Korea

Fall gently eases us into the dismal winter season with its beautiful ombre foliage, joyous harvest celebrations, and crisp hoodie weather...

October is almost over, but I’m still not ready for the cold. Every year I make a resolution to just get over my intolerance of frigid temperatures and long, dark days. “Marcella, be one with the cycles of nature!,” I tell myself. Live in the moment and accept that which you cannot control. These mantras have done little good.

So I’m posting pictures of my summer trip to Seoul, Korea, and maybe the memory of the scorching Korean sun and lack of central air will help me appreciate the impending chill.

This little fishy didn't stand a chance. Maybe if you weren't filled with ice cream and sweet red beans, I would have been a little nicer. 

This little fishy didn't stand a chance. Maybe if you weren't filled with ice cream and sweet red beans, I would have been a little nicer. 

After 14 hours of sitting on your ass in a cramped couch seat, nothing taste better than fried pork with sweet and sour sauce (탕수육), fried dumplings (만두), and noodles with black bean sauce (자장면)

After 14 hours of sitting on your ass in a cramped couch seat, nothing taste better than fried pork with sweet and sour sauce (탕수육), fried dumplings (만두), and noodles with black bean sauce (자장면)

These out door Korean markets are the best places to grab street food. 

These out door Korean markets are the best places to grab street food. 

Spicy rice cakes are a market staple. I have fond memories of those simmering caldrons of chewy rice cakes swimming in a sweet and spice sauce. 

Spicy rice cakes are a market staple. I have fond memories of those simmering caldrons of chewy rice cakes swimming in a sweet and spice sauce. 

Fish cakes ready for the eating 

Fish cakes ready for the eating 

Churros and milk soft serve!

Churros and milk soft serve!

Kwang Jang Market...blood sausage anyone? It was delicious!

Kwang Jang Market...blood sausage anyone? It was delicious!

A typical street market spread: blood sausage, spicy rice cakes, seaweed rice rolls. 

A typical street market spread: blood sausage, spicy rice cakes, seaweed rice rolls. 

These assorted batter-fried goodies had "hand taste" (손맛). This means your could taste the love of the person who prepared the dish in the food.  

These assorted batter-fried goodies had "hand taste" (손맛). This means your could taste the love of the person who prepared the dish in the food.  

This makgeoli is a world away from your standard grocery store variety. 사미인주 was my favorite among the recommendations of our resident makgeoli expert, Kimberly.  Thanks girl!

This makgeoli is a world away from your standard grocery store variety. 사미인주 was my favorite among the recommendations of our resident makgeoli expert, Kimberly.  Thanks girl!

This is the famous marinated raw crab, from Jim Mi restaurant in Seoul. I know it sounds (and looks) scary, but the crab is sweet and the bright orange roe is creamy. Mix it with rice - it's mind blowing. 

This is the famous marinated raw crab, from Jim Mi restaurant in Seoul. I know it sounds (and looks) scary, but the crab is sweet and the bright orange roe is creamy. Mix it with rice - it's mind blowing. 

This is the accompaniments for one order of crab!

This is the accompaniments for one order of crab!

Grilled meat is a must! 

Grilled meat is a must! 

I LOVE LOVE LOVE Korean cold noodle soup. It's so refreshing in the summer

I LOVE LOVE LOVE Korean cold noodle soup. It's so refreshing in the summer

My first bowl of 해장국 (blood cake soup).  It was surprisingly good.  

My first bowl of 해장국 (blood cake soup).  It was surprisingly good.  

The end to any good Korean meal and to this post. Until next time!

The end to any good Korean meal and to this post. Until next time!

Japanese Cabbage Pancakes (Okonomiyaki)

Okonomiyaki-6.jpg

If you read my last post, you know I recently got back from Tokyo. It was a whirlwind 3-day trip, and there were only so many meals I could cram into 72 hours. Regretfully, okonomiyaki was not one of them. I’m a sucker for savory pancakes so this cabbage and pork belly version is something I’ve been craving ever since I missed the chance to eat them in Japan.

I was stoked when I came across a whole chapter on okonomiyaki in my newest cookbook, Japanese Soul Cooking. This book leaves sushi at the door and highlights those fried-curried-noodley-sauced dishes that fill you up and make you feel all is good in the world.  Okonomiyaki fits that bill. I’ve never actually eaten okonomiyaki, so I didn’t know what it was supposed to taste like. The name literally means, “What you like, cooked,” so I figured if I thought it was delicious then it turned out right.  

Everyone loved it, so it turned out right in my book. It was actually so good that I made it three times last week. It was as easy as making a batter, adding cabbage, topping with pork belly, and cooking until done. Then came the fun part, adding all the toppings that make this dish quintessentially Japanese: sweet brown Okonomi sauce, Kewpie mayo, powdered nori (aonori), and bonito flakes (katsuobushi). I can tell that okonomiyaki is going to be a mainstay at home, but I can't wait to go back to Japan and try it!

Click HERE for the Osaka-Style Okonomiyaki Recipe from Japanese Soul Cooking

Recipe Notes:

  • You can add anything you want to the batter in addition to the cabbage (hence the name ‘what you like, cooked). I added shrimp and crab, but be creative and add anything that'll make you happy. I think I’ll try corn and scallops next time.
  • The recipe called for coarsely chopped cabbage, but I preferred shredded cabbage. It cooked more evenly and was easier to eat.
  • The recipe calls for 10 cups of cabbage, which seemed like too much. The cabbage to batter ratio was off. I cut back to 5-6 cups of shredded cabbage and the pancakes turned out perfectly. 
  • I cut the pork belly into 1-inch pieces before I laid them on the pancake. This made a knife unnecessary, and you could eat them with chopsticks. 

My First Trip to Japan

Restaurants located at the outer Tsukiji market

Restaurants located at the outer Tsukiji market

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market

Fresh Wasabi

Fresh Wasabi

Giant sword/carving knives for trimming tuna

Giant sword/carving knives for trimming tuna

Sword wielding fish monger carving tuna at the tsukiji market

Sword wielding fish monger carving tuna at the tsukiji market

The most delicious chirashi sushi with salmon, salmon roe, tuna, and sea urchin. Everything was so fresh and sweet!

The most delicious chirashi sushi with salmon, salmon roe, tuna, and sea urchin. Everything was so fresh and sweet!

Ice machine at the market

Ice machine at the market

There were unlocked bikes all over the city! 

There were unlocked bikes all over the city! 

Random store front

Random store front

Sekihoutei, a 2 michelin star restaurant in tokyo

Sekihoutei, a 2 michelin star restaurant in tokyo

Mask store in Asakusa

Mask store in Asakusa

Giant lanturn at the Asakusa Buddhist Temple

Giant lanturn at the Asakusa Buddhist Temple

4 dogs, 1 bird

4 dogs, 1 bird

Asakusa Buddhist Temple

Asakusa Buddhist Temple

My best friend's brother and his wife were also in Japan

My best friend's brother and his wife were also in Japan

Amazingly delicious convenient store goodies: roll cake, mochi in syrup, peach cheese cake, and tuna roll. All for less that $6 

Amazingly delicious convenient store goodies: roll cake, mochi in syrup, peach cheese cake, and tuna roll. All for less that $6 

Random conveyor belt sushi place that blew my mind. Among my favorites were the raw shrimp nigiri and nato and okra roll.

Random conveyor belt sushi place that blew my mind. Among my favorites were the raw shrimp nigiri and nato and okra roll.

Subway vending machine for noodles. You buy a ticket then give it to the workers inside of the restaurant. 

Subway vending machine for noodles. You buy a ticket then give it to the workers inside of the restaurant. 

Udon, tempera, and pickles for breakfast

Udon, tempera, and pickles for breakfast

Delicious convenient store meals

Delicious convenient store meals

Tantanmen

Tantanmen

Fried sesame mochi with red bean filling

Fried sesame mochi with red bean filling

Last month I visited Japan for the first time, and I left impressed and craving more. But I’ll admit that prior to my visit, I felt ambivalent toward Japan. Being of Korean decent, I felt Japan was like that beautiful and popular sibling everyone loves and you are tired of hearing about. I mean I get it already! Your sushi is delicious, your anime is adorable, and your electronics are superior. And like any jealous sister, I publicly downplayed your coolness, while secretly admiring you. Well it took only three short days for Japan to win my heart and mind, and now I’m openly in love with the country.

Whenever I travel, food is always the main event. It’s how I feel out any new place. Japan’s culture is based on respect, tradition, and honor, and its clearly reflected in the food. The attention to detail and focus on quality would impress the most discerning critic. Everything I ate during my trip was simply delicious, from the random conveyor belt sushi restaurant to the snacks from the convenient store. The chirashi sushi from the famous Tsukiji Fish Market was life changing. You’ve probably seen footage of the tuna auctions at Tsukiji on the Travel Channel. After the auctions are over, the restaurants in the outer market open and serve that day’s catch. I never knew seafood could taste so sweet!

The highlight of my trip was the kaiseki dinner I had at Sekiho-tei, one of Tokyo’s many Michelin-starred restaurants. Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course meal that is based on seasonality. The food was stunning in its simplicity and the restaurant was serene and zen-like. Among my favorite dishes were the fig with gingko nuts and the tuna and sea urchin with shiso buds. But what made the meal extra special was that I shared it with a newly discovered distant aunt. A week prior to my trip, I didn’t even know she existed but by the end of the lengthy dinner we bonded. I love knowing I have family in Japan. Now that I’ve had my first taste of Japan, I'm hooked. I finally understand why the whole world is fascinated by this island nation, and I’ve joined the ranks – front and center.

Zesty Seaweed Chips

Life always has a way of coming full circle.

When I was little, my mom would pack me a lunch of rice and dried seaweed that always triggered a wave of disgusted looks across the cafeteria table. Kids would declare “that’s gross!!!” as I tried to convince them they tasted just like chips. So I’d save up allowance to buy lunch and ditched the misunderstood Korean food somewhere between the school bus and the lunch bell.

I begged for Lunchables, Gushers, chips, and white bread sandwiches, but my mom, a typical health-obsessed-penny-wise Asian women, wasn’t having it. It wasn’t until I started coming home in tears that she finally broke. I still remember the first day I walked into the cafeteria, head held high, carrying a brown bag filled with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple - I was finally normal.

Fast-forward 20 years and I’ve finally embraced who I am and the food I eat, weird or not. And as I matured in life so did the American palate. Seaweed is no longer a fringe delicacy only found on hippy communes. You can now find overpriced, individually portioned packs of toasted seaweed at every Costco, Trader Joes, and Kroger. And no one would blink an eye if you picked up a seaweed salad with your New York Dragon Crunch roll.

I imagine that progressive moms everywhere proudly slip packs of toasted seaweed into their children's lunch boxes, and kids confidently brag about how good it is. Here’s a super flavorful recipe for zesty seaweed chips that are so good they will give potato chips a run for their money (oh btw they are way healthier too).

Zesty Seaweed Chips

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon oriental mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 5-6 sheets of roasted seaweed (I used Yaki Sushi Nori)
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil

Instructions:

  1. Mix the first 5 ingredients in a small bowl.
  2. Brush sesame oil onto one side of a seaweed sheet. Generously sprinkle the seasoning mixture as evenly as possible on the oiled side. Repeat for all the seaweed sheets.
  3. Heat a nonstick pan over medium high heat until hot. Lightly toast each side for about 10-15 seconds. 
  4. Cut each sheet into 8 rectangular pieces.

Emu Egg Tamagoyaki

I came across this monstrosity of an egg at Tan A, my local Vietnamese grocery store. For those who aren't familiar with eggs that look like they fell out of a t-rex’s ass, I introduce the emu egg.

It was over this dino-tastic egg that I finally made friends with one of the Vietnamese grocers. I’ll admit that I’m using the word “friends” liberally, but it was a small victory nonetheless.

You see, for years I’ve been a regular at the Vietnamese businesses that occupy the shopping center at Horsepen and Broad street. I get my weekly pho from Pho So 1, my banh mi at Catina, and my Asian groceries at the previously mentioned Tan A.

But no matter how many hard-earned dollars I spent in these establishments, I got the same treatment – total indifference. There was never a, “nice to see you again” or “do you want your regular #17 with fried spring rolls.” And no amount of smiling or futile attempts at small talk has ever changed that.

Once I asked my regular waitress what salted lemonade was. She looked at me with the type of annoyance reserved for Americans asking stupid questions and replied, “It’s lemonade. It’s salty. You no like!” And that’s pretty much how it went, until I bought the emu egg.

The breakthrough happened a few months ago during an ordinary grocery trip to Tan A. I was curious about some mysterious kaki colored eggs and worked up the courage to ask the cashier about them, knowing there was a 95% chance he wouldn’t even look up from his register to respond.

To my utter surprise, not only did he look up, and not only did he answer my question (they were chukar eggs!), he actually engaged in further conversation! I was trying to play it cool, but I’m sure some of my shock seeped into my always-transparent expression. I felt I was finally deemed worthy, like I was an insider or something.

He told me that they also had local emu eggs for sale, and then proceeded to walk me over to where they were neatly stacked. Of course I snatched one up for $15 and decided I’d figure out what to do with it later.

I haven’t had any real conversations with my Vietnamese cashier friend since then, but he does acknowledge my existence now. We always say hi to each other, and he seems eager to help if I’m looking for something. If this story had a moral it would be that no matter how different someone is from you, there is always something that you can connect with. In my case it was a giant blue emu egg.  

As for the egg, it sat on my kitchen table for an inordinate amount of time for two reasons: it was so damn pretty and its size intimidated me. Finally my fiancé threatened to throw it out, so it was time.  

I decided to make a Japanese rolled omelet (tamagoyaki), since it would preserve the natural emu-y flavor. I separated the whites from the enormous 11oz yolk and whisked in some sugar, soy, mirin, and diced onion. I cooked thin layers of yolk and white then stacked them all together and rolled. 

The Verdict: At first both the fiancé and I loved the supper eggy, slightly custardy omelet. But we very quickly got over it. After about a slice and a half each we were done (I mean done done, like forever). The omelet seemed to just sit at the bottom of my stomach, and a heavy egg flavor stuck with me all day. I'll probably never buy another emu egg, but if I'm ever on a reality cooking show and get emu egg in my mystery basket, I'll know to make quiche from it to balance out it's flavor with other ingredients.