (Korean dumplings).

That night, we went out to dinner with Prof. Chung of KU. We went to a beef restaurant in Itaewon. Food was very good.

This is yukhwe, which is a mix of fresh raw beef, raw egg, pears, pine nuts, and I think some cucumber or green squash. Yup, you just eat it raw (think tartare). I've had this before in the states back when I lived in NYC, but hadn't had it since. Very tasty.

Here's a cut of kalbi. In Korea, the kalbi is cut with the rib bone on one end and then the strip of meat extending the other way. In the states, we usually get kalbi in what they call "LA style." I'm told that when Koreans first moved to Cali, they tried to get the butchers to cut their ribs for kalbi, but the butchers ended up cutting thin slices against the bone, and that's how the LA style kalbi was born.

This is another dish not for the squeamish. Raw beef liver! It sounded kind of scary/adventurous, but it was actually quite good. Sue and I both agree that the raw liver tastes better than the cooked version (yes, she ate some, too!). This didn't really have any of that heavy, dense, organy taste or pasty mouth-feel that you get from cooked liver, kidney, etc. It actually had a very mild and slightly sweet taste to it that was quite pleasant. One of the guys from my hockey team back home told me that when they would go bow-hunting for deer, after a kill, he would cut open the deer and eat a chunk of its liver right then and there (partly just because it grossed out his dad). He described it as really soft and sweet, and I can now sort of see how that might be the case. (If I recall correctly from my high-school biology classes, the liver is supposed to be the energy center for the body where short, simple sugar chains are stored for short-term energy needs.)