Saturday, January 30, 2010

Korea 2010

I've fled to Korea to relax after taking the boards. This is probably the longest stretch of time I've spent in Korea since I started really appreciating food...and the great thing about Korea is that there's plenty of food to appreciate. My sister is here learning Korean, so the timing was perfect.

There's the incredibly famous Myeongdong Gyoja which my parents frequented, and we usually eat here every time we come to Korea (last time I was here, there was a line about a mile long stretching out of the place so we passed).

It's known for dumplings and kal guksu (handcut noodles), and every foreign blogger's writeup will mention these two things.

I don't remember the soup always containing small dumplings, but there they were and they were good.

I think the REAL draw of Myeongdong Gyoja is their insanely strong Kimchi. It's on the earlier side of fermentation (which I like), and not only has insane levels of Korean ground chili powder, but also of garlic. The garlic level on this kimchi is unbelievable. It really is meant to be slightly washed in your soup. It's understandable why many Americans would shy away from this kimchi, because it's not only on the spicier end of the kimchi spectrum, but because they're worried about their breath smelling garlicky for days on end (garlic breath really cramps the Asian fetishist's game).

Also in Myeongdong is a branch of the famous Doughnut Plant NYC. The doughnut wars are still pretty fierce in Korea. Dunkin' Donuts (which is a much nicer cafe experience in Korea than in the US) now occupies the most expensive real estate in Korea (a three story location in the heart of Myeongdong...previously occupied by a Starbucks).

Doughnut plant donuts are ridiculously expensive, but they're tasty. The Tres Leches is really good, the creme brulee actually has a crispy creme brulee style crust (but the custard is so-so and the doughnut itself is a bit too chewy). The blackout is maybe a little too cocoa-powdery on the verge of being a bit bland. We'll be back for more though.

Today we're hanging out in Insadong, which has a lot of stores for traditional Korean items. There's also a lot of street food here...and a lot of tourists.
We passed by some people pounding rice for fresh ddeok (rice cake). I don't think I've ever had ddeok that was super freshly made and still warm. Good stuff.

This is a special type of hoddeok made with some corn flour as well as sweet rice flour. Hoddeok is a family favorite. It's a sweet rice dough filled with a cinnamon sugar mixture then fried in a shallow pool of oil on a very hot griddle. It ends up being a delicious chewy caramel-filled pancake. With the addition of the corn flour, it puffs up and gains a very crisp outer layer, while the inside remains super chewy.

Right now I'm sitting in a cafe that overlooks Ssamzie market plaza (which seems to be pretty new). It has a chic-ly low ceiling in the loft area (can't stand up all the ay low), and serves up a decent latte as well as a nice Belgian waffle.

Asians love Belgian waffles...probably because they're freaking delicious.

This square was featured in a variety show bit last week, in which one of the members of a comedy troupe was dressed up as a Navi from Avatar and was ordered around by the other members. There's a food stand here where he ordered something that now has a crazy line. They have pictures of the episode and everything. Best free advertising ever. Sorry it's not subtitled, but check out 7:38 for a moment of genius.

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