08 August 2010

Temporary Insanity in the Kitchen

This weekend, Chris has reached a new level of culinary insanity known as Momofuku...

Yesterday, he spent the day making steamed pork buns with roasted pork belly and pickled cucumbers. At the end of a long and complex process, he produced something highly delicious and beautiful that he described as a complete failure because the buns were slightly misshapen.

Today, he is attempting to make ramen noodle soup from scratch—not the instant kind you may remember from college that set you back 20 cents and cooked in 3 minutes. This is the hard core version usually reserved for chefs who have apprenticed under a ramen master for years, renouncing all other noodles to dedicate their lives to the craft.

stocks for ramen soup and tare sauceHe started first thing this morning roasting pork bones, which cooked for hours in his previously made-from-scratch chicken stock, flavored with his own homemade bacon. Then, he made mushroom stock from dried shitake mushrooms and seaweed, and added it to the pork/chicken stock to make the soup base.

Now, he’s making taré sauce to use for seasoning, which he started by roasting chicken bones, deglazing the pan with sake and making yet another stock. Once he has the soup stock and taré finished and strained –a few hours from now—he still needs to add the vegetables, some of which will be sautéed or otherwise prepared independently before they go into the soup.

Fortunately, he has enough roasted pork belly leftover from last night’s pork buns to go into the soup, and he will be using fresh lo mein noodles we found at the Asian supermarket instead of trying to make his own ramen. So it’s possible we will finally get to eat it tonight for dinner.

stocks for ramen soup and tare sauceAs if there were any doubt, it was delicious!! Topped with roasted pork belly, greens from the garden, nori seaweed, bamboo shoots, sauteed okra, and poached egg.


20 January 2010

Misadventures of Adventure Travel

Bad hair day in Barcelona (no hair dryer)As I lay on my half of the small bed in our Barcelona apartment, trying to find a comfortable sleeping position without hitting my head on the sharp nightstand crammed against the bed, awake at 2am because of some combination of street noise and the clicking and clattering of the old space heater in our bedroom, it occurs to me how many misadventures it often takes before you get to the good stuff…

We began our journey to Barcelona with an easy flight from St. Louis to New York, and plenty of time during our layover to grab lunch in Korea Town, less than 2.5 miles from La Guardia airport. Unfortunately, our taxi driver hadn’t yet learned his way to Queens.

Chris programming the taxi driver GPSAfter getting directions once in English and a second time in his native language, then going the opposite direction, getting lost, realizing he had a GPS the whole time, convincing Chris to program it for him, and then ignoring the GPS directions, missing multiple exits and turns, the driver finally got us to the restaurant.

Sam Gae Tang in Korea Town, QueensLunch at Young Yang Center was amazing. We each had a pot of Sam Gae Tang, a ginseng-laced chicken soup, containing a miniature whole chicken stuffed with rice and chestnuts. I had been craving it since I left Korea in 2008.

Chris had been craving Kimche, and was happy to find three different varieties included among our side dishes. By the time we ended our meal with a few sips of cool, refreshing Korean desert tea, we knew it had been worth the effort.

Waiting for terminal evacuation at JFKAfter lunch, we headed to the airport with plenty of time to catch our flight out of JFK. When we arrived, we found the security line wrapped around the inside of the terminal, at a complete standstill. After a while, we were herded out of the building and then back in a few minutes later without any explanation.

We eventually learned, via twitter and online news, that a security breach had been caused by someone in an airport lounge who went out the wrong door, triggering a full evacuation of the terminal.

Cured meats in BarcelonaAfter screening the mass of people who had been waiting for hours in the non-secure area, and re-screening all employees, vendors, and passengers who had been evacuated from inside the terminal, they finally started allowing planes to take off again, and we made it to Barcelona.

Bull Tail in BarcelonaIn Barcelona, we found a great place for lunch called Gran Paris, where Chris and I shared a plate of cured Spanish meats, and I had one of my favorite dishes in Spain--braised bull tail. Chris had delicious hand-made cannelloni, stuffed with fresh cod and shellfish.

That evening, we found an English pub showing NFL playoff games via satellite. We met a gaggle of friendly Englishmen and assorted expats and had a great time watching Brett Favre and the Vikings pummel the Cowboys. It was a great first day in Spain!

Then… I woke up around 4am with a violent case of food poisoning. Our best guess was that it was the chicken club sandwich at the pub that had finally done me in. Not long after, Chris started feeling ill and we spent nearly two days in the hotel room.

Tonight is our first night in the apartment where we will spend the rest of our vacation. Tomorrow, we’ll find out what’s next.

Recommended Restaurants:

Young Yang Center
aka Korean Natural Health Center
160-26 Northern Blvd
Queens, New York

Gran Paris Restaurant
Muntaner, 182
Barcelona, Spain


28 December 2009

Tasty Pigs of Puerto Rico

Pork maestro at Lechoneras Los PinosAfter a few weeks off the road and off work, I was ready for an actual vacation during my time off. To decide where to go, I turned to my usual vacation search criteria: cheap flights to a warm destination, preferably outside the Continental US. For the second time, Puerto Rico came out on top...

The last time Chris and I visited Puerto Rico in 2006, we spent very little time in San Juan before heading off to Vieques island off the east coast and then to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. We stayed at quaint local resorts and swam in a bioluminescent bay. It was amazing.

This time, we needed something simple and economical. After all, it had been more than a month since my last paycheck and we still hadn't sold either of our rehabbed houses.

The view from our hotel in San JuanI only booked flights, hotel, airport parking, and car rental that could be paid entirely by frequent flyer miles or other loyalty points.

With so few choices, the entire trip was confirmed within a few hours---a tiny fraction of my typical vacation planning time, at a tiny fraction of the typical cost.

For the most part, the experience of staying at the Marriott by the beach in Puerto Rico was about the same as staying at the Marriott by the beach in Florida...or any other cruise ship port of call. It was heavenly to sit on the balcony watching and listening to the crashing waves below, and always a delight to be surrounded by fresh seafood options. But nothing felt especially Puerto Rican...until we remembered the pigs.

Driving to the mountainsChris was the first to remember that Anthony Bourdain had done a No Reservations show in Puerto Rico and raved about the BBQ suckling pig he found just outside San Juan. So after a couple of relaxing yet uneventful days at the beach, we headed off in search of adventure--and BBQ pork.

Driving to the mountainsIt was a warm Sunday afternoon in San Juan, and customary for locals to head to the mountains for music, dancing, BBQ, and cool mountain breezes. Our destination: Lechonera Los Pinos in the Guavate neighborhood of Cayey, Puerto Rico.

Driving up the mountainLechoneras (pork restaurants) and makeshift souvenir stands peppered the narrow, winding road up the mountain to Los Pinos. Although the hand-carved masks and other souvenirs looked interesting, and I'm sure they would have been cheap, the idea of pulling over on the side of a steep, curvy mountain road with no shoulder was a little too scary to risk it.

Driving up the mountainAs we approached the cluster of popular Lechoneras, the traffic started slowing down and we could see up ahead that most of the parking lots were already full. We had done enough research to know to head out early, but still missed our noon target by almost two hours.

We managed to find a muddy parking lot in the grass, just off the road past Lechoneras Los Pinos, with spots available for $4. We practiced our [really poor] spanish as we tried to figure out where and how they were directing us to park.

View of BBQ pork parts as we waited in line to orderAt Lechoneras Los Pinos, there was already a long line out the side of the building, waiting to place an order at the counter.

Based on the pile of discarded pig heads, we guessed they had already gone through at least 4 whole pigs, but fortunately it didn't look like they were in danger of running out before we made it to the counter.

As we waited, we tried to figure out how and what people were ordering so we would know what to do when we got up there.

Me, Eating a plateful of porky goodnessWe soon realized there was no menu of any kind, not even in spanish. I had assumed we would at least have multiple choice, possibly with pictures.

By the time we reached the counter, we realized we had very little chance of communicating exactly what we wanted and were prepared to eat and enjoy whatever we ended up with.

Chris, Eating a plateful of porky goodnessAfter a few minutes trying to understand my spanglish babbling, the order-taker politely asked us to wait while he found a fluent english speaker to take our order.

We ended up with a delicious assortment of pork, crispy pork skin, chicken sausage, fried plantains, red beans, and rice for less than $20. I suspect our price may have included a foreigner premium, but it was well worth it.

Lechonera Los Pinos
Barrio Guavate
Carr. 184, Km. 27.7
Cayey, PR 00736
(787) 286-1917

If you're interested in Anthony Bourdain's take on the same restaurant, fast forward to 5:23 of this video: Anthony Bourdain in Puerto Rico


07 December 2009

Adventures with a 6-year-old

Kami at the pancake breakfast we made from scratchAs most of you know, I'm not a big fan of kids. I don't have the slightest inclination to have one of my own, and I can't help feeling a little sorry for every new parent I meet. I know it sounds bad, but it's an automatic, visceral reaction.

Recently, my 6-year-old niece has helped me begin to understand why others might feel differently...

My niece Kami was the first baby born to anyone in my immediate family. Since my sister and I have a close relationship, everyone assumed that her child would somehow activate my maternal instincts. In reality, even my aunternal instincts were a little slow to kick in.

Then, sometime during Kami's fifth year on this planet, she started transforming into a fascinating mini-adultish person who now has me completely captivated. I don't know if I feel this way because she is family or because she is really as interesting as I think. I'll let you be the judge.

Here is Kami as she explains the logic of a 6-year-old making a difficult choice to give up something she loves. Notice her facial expression as she contemplates life without barbie dolls:

In this scenario, she is hypothetically forced to do one of two things she would hate:


18 April 2009

Chillin in St. Louis

Pasta with Bolognese sauceIt has been a while since I've posted any new stories, but I'm starting to feel a glimmer of inspiration returning. Life has been very hectic for the past six months. Most weeks, I have been on the road 4-5 days per week, and the few days at home were split between work, family, friends, and house rehab. But not today. Today is Tami time...

It is 2pm on a Saturday afternoon and I'm still in my pajamas, about to kick off a Lord of the Rings marathon as soon as Chris leaves for work. He's shooting a wedding today.

It's been a while since I dusted off my special extended edition DVDs containing 12 continuous hours of LOTR viewing pleasure. I don't know if I'll actually make it through all three movies before having to stop to do something more constructive, but I'm going to try.

Homemade crusty breadIt's really shaping up to be a great weekend. I got home on Thursday evening to find Chris in the kitchen, stirring a pot of made-from-scratch bolognese sauce to go with the fresh pasta and crusty bread he had also just made from scratch.

I was just telling someone last week that Chris wasn't much of a baker. Wow, did I get that one wrong. It was some of the best bread I've tasted, and it was only his first try.

Yogurt with StrawberriesFriday morning, for breakfast, we had some of his homemade whole milk yogurt with fresh strawberries, and toasted bread with honey.

Unfortunately, we only had store-bought butter for our toast since it's been a couple of weeks since Chris has churned his own--seriously, he's making his own butter these days.

I think Chris and I are both starting to feel creative again now that the Sidney house rehab is done. That was a lot of work. I've also just finished a work project in Connecticut and should have more time in St. Louis in the next few weeks, so that helps too. Maybe I'll finally get around to posting a few stories from our trip to Argentina last December.


02 January 2009

Rice and Beans

In Buenos AiresIn the week since Chris and I returned from Argentina, we have been mostly vegetarian. We over-indulged in Buenos Aires, with meals ranging from big portions of perfectly grilled meats to big portions of salad and fresly made pasta. The only meal that didn't include large portions was a 12-course tasting menu that took 3 hours to eat...

In Buenos AiresI managed to eat more steak in two weeks in Buenos Aires than I normally would have eaten in several months, without gaining weight. I actually lost a few pounds. I guess it probably helped that we walked a lot in between meals. Maybe this is where they discovered the low-carb diet.

However it happened, it was a good thing for both of us to lose some weight. We came home determined to continue the weight loss trend and also determined to eat fewer animals for a while.

In Buenos AiresIt helped that Chris was inspired by the challenge of cooking with no meat and has been getting creative in the kitchen. I never realized you could make so much out of beans and various grains.

Our other inspiration came from my cousin, Ashley, who told us about her "senior project" when we were together for Christmas. While many of her peers are doing projects that range from repairing an old car to painting their bedroom, Ashley has decided to go to Honduras to personally feed the hungry and teach them to grow their own food.

My cousin, AshleyShe is in the process of raising the money to take with her to Honduras to buy the food, and has an interesting sales pitch. Rather than just donate money, she is asking people to eat nothing but rice and beans for 3 days and then donate the money they would have spent on more extravagant food. This way, the people supporting her project will have a stronger connection to the starving people of Honduras who survive only on rice and watery beans.

Although we're not yet in our official 3-day beans and rice marathon, we have eaten beans nearly every day this week. Chris made a simple yet delicious pot of pinto beans with rice yesterday for less than $3. It was enough to feed us for at least 2 days.

In spite of having plenty of leftover black bean dip, spicy white beans with tomatoes and squash, pinto beans with rice, and buckwheat noodles with tofu, I'm going out to dinner with friends tonight and will probably insert some meat into my diet.


22 November 2008

Adventures in Real Estate

Idaho HouseFor the past two months, I've been commuting each week from St. Louis, Missouri to a small town south of Hartford in Connecticut. Although it is a nice town, it hasn't exactly been blog-worthy. More interesting is what I've been doing with my 3 days per week at home in St. Louis, where foreclosed homes are selling for less than the price of a car...

For the past 15+ years, real estate development in St. Louis has been booming. Neighborhood revitalization programs and community activism have helped to restabilize and restore the charm of early 20th century homes and communities, and have actually begun to reverse the 50-year population decline set off by the mass exodus of white people to the suburbs in the 1950's and 60's.

Now, many of the city neighborhoods are filled with interesting restaurants, beautifully restored historic homes, and a welcome diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, and income.

Sidney HouseUnfortunately, several major real estate developers have gone out of business in the past year, and hundreds of independent rehabbers have had their properties foreclosed after property values dropped and rehab loans dried up.

This has dramatically increased the supply of old homes for sale, located in desirable neighborhoods, in need of significant rehab work.

My husband, Chris, somehow discovered this opportunity and started researching what it would take to be successful at flipping houses. The first I heard about it was in August, when we were in Santa Monica for a long weekend and he convinced me we should buy a house to renovate and sell.

Once we started looking at houses, it seemed unbelieveable how low the prices were. The first offer we made was for a 2000 sq ft (186 sq m) brick home listed at $90,000 that, after major renovations, could have sold for $200,000--even in the current economy.

We didn't get that house, but found a 2800 sq ft 2.5-story brick home in a good neighborhood for $40,000. As we were recovering from our shock and delight at finding such a great house for so little, we found a similar house on the very same block for $15,000!

Brannon HouseAfter putting in a few offers that weren't accepted because they were too slow or too low, we got a feel for how much to bid and how fast we would need to move to pick up a house for the price of a car.

We ended up buying three houses for much less than what we might have paid for one house when we first started looking. We've had to start referring to our houses by street name because we have so many now.

We are almost finished with the repairs on our Brannon house, which we plan to keep and rent out. After the holidays, we will start rehabbing our Sidney house, which should be ready for sale by the spring.


19 September 2008

Reflections on South Korea

View from my hotel room in residential area of SeoulI'm having trouble figuring out what to write about South Korea. I have lots of stories swirling around in my head, but I can't seem to pull them out in a way that represents how I feel about this perplexing country...

Usually, by the end of an intense work project where I've been dropped into an unfamiliar country alone and have managed to figure out how to get the work done, I have learned enough about the local culture and people to make sense of my experiences and to put everything into perspective. However, in the case of South Korea, there are still so many things I don't understand that I can't seem to establish my perspective.

Some sort of festival in downtown SeoulFor me, the best part about working internationally is the opportunity to see the world through a different cultural lens, and to gain enough understanding to begin to empathize with people who are different from me.

I'm always fascinated to learn what drives people to do what they do and to think what they think. But what drives the South Koreans?

They certainly seem to be more "driven" than any group of people I've encountered before. From the tens of thousands of South Koreans protesting American beef week after week, to the businessmen who rarely see their families and almost never take a vacation, or the young people on my team who stayed up literally all night to get their work done and then argued why they should go back to work after dinner the next night instead of going home to finally get some sleep.

The people I spent time with in South Korea were tough to figure out. I had a great time drinking and singing karaoke and getting to know my colleagues, and could definitely see the appeal of this aspect of South Korean culture--at least for the businessmen (and the rare woman who is invited to join). However, I couldn't help thinking about the impact on their families, and I couldn't even imagine the physical toll of doing this twice a week until I retired.

The average South Korean (consultant, at least) works 14 hours in the office most days, some with an additional 1-2 hour commute to and from work. Those with families rarely see them during the week, and those without families have virtually no time for dating.

At least 1-2 nights per week the men manage to carve out an extra 3-4 hours away from home for after-hours partying, effectively reducing their sleeping time on those nights to almost nothing.

For the married men, I couldn't help wondering whether the after-hours obligations were a sacrifice, which kept them away from their families begrudgingly, or whether it was a welcome excuse to avoid the emotional commitment that would otherwise be expected from spouses they may not know (or even like) that much. Keep in mind, there is typically very little time spent with prospective spouses before marriage due to the significant work commitments.

Drawings, notes, and photographs posted on the gate of the bridge separating South from North Korea, from families who had been separated during the warThere are many things about South Korean culture that I still don't understand. However, it's hard to imagine anything I could discover that would make me okay with the South Koreans' extreme commitment to work over family, and the unquestioning, almost militaristic, following of orders from anyone in a position of authority, regardless of the personal impact.

I'm glad I had an opportunity to experience South Korean culture, but it saddens me not to have found something there that would make me want to go back. It's hard for me to explain the involuntary emotional and physiological reaction that comes with any thought of returning to South Korea.

I suppose it may have more to do with me than with the South Koreans. I will never forget the pain and disbelief I experienced at the hotel in Seoul in June 2008, when I got the 3am call from my mom, 6600 miles away, letting me know that my dad had died. Everything I experienced in South Korea was colored by that moment.

For pictures from the lighter side of South Korea, visit my facebook photo albums:

South Korea Sept 2008

Real-Life Ratatouille


28 July 2008

Glimpse of Buenos Aires

Buenos AiresAfter a few weeks off with my family in Missouri, I headed South for a work project in Argentina. It was my first visit to one of the "other" Americas, and my first project in a Spanish-speaking country since my Spanish obsession of 2005. I had less than a week to spend in Buenos Aires, and a lot of work to get done, but I managed to catch a brief glimpse of this intriguing South American city...

Buenos AiresFor me, Buenos Aires felt like a highly personable, customer-service oriented version of a major European city. There was this positive energy gushing from the Argentinean people, as if they had given up trying to contain themselves and decided to allow their overwhelming delight to spill out onto everyone around them. It didn't seem to Buenos Airesmatter that it was cold and rainy in the middle of their winter.

It was the first city in the world where I've been compelled to smile and say "no, thank you" to those annoying strangers who try to hand you advertisements or sell you something as you walk down the street. The first time I employed my standard Random Neighborhood Dogresponse--essential in more aggressive cities--of alternatively glaring at and ignoring the person invading my space, his reaction convinced me that he had actually been wounded in the process.

The porteños (people of Buenos Aires) also seem especially friendly to dogs and children. Pet dogs seemed to be as much a part of the community as the people.

Traditional BarbequeThe food in Buenos Aires is quite remarkable. Of course, it is easy to find great barbequed meat at a local asador, which is what Argentina is best known for. The meat is lightly seasoned with a great smokey flavor. I was fortunate enough to taste beef short ribs, steaks, and lamb shoulder at a traditional asador called Estilo Criollo, as well as Argentinean-style beef ribs accompanied by internationally inspired sauces and side dishes at a more modern place called La Cabrera. Both asadors were in a popular area in Buenos Aires called Palermo.

PizzaI have to admit, even though I had heard good things about the food in Buenos Aires, I didn't expect to find such great quality and variety of local and international fare. In addition Bread and Roasted Garlicto the superb Argentinean beef, I discovered delicious New York-style sandwiches, freshly made Italian pasta, homemade breads, and some of the best pizza I've ever had. They even had surprisingly decent Japanese sushi.

Half Portion of Argentinean Style RibsI should warn you that the food in Buenos Aires is served in very large portions. I suspect Argentineans might be the only people in the world who could go to Texas and be disappointed with their portion size. Fortunately, they don't mind wasting food, so you don't have to feel compelled to eat until you burst. Unfortunately, the food is so good that you almost certainly will.

Due to the limited time and intense work schedule, I barely scratched the surface of culinary potential of this city. Fortunately, I will be going back later this year to pick up where I left off.


10 July 2008

The Flavor of Seoul

Side DishesBefore my South Korea trip was cut short, I wrote about working conditions and ongoing protests against American beef imports. I never got around to writing about one of the best parts of Seoul--the food. Although I wouldn't recommend traveling to South Korea solely to experience their culinary prowess (as I might for Southern China), there are a few exceptional dishes that shouldn't be missed if you ever find yourself in Seoul...

Before I get into what to eat, I should let you know a little about how people eat in South Korea. As in China, it's always best to eat a meal with locals. Although many restaurants have portions of their menu translated into English, the English section is usually only a sampling of what they have to offer so not knowing Korean is a major disadvantage.

Unless you go to an Outback Steakhouse (which are everywhere in Seoul and not a bad choice for a reasonably priced American meal), don't expect the people working in the restaurant to speak English.

South Korean food is spicy---really spicy. I love that about it. The South Koreans have a very high tolerance for spicy foods, but they are also sensitive to the needs of others. They always have an eye out for a foreigner in distress and will bring out mild foods or broths to balance out the spiciness if you appear to be struggling. I recommend ordering steamed white rice to have on hand just in case. It works great for cooling off a tongue on fire.

Korean PlacesettingSouth Koreans eat with unusual chopsticks. They are either flat or square, made of stainless steel, and much skinnier than the Chinese or Japanese versions. I find them relatively easy to eat with, especially compared to slippery plastic Chinese chopsticks.

Side DishesMost often, when eating with a group, each person will order his or her own main dish and share a bunch of side dishes, also known as service items. The side dishes come automatically, and are the same for everyone eating in the restaurant that day.

You can always ask for unlimited free refills of side dishes, which often include at least one variety of kimche and maybe a few other vegetable or egg dishes, and/or soup. To ask for a refill, just tell your server you want more. If there are communication problems, you can just point to the empty dish and they will probably understand.

One difference between sharing dishes in China vs. South Korea is that you don't usually Peeling a Shrimpget a bowl of your own in South Korea, just a plate. So if there is a big bowl of soup that the table is sharing, people take one spoonful at a time, rather than ladling a portion into their own personal bowl.

The other main difference in eating style is that South Koreans often use their chopsticks or spoons as knives, and have no problem taking one chopstick in each hand and poking and slicing however necessary to remove a part they don't want to eat or to cut something into bite-sized pieces. The Chinese typically use their teeth for such things.

Now that you know the basics, you're ready to experience the flavor of Seoul for yourself. Below is my top 10 list of things to taste in Seoul.

If you print out the list, you should be able to find your way to the restaurants and order the right thing via pointing at the Korean phrases below.

    Famous Samgaetang Restaurant
  • #1 Chicken Soup with Ginseng: 삼계탕 (Sam-gae-tang). This is one of the most delicious chicken soups I've ever tasted. When we found out Chris would have only one meal in Korea before returning home, I took him to 토속촌 (Tosok-Chon), located 서울시 종로구 체부동 85-1 (경복궁 역 뒷 편: Near Kyongbok Palace Station), which is one of the 3 most famous Samgaetang places in Seoul.

    Imagine a stone bowl of boiling hot fresh chicken broth with ginseng root, each bowl containing your own personal whole chicken which has been stuffed with sticky rice Samgaetang Chicken Soupand chestnuts and tied up like a turkey. Samgaetang is served with a shot of cold ginseng liquor on the side, which you can drink straight or pour into your soup.

    Just add salt to taste and enjoy. There will be a bowl of salt served with your chicken soup, along with an empty bowl so you can scoop some chicken and broth out of the boiling hot stone bowl and let it cool before you eat it. There will also be a stainless steel bucket to discard your chicken bones.

  • #2 Steamed Beef Ribs: 갈비찜 (Galbi Jim). These are the most flavorful and tender beef short ribs I've ever had, which is saying a lot since Chris really knows how to braise a short rib. The galbi jim are cooked in the middle of the table in a large pot with beef broth and lots of vegetables. There are a multitude of side dishes around, including kimche, various sauces, vegetables, noodles, and lots of beautiful fresh leaves of raw lettuce, cabbage, and other greens that can be used as wrappers.

    South Koreans love to wrap their food. The way to eat galbi jim is to take your wrapper of choice then put meat, sauce, kimche, noodles, whatever inside and roll it up and eat it. This is something you can do with your hands, although highly skilled South Koreans can sometimes do it with their chopsticks. In addition to getting a delicious and surprisingly healthy meal, you will also get a very traditional South Korean culinary experience.

    Where to find galbi jim: 수원 왕갈비 (Suwon Wang Galbi) located 서울시 중구 명동 2가 32-14 (Seoul Jung-gu Myung-dong 2 Ga 32-14) .

  • #3 Grilled Fish. The South Koreans use very simple preparation for their grilled fish, which is most often seasoned only with salt. Somehow, they manage to grill the fish to perfection every time, with crispy skins and tender juicy flavorful meat inside. I've had enough delicious grilled fish in enough different types of restaurants that I feel comfortable saying that if you can find grilled fish in Seoul (and it's everywhere), you won't be disappointed.

    The only challenge can be getting the bones out. I learned a number of tricks from my South Korean friends that can help with this. For example, sometimes you can take out the whole backbone first to avoid having to pick out individual bones that break off if you dive into the meat first. In any case, it's always best to order a fish with big bones.

    A great Japanese restaurant with grilled fish and udon soup is 이끼이끼 (Ikki Ikki), located 서울 파이낸스 센터 지하2층 (Seoul Finance Center B2). Order the 갈치 구이 (GalChi Goo-Ee). This restaurant is well known for its sushi, sashimi, and yakitori so you might want to try this too. Keep in mind all Japanese food in South Korea is prepared South Korean style by South Korean chefs, so it will be different from what you would find in Japan.

    Many Japanese foods, especially udon noodles and fresh sashimi, are quite delicious the South Korean way, although I prefer the traditional soy sauce with a touch of wasabi for dipping my sashimi, rather than the strong spicy chili sauce they recommend.

  • #4 Shabu Shabu: Meat and vegetables in a pot of boiling broth, cooked at your table. The South Korean version of Japanese Shabu Shabu is quite delicious, although the broth is a touch heavier than Japanese style. In South Korea, your server might even offer to cook everything for you in the big pot and serve it to you in your bowl, with no self-service cooking required.

    At the end of the meal, they use the leftover broth from the cooking pot that has been soaking up all the meat and veggie goodness during your meal and add rice to make a tasty porridge. Good luck saving enough room to eat more than a few bites of the porridge.

    Here's where to find great Shabu Shabu in Seoul: 일품당 (Ilpumdang), located 서울시 종로구 당주동 16-1 (세종문화회관 뒷 편: Behind Sejong Art Center)

  • #5 Pork and Kimche soup with noodles: 김치찌개 (Kimchi Jigae) and steamed egg roll: 계란말이 (Gaeran Mali). Before I tried this, I was skeptical of putting kimche in soup because I thought the strong flavor would overpower everything else in the bowl. However, it was really delicious and not at all what I expected.

    You can find it here: 광화문집 (Gwanghwa Moon Jib) located 서울시 종로구 당주동 43 (광화문 역 8번 출구 GS 25 옆 골목 안쪽 오른쪽 첫번째 집: Gwanghwa Moon Station (Line #5) Exit 8, go to Alley next to GS 25(Convenience Store) and it's the first restaurant on right)

  • #6 Chinese Dim Sum. Dim Sum, known as "morning tea" in China, is China's version of brunch and one of my favorite meals. The best global chain for Chinese dim sum has to be Din Tai Fung (딘타이펑) located 서울시 중구 명동2가 104번지 (across from Lotte Department Store) .

    You can find this restaurant chain in major cities all over the world, and it's always a good choice. I would highly recommend the dumplings -- for two people try an order of Dumplings 01 and 11, along with your choice of soup.

    Here's the American website as a reference: http://www.dintaifungusa.com/.

  • #7 Grilled Beef (갈비). Koreans are known for grilled beef, and although I wouldn't rate it nearly as high as the steamed beef ribs, they are definitely worth a taste. The seasoning they use on their seasoned beef 양념갈비 (Yangnyum Galbi) is a little too sweet for my taste, so next time I would probably go for the unseasoned beef 갈비 (Galbi) instead. As with other traditional South Korean dishes, this one comes with lots of side dishes and sauces that should be wrapped up together with the beef, in lettuce or other green leaves.

    The best way to end a meal of grilled beef in the summer is with a bowl of cold noodles 냉면 (Naeng Myun).

    Here are some great places to go for grilled beef:
    형제갈비 (HyungJae Galbi) located 서울시 서대문구 창천동 31-35 (연세대 정문과 신촌역 중간쯤 위치: Near Yonsei University & Shinchon Station)

    참숯골 (Chamsoot Gol) located 서울시 중구 무교동 19 체육회관 빌딩 (서울 파이낸스 센터 뒷편: Behind Seoul Finance Center)

  • #8 Traditional South Korean Set Menus. There are plenty of traditional South Korean restaurants, where you can order set menus that come with a variety of dishes to share, for a minimum of two people. You just pick a menu and the food starts flowing without having to give it anther thought.

    One great place to try: 석파랑 (Seokparang) located 서울시 종로구 홍지동 125 (상명대 앞 삼거리: Near SangMyung University).

  • #9 Kimche. No trip to South Korea is complete without sampling the Kimche. It ranges from set-you-on-fire spicy, to more mild, tangy, sour, or sweet varieties. The mildest is water kimche, which is slightly sour and served like a soup. The most common is spicy pickled cabbage or radish in chili sauce, served as a side dish to almost everything.

    In 5 weeks, without even trying, I sampled 10 and 1/2 different varieties of kimche. With guidance from my South Korean friends, I only counted the Chinese kimche as 1/2, since it wasn't "real" South Korean kimche.

    Where to find it: everywhere. You won't have to worry about finding kimche, it will find you.

  • #10 Noodles, Noodles, Everywhere. One of my favorite things about eating in Asia is the seemingly endless variety of noodles. Everywhere you go, you can find options for Udon (my favorite), Ramen, or Buckwheat Soba noodles, with or without soup, with any combination of meat, vegetables and/or seafood, served hot or cold, spicy or mild.

    Beware, sometimes your bowl of noodle soup will be at a full boil when it arrives at your table. In this case, it's best to use an extra bowl to scoop out a little soup to let it cool before you try it.

Special thanks to my colleague, Jihyun Park, for guiding me on my culinary adventures through Seoul.


06 July 2008

Where's Tami?

Final day in KoreaA few weeks ago, Chris met up with me in Seoul. The plan was for him to relax for a few days and adjust to the new time zone while I finished my work project, and then we would spend some time exploring Seoul and Beijing together before returning to the US. However, a few hours after Chris arrived, I received word that my dad had died in a farming accident. Chris was in South Korea for less than 24 hours before getting back on a plane for the long journey home...

I will be at home for two more weeks before returning to work. I'll try to post a few more pictures and stories from South Korea soon.

To learn more about what has happened and how I've been spending my time at home, you can visit http://halefarms.blogspot.com/.


08 June 2008

The Company of Finns

At the end of a very long day and a very long week, I got back to my hotel completely exhausted. I went down to the hotel lounge expecting to grab a quick bite to eat before collapsing into a long-anticipated night of sleeping. Much to my surprise, the hotel lounge was teeming with Finns who had come to Seoul to celebrate the new Finnair route between Helsinki and Seoul...

While I was sitting at the bar having dinner, I met a couple of French journalists who were in Seoul to report the Finnair story. I got the idea that I could crash the Finnair party and spend some quality time with Westerners for the first time in 4 weeks.

All it took was a brief self-introduction and I was welcomed warmly into the Finnair celebration. After what seemed like only a few minutes basking in the positive energy of these delightful strangers, I looked at my watch and realized it was 1am.

I woke up on Friday morning (South Korean Memorial Day) dreading the work I had to get done during the holiday weekend, and feeling so exhausted I could barely pull myself out of bed. I was thankful to have had such a nice [albeit temporary] distraction from life in Asia and to sip from the energy of such a lovely group of people.


07 June 2008

Lots of Angry South Koreans

Police monitoring protest marchesSince I've been in Seoul, there have been an endless series of protests in and around City Hall, which is about 500ft (150m) from my hotel. Since all of the songs, chants, and signs were in Korean, I couldn't always tell what they were so angry about. As it turns out, the wrath of hundreds of thousands of South Koreans has been unleashed on the city because they are afraid of getting mad cow disease from American beef...

Anti-FTA ProtestAs the rallies, candelight vigils, and downtown marches have gotten progressively bigger and louder, it has become more difficult to find a taxi driver willing to take me to my hotel. Sometimes, I have to get out and walk the last 4-5 blocks to my hotel because protest marches have completely blocked major downtown streets.

Protests at City HallAfter realizing that every protest was an anti-FTA protest, I started asking my South Korean colleagues why people were so upset about the free trade agreement with the US. The initial response is always something related to the fear of mad cow disease that comes from accepting beef imports from older American cows. They firmly believe that their government has put the South Korean people at serious risk by lifting the cattle age restrictions.

Protests at City HallThen, a deeper discussion reveals that even if the agreement were amended to block imports of meat from older cows, the protests would probably still continue. More important than what's actually in the agreement is how the government reached the City Hall, the morning afteragreement---without the permission of the people. The FTA is just one of a series of unpopular policies the new government has tried to pass in its first 100 days in office.

The word on the street is that the South Korean people won't be happy until the president issues a sincere apology, fires the majority of his staff, and then reverses several unpopular policies including the unrestricted American beef imports.

Police monitoring protest marchesHowever, the announcements that: 1) the Blue House Chief of Staff and all members of the senior secretariat members will resign; 2) the South Korean government will ask Washington to block exports of older cows; and 3) the importers themselves have vowed to self-regulate cattle age even if no formal restriction is imposed, have not had even the slightest calming effect on the masses.

I'm starting to think they're having too much fun to quit protesting now.

Copyright @2005-2009 by Tamra Hale. All rights reserved.