Friday, November 30, 2007

Anti-D.I.Y. Kimchi

If you're like my aunt, who most emphatically does not like to make kimchi at home, you can buy all manner of the spicy pickled cabbage at any food store. It's ubiquitous, really. And the little ladies, togged in doorags, aprons and full-on suits (that's their uniform, says my aunt), stationed at every corner are more than happy to help.

Another lady togged in suit, head-hanky and apron ... I got reprimanded (albeit very kindly) for taking a picture. Apparently at the Hyundai shopping mall, I need special permission from the bosses upstairs ...

It's On

Kimchi-making season in Korea, that is. While taking in the scene at an upscale grocery store in the Hyundai shopping mall, I noticed a herd of folks heading to the check-out with carts and carts loaded with jumbo-sized heads of Chinese cabbage. I asked my aunt what the mayhem was all about, and she said, with winter approaching, folks are all about making their stockpile of kimchi. The pickled stuff used to get buried in the ground during the winter freeze, but now most Seoul dwellers have kitchens equipped with special refrigeration units for their kimchi, so says my aunt. You can't really see it here, but it was insane how much cabbage these folks were buying. And the line of folks waiting for the cabbage to hit the shelves was like something you'd see for a rock star signing autographs at Tower Records in NY.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Oodles of Noodles

Eemo took me to a ritzy shopping mall called Shinsegae (my 2 goals in korea: eat + shop) where we had a truly outstanding meal of naengmyon—a kind of buckwheat noodle, so says my ma, in a refreshingly cold broth with a julienne of Asian pear and radish along with half a boiled egg, beef slivers and in our case a helping of spicy cucumber. Squirt it with some vinegar and a bit o' mustard (no, not the French's variety), and you're all set. I enjoyed every bit of it, served as it was in a brass bowl with brass chopsticks (my aunt says this is the old-school, traditional mode of delivery for the upper class—since brass was harder to come by for working stiffs back in the day ...).

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Panchan Paradise II

OK, the following items aren't really panchan, but they're the food stuff I was referring to in my previous post that are available for the taking at my aunt's panchan market.

A rainbow of rice cakes (dukk) ranging from those rolled in crushed nuts, others filled with dried fruit and chestnut and those flavored with beans ... taking some on the plane to give to my folks. They will love ...

More rice cakes being made, but these are going to get sliced up into small disks that will go into a heart-warming dumpling soup.

Whoa. Talk about a serious fish and fishcake display.

Panchan Paradise

If you're gonna have Korean, you gotta have a good sampling of panchan (or small side dishes) to add dimension (of the salty, vinegary, fishy and spicy variety) to your meal. We decided to eat in one night, and so we stopped off at my aunt's fave panchan market, housed in a basement mall not far from where she lives, to pick up a few things. The pictures really say it all ...

A number of stalls sell panchan, but this one is her go-to outlet.

This isn't even the half of what the place has to offer ... we loaded up on no less than 8 different accompaniments to our meal for the night.

Plenty of other food stuff to be had here—everything from dried fish and homemade tofu to rice cakes and mung bean pancakes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

China by Way of Korea

A girl can't eat Korean food day in and day out (or at least this one can't), so my eemo took me to a fine-dining Chinese resto called Adena Garden (English is everywhere) where we started with a dim sum veggy dumpling that really was quite well done, but didn't quite do it for this shrimp and pork-loving dim-sum diner. (I like veg, but not so much in this form.)

We moved right into a spicy prawns dish dressed in a goopy atomic red sweetish sauce .... not bad, but not amazing; the sauce was a bit overpowering. Then came the mabo (aka spicy) tofu, which was very nice. Clean, bright flavors, tofu cubes cooked just right.

And then the highlight of my meal: the jiajiangmein—noodles loaded with a divine black bean and onion sauce that can come with beef and/or seafood, depending on how you order it. It's one of the best renditions I've had. Period. I savored every slurp.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Auntie Knows Best

My aunt loves good food just as much as I do. She's one of the reasons why I started this blog. Here she is on the hunt for a near-legendary dumpling house that her friends have raved to her about for years.

Eureka. We found the cozy eatery, called Koong (or Palace), down a little street in the Insadong district of Seoul. Its claim to fame: a little granny who's been making North Korean-style soup dumplings (mandoo) for something like 70 years now.

Shaped like jumbo tortelloni, a half dozen dumplings came out bobbing in a perfectly seasoned beef broth swimming with scallions and seaweed. They were deeRISHous and ideal in the blustery cold weather.

Of course, we three (uncle, eemo and I) decided we had to try a few other North Korean specialties such as this braised pork that you wrap in blanched strips of cabbage along with moderately spicy strips of daikon radish. My aunt says it's one of her fave dishes, and I can see why. The tender pork is ever so tasty, the spice of the radish gives each bite a really nice kick and the crunch of the cabbage serves as the perfect foil for the soft piggy pig. And speaking of pigs, why yes, we are. We also helped ourselves to pindaedok (fried mung bean cakes), a little softer/moister, not at all spicy or crispy like that of its southern brethren. Altogether a kinder, gentler version of the Korean food I grew up with. I liked it. A whole heckuvalot.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Talk about putting your back into it. This guy sure is. He's walloping the crap outta the glutinous rice dough he's got in the wooden gourd, making all kinds of whooping yells and running leaps towards and over what will become injolmi or rice cakes rolled in bean, nut or seed powder. The injolmi guys were set up just across the courtyard from the rice crispies guys, with the folk singers sandwiched between 'em. In a sing-song voice, the wielder of the oversized sledgehammer invited us to try their wares, but my aunt told him there weren't any to be had; they'd all been gobbled up. He answered: All you want is something for nothing? She replied: How do we know it's worth our money if we can't have a taste? So, we had our taste and put our money where our mouth had been. Soft and springy (thanks to all of the guy's pummeling), these are hands-down my fave type of rice cakes.

Rolling out the rice dough into bean powder and comfortable in the flowery apron—and his masculinity too.

Seoul's Street Vendors II

S'more street food for the taking. For 5,000 won (~$5), we got a big bag of crunchy treats—puffed rice cakes studded with sesame seeds, nuts and dried fruit as well as thin crispety strips of black and brown sesame crackers.

Aerial view of the rice-crisping operation: The stone drum to the very left is heated; it's where they puff the rice and then while hot, spread it out in the square contraption just like you would with rice crispies.

A little folk-farm music nearby to aid digestion ...

Seoul's Street Vendors

Even though temps are below freezing here in Korea (it snowed last night, and there's still a fine dusting on the ground today), the food vendors are out in force, serving up everything from roasted chestnuts (bahm) and sweet potatoes (goguma) to rice cakes and worms. What what? Yes, there's this thing Koreans like to snack on called bondegi; it's boiled silkworm larvae (I just threw up in my mouth). Oh well, to each his own. My uncle insists that it's good stuff although he admits he hasn't touched the wormies in about 20 years. Yeah, you know, I think I'll take a pass. Plenty of other lovelies to stuff myself with.

Roasting chestnuts on a wooden charcoal pit ...

Chrysanthemum flour cakes stuffed with sweet red bean and hot off the griddle (sooo gooood).

Even better: Hodukk ... fried sweet rice cakes.

Bondeggi to the left, to the left ... spicy saute in the middle, fishcakes to the right.

Sundubu in the Original K-Town

After something like 19 hours in transit to Incheon Int'l Airport by way of SFO and LAX, plus a 2-hr hump in on the limo bus #609 to Gaepodong, where my fave aunt (aka eemo, that's her above) picked me up, it was off to a sundubu (read: spicy silken tofu stew) chain resto for some well-deserved nourishment. Never mind that it was about 3 a.m. PST. In Korea, it was prime chow time: 8 p.m. to be exact.

MmmmmMmmm. This "chain" is the kinda chain resto I like. Lotsa little sides (panchan), a nice atmo and quirky touches like a drawer in your table holding the necessary utensils and a basket full of eggs to add to your stew. And the sundubu (there were no less than a dozen different kinds) was absolutely delightful; our stone bowls came out piping hot, the chili-laden broth dancing with bubbles. My aunt told me to hurry up and crack an egg in mine before the broth cooled down. I did and swirled it in with my chopsticks; my aunt followed suit. It says on the place mat that tofu promotes health and beauty. Sure, OK. I'll go for it; easy enough when the stuff tastes so good.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Samovar Tea with Friends

Preggers PH wanted to have a girly get-together before baby #2 came along, and we were only too happy to oblige. LC chose Samovar Tea Lounge on Sanchez. Sitting in the well-cushioned nook at the front of the tea house with the sun shining brightly (it had been pouring down rain the day before), we happily indulged in the English, Japanese and Moroccan-style tea service as we gabbed about everything from tasselled pasties to hairless bears and cheating on your hair guy.
When my tower of English goodies got to the table, I was psyched. The three tiers came loaded with fresh fruit, a lovely scone with Devonshire cream and strawberry jam,and my fave, the eggy Shitake mushroom quiche sitting on a bed of mixed greens. I washed the gorgeous lot down with several cups of strong black tea. What a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. We didn't want to leave.
But of course we did. The hungry folks crowding the entryway finally guilted us out of there. Though I'd been to the Samovar branch in SoMa months ago, I'd never been to this location. Truth be told, I'd sort of put Samovar out of my head since my one experience hadn't been a terribly positive one—let's just say the alarmingly pink centers of the chicken chunks crowding the salad I'd ordered had put me off the idea that the Samovar in the Castro would be a good place to go. I was wrong. Love this place. Only thing missing: coffee. No biggie. I got my caffeine fix across the street at newly opened Urban Bread.

Friday, November 2, 2007

RNM Revisited

When RNM first opened, I went. Then I went again, and again. And then I wrote about it for a local website, the food was so good. So, when a friend said he wanted to have his birthday dinner there, I said, Sure, why not? It's been four, maybe five years, since I've been, but it's probably still good, right? Why yes, yes it is. Lookee here:

Lightly grilled hearts of romaine with Warren pears, Saint Agur blue cheese, toasted hazelnuts and champagne vinaigrette. Pretty and pleasing to the belly.

Apple wood-smoked pulled pork piled on a corn cake with sweet 'n spicy BBQ sauce, crème fraiche, cilantro and avocado. Ah, Cal-fresh meets Southern hospitality.

Pan-seared day boat scallops, sweet corn flan, heirloom tomato gazpacho, roasted red pepper crème fraiche topped with fines herbes. Tender and springy. Me likey. Me also likey the saucey Fiscalini cheddar mac and cheese (there it is in the background).

Sautéed Alaskan halibut with fresh ricotta gnocchi, chanterelles, baby artichokes, Meyer lemon vinaigrette and arugula. I liked the veg maybe a tad more than the fish. Super rich, super scrumptious; I'm a sucker for truffle oil, and the drop or two added to this dish made me cry uncle from the first forkful.