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Authentic eel… with authentic korean coffee- Jeeyoon

25 May

During my solitary stay with my grandmother who could barely remember who I was and asked what my name was every two seconds, my uncle came around 11 AM everyday to take us out to lunch.

I had temporarily come to Korea due to the earthquake in Japan and was staying with my grandmother, whose dementia was getting worse everyday. She had constantly enquired about who my mother was (her daughter), who my dad was, who my brother was, how old I was, where I lived, where SHE lived, etc… repeat 40 times a day.

I took care of my grandmother during the morning and night, and my uncle took care of my grandmother during the day after taking us out to lunch. The menu varied daily, although because my grandmother insisted it wasn’t a meal without eating rice, we mostly ate some form of a traditional Korean meal.

It was nearing my birthday, so my uncle took us out to a Korean eel restaurant in Paju, an hour away from heart of Seoul. It is actually quite close to North Korea.

I believe you cannot have an ‘authentic’ experience without being in an environment that fits the authenticity of the food. The food maybe ‘authentic,’ (right ingredients, right preparation, etc), but for a completely authentic dining experience, the environment that surrounds the diner (place, building, mood, the people, etc) should play a big role as well.

Imagine eating a fancy French cuisine in middle of McDonald’s, overran by over hyperactive children throwing their plastic toys from their kid’s meals across the room. Not the same. Or even, imagine a Shakespearian play such as Macbeth set in 2500… on Mars. Even if the actors are reading the same lines, the experience obviously would totally be different.

So when I entered this space, I felt as if  I was in a completely different space from before. The decor was done in traditional Korean fashion.

Naruhtuh jip, decore

Inside the restaurant, we were led to middle of the room without any tables. It reminded me of old market place restaurants in Korea. I also thought how awkward this might be for people who were not particularly close with each other, because having a table creates some comfortable distance and space between the people.

And let us not forget, the food.

foodddd

the food being cooked outside

 The ladies grilled the eel outside and young part timers brought in giant TABLE full of food. Not trays. tables.

Customers were allowed to choose between a bowl of rice and a bowl of eel porridge. I asked for the eel porridge, only to be stopped by my uncle, who claimed you can only eat an authentic eel with bowl of rice… I know what bowl of rice taste like, but since I didn’t know what eel porridge tasted like, I argued in my passive aggressive manner until he finally let me eat my bowl of eel porridge. Even having this argument added to the authenticity of this meal (even if you are suppose to eat eel with a bowl of rice!), being surrounded by my Korean family.

Eel was pretty large compared to eels served in other restaurants, and of course, pretty pricey. I wanted to order salt grilled eel and marinated eel, but as always my uncle just ordered without asking.

I look at the next table which had ordered catfish mae – un – tang, or catfish spicy stew. It looks delicious, but we are here for the eel!

The service was your usual Korean service. You don’t tip your waitresses, so ajummas (middle aged ladies)  working in these types of restaurants are not as alert to your needs as might want them to be.

My uncle and grandma drinking... barley tea.

When the food was finished, we were served ‘dabang coffee,’ an authentic Korean coffee that is served in every Korean restaurant usually for free… aka 30 cent vending machine coffee mix coffee. I think its truly interesting how almost every Korean restaurant serves this coffee, because history of coffee in Korea is not that terribly long. This overly sweetened coffee drink has become a common after meal drink in Korea and interestingly enough, it added to the authenticity of this meal despite its western origins.

Although I felt that the experience was authentically Korean, I’m not quite sure if I can say that about the food. I heard the eel was imported from China, or at least it used to be. And surprisingly even to me, the experience added more to the authenticity of this meal even more than the food.

PS I don’t know why the author is showing up as lucasgriffin.

Some images are taken by me. some are from http://blog.naver.com/akides82/90063688736 and http://blog.naver.com/superman70/140129461792

Garden Weekend Update

29 Nov

Between the rain and watering, the garden received plenty of water  this weekend. Things seem largely exactly how we left them before taking Thanksgiving break. The recently planted/transplanted micro-greens look to still be alive, and the rest of the plants show little change. It appears that the wind was pretty rough on the DPS house, knocking off some hefty palm branches into the yard and blowing that odd Triscuit sign onto our neighboring garden. Our plot seemed unaffected, thankfully.

Desserts in Mono

9 Nov

At some point in history, a man stared upon a scoop of ice cream, his brow furrowed and glistening with the sweat of deep concentration, a hand stroking his probably double or triple chin, and thought, “This simply is not deep fried enough.” It was in this Promethean moment that the idea of fried ice cream was born. Bless that man.

I had perhaps in passing heard of fried ice cream while growing up, but never had an opportunity to try it, or even see it. It was something ethereal, a whisper off sweet-toothed mouths. “How can you even fry ice cream,” I would wonder in disbelief. “I mean, it seriously must just melt.” My friend Alex assured me that it was both possible and delicious. Believe that when he asked me to go on vacation with him one summer that whether he knew it or not, fried ice cream was set for the menu.

Before we had any opportunity to eat at non-rest stop restaurants the trip had established itself as bizarre. We were driven down to Virginia by Alex’s mother and her then boyfriend, One-Eyed Bill. Of course, no one called him One-Eyed Bill to his face, but a man with a glass eye wasn’t about to get off without a nickname in my 12 year old mind.

The first opportunity I was allowed to choose our eating destination, I jumped on a dive Mexican place that advertised “Fried Ice Cream.” I was ready. It wasn’t particularly great, but that it proved its existence was enough impress. To this day, I cannot think of fried ice cream without thinking back to my strange summer spent with Alex and his mom’s one-eyed suitor.

 

Momotaro and the Steel City

19 Oct

By virtue of its necessity, simple food can be a powerful tool for manipulation; a hungry man is a weak man. Even more powerful, however, is food so seductive or somehow desirable that it can be used to manipulate even a sated man. In “Momotaro’s Sea Eagle,” we saw the use of culinary images like the peach and millet dumplings from the iconic Momotaro story in such a propagandistic sense. The film’s army of peppy critters joyfully munched on these snacks, evocative of the shared history of the Momotaro tale, while they determinedly destroyed the obviously Hawaiian naval base of the “Red Demons.”

While not quite a conflict on the scale of World War II, the struggle through the Football season in the greater Pittsburgh area in Pennsylvania is an intense one for Steelers fans. TV spots air, players appear on local news for interviews, and the wearing of jerseys increases exponentially. One bizarre practice of the community is the production by local snack makers of Steelers themed chips. I don’t know if this is a unique practice, but I’ve always thought it strange, browsing the grocery store isles to find black and yellow tortilla chips with the usual Tostitos. These bags will occasionally sport pictures of players in dramatic or triumphant poses, with a one sided message for Steeler Country.

These sexy chips function essentially like the snacks of the Momotaro film- representing themselves as the snack of a shared culture and the starting point for a Go-Team patriotism. They go well with salsa too.

Garden Update, October 3

3 Oct

The garden was healthy as ever when I visited. Our sprouts continue to grow, some more than others, due presumably to sun exposure. Some of the test transplants appear to be growing, while others look to have made little to no progress- we’ll have to be mindful when we initiate the garden-wide thinning and transplanting. One point of concern: the pumpkin plant looks like it’s starting to take over the northern side of the garden. I don’t know if we’ll have to take any action against it, but at the rate it’s going, it’s beginning to edge out some of our plants for sunlight.

Taking Gluttony up Another Notch

28 Sep

Magic is something perhaps best appreciated when we are young; the world is still full of wonder, our eyes wide with a genuine interest that seems to fade with age. I suppose this heightened perception makes things all the stranger when adults join in supernatural appreciation with us.

My father, sister, and I travelled to Universal Studios, Florida for vacation when I was nine years old. In addition to the rides and attractions, we made a point to hit up as many nice eateries as possible- our dad fiercely leading the way. One day in particular, he exhibited an almost frightening eagerness and dedication to eating that left my sister and I stunned. The temperature was a fine one hundred degrees, but he left us to wait for half an hour while he stood in line for a scalding hot bowl of clam chowder that he swears was worth it.

Shortly thereafter, we went to super-chef Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant for lunch. We were hungry, but our dad was STOKED, ignoring the fact that he was full on boiling chowder. Daunted by the sophisticated menu, I went with a filet of some kind- the first real steak I can remember trying. I think my sister got the same thing, my father too, along with several other courses.

I ate until I was full, savoring the filet but unable to finish it. My sister fared similarly, but our dad managed to not only finish his several complete meals, but our leftovers as well. His seeming insatiability came to an abrupt halt, and with that lunch, he was benched for the rest of the day, leaving my sister and I frustrated and in utter disbelief of anyone’s ability or desire to eat so much damn food. As a kid, I loved that meal – the newness, the quality, the magic – and looking back on my dad’s Count G-like reaction, am sure that I would love it even more now.

SocioCuisine on Roller Skates

16 Sep

When you think of harbingers of social paradigms, I doubt that Sonic Restaurants come to mind. For the uninitiated, Sonic is a chain of fast-food joints strongest represented in the midwest. You might have seen its somewhat annoying ad campaigns pushing its rocking drink selection; I’ve heard of people states away from their nearest Sonics catching the spots on TV. If you haven’t, Sonic bills itself as a jack-of-all-trades restaurant dealing in a host of Americana dishes – hamburgers, hot dogs, tater tots, wild mixed limeades, and the like – with roller-skating hosts that bring your order to your car. It’s a unique idea. It’s also a pretty bad restaurant.

My humble, Western Pennsylvania region saw the TV spots before anyone had an idea of what a Sonic was. How novel it seemed. In time, one sprung up seemingly overnight in a nearby city. My friends and I HAD to have it. We’d seen the commercials, and we wanted our limeades – and we wanted them on ROLLER SKATES.

In the sense of a mystery belying a reality, and creating a socio-culinary force, Sonic came to my home in much the same way as Beef came to Japan. We had known about it for some time- it seemed more an abstraction; not the taboo that Beef was for pre-Meiji Japan, but alike in the way it fascinated us and had its own, special aura. Kanagaki Robun, in his “Beef Eater” snippet, describes a somehow lousy man riding the Beef Bandwagon and polluting the atmosphere of a diner with his extroverted pro-westernism in early Beer era Japan. Sonic’s TV presence polluted our social atmosphere for a time- until we tried it. Unlike Beef’s ultimate catch in Japan, we quickly saw behind the veil of Sonic, and were severely underwhelmed.Tease.