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.

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.

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.

It was the second day of our whirlwind tour of South Korea, we have stopped over for lunch in Sokcho, 20 km North of the mountain. Today’s menu is sundubu jjigae, a stew of soft tofu with spicy broth packed with plump prawns, crabs and other sea creatures. The eatery sources their soybeans solely from the immediate area of Ganghyeon townships and makes their dubu in-house. As a result, visitors are treated to food made from and of the area. Dubu that was soft, melting and comforting to the stomach. The broth rendered sweet by the seafood. To accompany the meal were the Korean signature complimentary side dishes (banchan) of kimchi, spicy and sweet dried anchovies, japchae 잡채, humbly blanched chinese cabbage, seaweed and mushrooms.

But the unexpected surprise for me was the godeungeo gui 고등어구이. A mackerel split in half, salted, simply grilled and served as is on a platter. My tired body and palate craved the distinct mackerel taste and fattiness the oily fish gave. It’s called the omega-3 power baby!

Chodang Dubu 초당두부
1678-2 Domun-dong
강원도 속초시 도문동 1678-2
location on google maps

It had been another jam-packed day of offering prayers to the Tongil Daebul Buddha 통일대불 at the Sinheungsa temple 신흥사, a glimpse of the Sinheungsa monastery and riding the gondola up Seoraksan 설악산, all in the space of about 4 hours. Knowing that another energy-drenching activity was planned for that night, I ate a few more of those mackerels -- stealing them from other tables (with permission, some of the other tour-goers didn’t like fish!).

During the day’s activities before we can have the sundubu jjigae lunch at Sokcho, we kept ourselves going with snacking, like on these delightful gamja tteok 감자떡. We bought them from one of the small shops lining the road on our way back to the bus from Seoraksan. The gamja tteok’s chewy exterior is made of potato flour, not dissimilar to that of the Japanese mochi made of rice flour. Inside the chewy cake is a filling of powdery soybean flour, another nod to the Seoraksan regional specialty. There was not really a distinct sweet or salty taste to the gamja tteok, it was actually rather bland, but quite a few of Asian snacks and desserts are like so. In this particular case, the snack was more that of a textural experience than that of taste explosion.

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.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Complimentary Breakfast: Vice & Virtue

I am somewhat picky with my choice of holiday accommodation. It has to have a clean bathroom. Cleanliness is next to godliness, as is with quietness. I avoid “party” hotels and hotels near them, of which there are a few in Bali. Quality of sleep is very precious to me. What don't factor in my decision are the complimentary breakfasts.

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