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Jajjangmyeon!!

27 May

 
I am proud to say that other than dog soup, I have never hesitated to try new food that I encountered in the past of my life. Two years ago, when I first traveled to Korea, I had a taste of a noodle dish called “Jajjangmyeon”, and since then, jajjangmyeon has became my favorite kind of noodle.


  I met up with a Korean friend during my stay in Seoul, and she  suggested my family to go to a Chinese restaurant after hearing that I had kimchi and Kalbi for every meal. At first, I was really reluctant, thinking that I would rather have kimchi again rather than something I could easily get at home. However, we still paid a visit to the Chinese restaurant because she insisted. When we got to our destination, I was really surprised by how “Chinese” the Chinese restaurant was. The banner was in Chinese characters and the interior was decorated with red lanterns hanging on the ceiling and Chinese calligraphic painting on the walls. It was more like what you can see in a movie rather than a restaurant. However, as we read through the menu, we found there really wasn’t anything familiar other than “Jajjangmyeon” which sounded pretty much alike and shared the same kanjis with “zhajiangmian” , a typical kind of noodle you can find everywhere on the street of China and Taiwan..Had no idea what the other food would be , we chose to go for the jajjangmyeon recommended by my friend.

Jajjangmyeon


After a long wait, our jajjangmyeon was finally brought on by the waitress. It was served in a white ceramic bowl with egg noodles covered with glistening, thick black sauce and some cucumber strings on the top. Frankly, I felt a bit disgusted by its gluey appearance at the beginning, but as soon as I took the first bite, I had fallen in love with its indescribable taste. The sauce was sweet and salty at the same time, with sauteed onions and ground pork that even made it better. And the noodle itself was really chewy that one just can’t stop having one bite after another. I was completely satisfied with the taste, yet more startled by the fact that it does not resemble anything like the Chinese Zhaijiangmain even they do share the same ingredients such as grounded meat and cucumbers. I was even more astonished later when I learned that Jajjangmyeon is acknowledged as one of the national food of Korea and was even chosenone of the top 100 Korean cultural symbols when it
 is fairly clear that this dish was originated from Chinese food. But when I rethought about it, I could understand fully why although it was served in a Chinese restaurant but at the same time an authentic Korean cuisine.

Chinese ZhajiangmianChinese Zhajiangmian

 
To me, what makes up an authentic cuisine is more than just the taste and the ways of preparing it. The location or settings of course are other important facts to add up a dish’s authenticity. However, the most indispensable element would be  people whom were involved in the process of preparing, serving and eating. In my opinion, food is more than what to sustain human life and to suffice our taste buds. Every dish has its cultural and historical background. And that is also the reason why I believe only the indigenous people who understand the culture of where the dish is from could produce the most authentic cuisines.

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Sashimi so fresh the fish was still moving. (Sara)

26 May

During my short 2 weeks in Japan, I was able to go with my friend Hitomi who is a native Japanese to her hometown of Toyohashi, which is sort of close to Aichi/Nagoya. In the 4 days I spent with Hitomi, I had the opportunity to try some DELICIOUS authentic Japanese food… which I originally thought it was going to have to miss out on.

The meal that stands out most in my mind is actually so memorable because it is one of the most authentic meals I have had. Hitomi and her mother took us to their favorite sashimi place on Mikawa bay. It is a hole in the wall that literally serves like 10 people at most. Since it is located directly on the port, rest assured that the seafood is as fresh as it can get. As soon as we walked into the quaint hut, we were greeted as friends by the owner, a fisherman dressed in a red puffy jacket and thick rubber boots. Let us call him Red.

A glimpse of Red and the small hole in the wall restaurant.

His two young lady minions were dressed in similar attire but with the addition of woolen scarves. I envied their warmth. Winter was still afoot, and because we were right next to the ocean, the frigid salty sea air crept under my jacket. I was freezing and began to shiver. Luckily, they had a heater, and as I tried to warm up, I looked at my surroundings. I could tell then and there this was going to be an awesome experience, as Hitomi and her mother were regulars there. The first thing I noticed was the lack of a kitchen. If this is an eating establishment, where do they prepare the food? But then I realized that 95% of what they serve there is raw. The crammed space was filled with huge tanks that were home to a variety of shellfish, fish and baby turtles. The turtles were not for eating, the owner reassured us.

Hitomi’s mother ordered for us, as she was quite familiar with this place. I was dying from anticipation. Fishermen were outside rinsing their catches in large plastic bins. Seagulls swarmed overhead and the brave ones courageously tried to swoop in, only to find themselves shooed away by the fishermen. Red walked to one of the large tanks and deliberately scooped out the most gigantic clams I have ever seen. He then proceeded to the fish tank and skillfully caught a beautiful red snapper with ease. How much more authentic of an experience could you ask for? Authenticity to me is genuineness, and when applied to a meal, both the atmosphere and food should represent the culture it comes from. An authentic dining experience should warm not only your stomach, but also your soul. If you’ve ever had a home-cooked meal that made you smile, I think you know what I’m talking about. To me, the taste is not as indicative of the authenticity, but rather the way it was prepared, the ingredients, and the ambiance of the meal. This meal seems obviously authentic because I was served seafood directly from a tank on a port in Japan, but it is indeed possible for one to enjoy an authentic meal at a place not in the country its cuisine represents.

It didn’t take long for the food to arrive.

The hugest clams I've ever seen!

The first dish to grace us with its presence was the huge clams I had just witnessed being fished out of the tanks next to us. Grilled, doused with a shoyu/teriyaki sauce and emitting the most wonderful smell imaginable, they were gorgeous. The meat was of perfect chewiness and everybody was happily slurping on their clams when the fisherman presented his masterpiece.

The front fin of the tai (snapper) was still twitching when it came to the table. Though its flesh was carved out and sliced into perfectly thin slivers, the rest of the fish was still intact.

The gorgeous tai (snapper) sashimi

It was trying to swim away! That is how you know you are eating a freshly caught fish. Later on in the meal, the electrical current causing the frontal fin to pulsate moved to the tail, and the tail began to jerk in spasms. (I have a video of this event and will try to post it.) It knew that it was in danger and its flight response was kicking in. I had never eaten sashimi that was served with the rest of the fish. The presentation was phenomenal.

The most authentic sashimi ever. Enough said.

We gasped as Red delivered the next dish, a beautiful assortment of raw scallops, squid, shrimp and octopus. Sashimi at its finest. Red smiled as we praised him for the quality of the meal.  Because it requires little to no ingredients, sashimi is the ultimate test of a restaurant’s freshness and value. We were all incredibly satisfied and despite the chilly air, I felt extraordinarily warm and happy.

I will never forget Red and my dining experience here.  ごちそうさまでした!

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

Armando’s Truck (Iris)

23 May

  Just got off from Japanese class, I rushed to the intersection of McClintock and Jeffereson to see if there is any food truck around so I can get something for lunch. There was only Armando’s truck so I had no choice but approached to it. An old lady dragging a luggage got there a few seconds earlier than I did. She quickly ordered the Tuna Melt and asked the owner where they are going to be over the summer, and was pretty satisfied hearing from the man in the truck saying they will be at the same spot.

  The Armando offers a wide variety of choices, sandwichs, burgers, burritos  and there is also a special menu dedicated to breakfast. While I was still contemplating of what I should get on the side, a young man wearing an orange t-shirt quickly came over and ordered a turkey burger. He seemed to be pretty close with the owner, they exchanged a few words and he stepped aside to let the owner take my order. I ordered the Tuna Melt and asked if I can pay by debit card, the man answered yes with a friendly smile and took out his iphone for me to sign. “That is some pretty cool Iphone App..” I said to myself and noticed that there are two ladies working on the food on the left side of the truck.

  As I turned away to wait for my food, the owner told the ladies making food my order in Spanish. I started to observe the people waiting as I was bored standing there.  The old lady was waiting by the window and looked a little bit aggitated, and the guy wearing orange shirt yawned quite a few times during his wait. The food was prepared in a little bit and they took their food and walked away quickly. My sandwich took some time and another black guy wearing glasses came and ordered a burrito. He and the other two customers who just left seemed to be pretty familiar with the Armando’s truck, since they all placed their orders without even looking at the menu. As I just thought of this, “Tuna Melt!” my food was ready and I grabbed it, took a peek at my food wrap
ped in the paper bag and walked away.


 

 


I tried to write in time sequence and describe actions of the people around me and how I thought and felt about their actions. I did take some notes while waiting for the food in order to get more details down, and try to re-visualize what I see in the process of writing this blog. 

Public link for Wednesday’s reading + reading questions for Tanizaki

23 May

Link will take you to a .pdf file here.

I’ll also give you a hard copy in class.

Tanizaki discussion questions

  1. What kinds of language does the narrator use to describe appetites?  Find one or two passages and discuss.
  2. What kinds of experience does the Chinese restaurant promise to offer the narrator? Find one or two passages and discuss
  3. Does the language of a Jonathan Gold restaurant review from the LA Weekly–see below–seem to echo Tanizaki’s in any way? See “The Gourmet Club,” p. 116. Find one or two further passages and discuss.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~REVIEW–>

Cold as a Kudzu Vine in Winter

Yu Chun’s naengmyon for a hot summer’s day

A A A Comments (1) By Jonathan Gold Thursday, Jul 29 2010

Is there anything more refreshing than naengmyon on a blistering summer day? Because if anything can reduce ambient body heat more efficiently than a bowl of the cold noodle soup at Koreatown’s Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun, medical science has yet to discover what it might be — drifts of strong broth, so cold that they rise from the bowl in airy snowdrifts of beefiness, as tart and sweet and chilled as a properly made cocktail. (Is ice the bartender’s flame, as Eric Alperin suggests? Very well: Ice is also the flame of the naengmyon chef.)

PHOTO BY ANNE FISHBEIN

Chillin at Yu Chun

The noodles, made from the ground roots of the same kudzu vine that is the bane of gardeners in the American South, are wire-thin, impossibly stretchy and of a tarry blackness, at least when wetted, that is intense enough to suck light out of the air. (When the waitress comes over to snip the noodles into manageable lengths, she uses what I swear are heavy-duty garden shears.) There is a halved boiled egg, a few slivers of pickled daikon, and a slice or two of cold boiled beef. You are given the opportunity to doctor the broth with stinging spoonfuls of Korean mustard, like the Philippe’s condiment multiplied by three, but you probably won’t bother.

You’ve had naengmyon, at least I’m pretty sure you have, that odd cold-noodle dish that shows up toward the end of a Korean barbecue meal: a big, chilled stainless-steel bowl from which you sample two bites before you push it away in favor of the last burnt tentacle that had been hiding under the charred clove of garlic. The ignored naengmyon tends to come in one of two varieties — either as mool naengmyon, floating in a gamy, underseasoned meat broth that tastes like way-overboiled beef; or as bibim naengmyon, sealed in a thick, sweet chile sauce, often with chunks of boiled stingray. You can alter the beef broth with vinegar and Korean mustard. You’re kind of stuck with the red goo, although you can always requisition some of the sharper chile paste, called gochujang, which is undoubtedly hanging out in a small dish somewhere on the table. Naengmyon, even in its more exalted forms, has never seemed like one of Koreatown’s more exalted attractions.

Yet sightings of great restaurant naengmyon have been floating around Koreatown for decades, and when you try the famous places, the noodles can be pretty good. Ham Hung, a restaurant I first paid attention to when it ran an exotic-meats buffet in the 1980s, is far better known in the community for the stretchy potato-starch naengmyon, a specialty of the North Korean city from which the restaurant takes its name. The restaurant Chung Ki Wa has always been known for its especially beefy, buckwheat naengmyon, although most of the customers seem to come for the inexpensive barbecue.

And of course the weird but compelling naengmyon served at the Corner Place is a Koreatown cult item, sugary and mysteriously refreshing — and rumored to include 7-Up as one of its ingredients. As generations of K-town denizens have discovered, it may be easier to steal gold from Fort Knox than it is to smuggle naengmyon out of the Corner Place: Nobody is going to reverse-engineer the broth on Corner’s watch.

Chil Bo Myun Ok, the other famous Koreatown naengmyon specialist, also forbids takeout orders of the noodles — the last time a friend tried, I was sure that we would all be permanently barred from the restaurant, although we got away with a warning instead.

Yet it is at Yu Chun, which has all the aesthetics of an army mess hall, where the flavors are most compelling; at Yu Chun where you see men raise the massive bowls and drain them as if they were flagons of ale; Yu Chun, where the only other permissible thing to order is mandoo, dumplings the size of a fat man’s fist filled with minced beef and a surprisingly modest slug of chopped cabbage kimchi. (You would not be entirely out of line if you tried the restaurant’s take on pork-kimchi bibimbap, served on a superheated stone platter.)

Yu Chun’s mool naengmyon is cold enough to give you an ice cream headache. Yu Chun’s naengmyon is so cold that the waiters customarily bring mugs of peppery hot soup as you eat it, which may be the restaurant equivalent of St. Bernards bringing hot toddies to travelers stranded in the frozen Alps. Yu Chun’s naengmyon is cold enough to eat for lunch today.

YU CHUN CHIC NAENG MYUN: 3185 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown. (323) 382-3815. Open Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. MC, V. No Alcohol. Valet parking. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $20-$26. Recommended dishes: chic naeng myun, kimchi mandu.

Going to a food truck…

22 May

I certainly did not know that there were food trucks dedicated to juice, so when I found one on line that happened to be near my house I decided to go there.  The name of the truck is Mambo Juice truck.  On an empty parking lot I found the truck along with two other food trucks.  The juice food truck was the third to the right.  There was music playing that I did not recognize but it seemed like rock.  I approached the truck and started looking at the menu. Another person was looking at it too. There were smoothies and juices with different ingredients each.  “Are you waiting for me? Please go ahead” said the man in front of me. “No, I am still looking at the menu, thanks” I replied.  He ordered a Mambo mango.  “Do you want a smoothie?” asked the cashier.  “No, I am in the mood for a juice. What do you recommend?”I asked. “Well, people have been ordering Mambo Mango”; “Then, I’ll have that one.” “ Have you eaten, yet? “The cashier asked me glancing at the other trucks. “Umm, yes.  Are you guys always here?” “No, this is for a fund raiser, so it is only for today. There was even a live band until a while ago;” “Ah, I missed it.” Then, the people preparing the juices called for the number previous to mine, but no one answered.  I turned and saw the guy in a group and called him over.  Soon my own juice was ready.  It was really delicious.  They were already leaving but I still saw many people around the other trucks.

I tried to describe going to a food truck as I experienced it because I like this type of narration.  Also, because it shows what was right in front of me, as any customer would experience it.  I was not taking notes at the time, but I did right after.

Evelyn Espinosa

Nicole’s post: NomNomTruck, Dinnertime

22 May

After choosing the NomNomTruck from a list of nearby LA food trucks I had found on-line, we set off toward La Crescenta.  It was a bright green truck parked along the road near a small shopping center. It was 7 oclock, right around dinner time, and the sidewalk surrounding the truck was crowded with waiting customers.  As we approached the NomNomTruck from a nearby parking lot, I could see a line of 5 people 3 yards away from the ordering window.  2 people had formed a separate line closer to the ordering window.  Between these two lines, I determined that the longer one further away from the truck was for those awaiting their ordered meals and the shorter one was for ordering.  I quickly queued up in the shorter one.  While awaiting my turn, I observed the people who had already ordered and were waiting for their food.  4 of them, 2 separate couples, began to chat idly amongst each other about their decision to try the food truck.  One of the gentleman exclaimed that he had originally planned to go out for sushi, but happened upon the NomNomTruck and changed his mind.  All 4 expressed their excitement for trying something new.  These people, with little else in common aside from their dinner choice that night, chose to start up a conversation during their wait.  The NomNomTruck served as not only a provider of food, but also as a community for its diners.

As we approached the front of the line, we already had our orders prepared. It seemed that customers in line chose their food beforehand so as to avoid holding up the line.  I too had my order memorized: Grilled port banh mi without jalepenos.  The food truck offered Vietnamese influenced foods with banh mi (Vietnamese style sandwiches) and tacos.  After ordering and paying, we also joined the second line which had formed a few yards back to await our food.

I chose to write my ethnographic account under the themes of space and community.  I at first intended to focus on the relationship of space between the two lines that had formed near the truck, but after overhearing the exchanges between some members in line, I felt inclined to include that it in my account. 

–Nicole Katekura