Lobsters and Beers: I Love You, Summer

It’s hot. AND I LOVE IT.

What better excuse to gather a bunch of friends for some ice-cold beers and yummy food after work on a Wednesday night?

At the top of a long flight of wooden stairs leading up to Itaewon Spa, you can find Lobster Bar, a small establishment and newcomer to the Itaewon food scene that offers a simple menu of  classic American lobster rolls (warm and buttery Connecticut style and the mayonnaise-based Maine style), lobster grilled cheese and whole grilled lobster. The space is tight (I’m guessing their indoor space would probably accommodate up to 14 people, max), hence their no-reservation policy. We got there just in time to be seated outside (they had two four-seater tables).

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Connecticut-style lobster roll with drawn butter, served warm, with shoestring fries, green salad, dill pickles and a wedge of lemon. That’s a whole lotta lobster meat for 17,000 won.

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Maine-style lobster roll with mayonnaise and the same sides. 17,000 won.

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Lobster grilled cheese. 17,000 won.

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The verdict? It was good. Really good. Best of all, the prices are reasonable. And, that’s definitely a winning combo.

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Pre-Portugal Slim-Down Challenge Day 7

We are on a diet. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Joe and I are trying to drop a few before we head off to Portugal for our late summer vacation. Being the simple folk that we are, we really only have two goals we want to accomplish while we’re there: eat and drink. Portugal boasts the highest fish consumption per capita in Europe and, being the huge seafood fan that I am, I’m already dreaming of all the seafood I’m going to eat while there.

Joe wrinkles his nose at the mention of it but I’m excited at the thought of fresh sardines, which his parents buy directly from the fishermen on the beach and throw on the grill. Bacalhau or dried and salted cod is something else I’m sure we’ll be eating a lot of as it is a Portuguese tradition that dates back to the 15th century and is a staple of Portuguese cuisine; there are, reportedly, close to a thousand bacalhau recipes, cooked in every way imaginable and then some. And, octopus. I love octopus, grilled, seasoned and drizzled with some good olive oil. A squeeze of lemon. When you have the freshest ingredients at hand, simple is the way to go.

Joe’s mom is originally from Bolfiar, a small picturesque town 70km or so away from Porto, Portugal’s famed wine region that produces the internationally recognized port wine. So, naturally, one of the things we’ll be doing is drinking a lot of wine. Oh, and Festa do Leitão, a festival devoted to roasting and eating suckling pigs! Joe’s mom has made sure our trip coincides with the dates of the festival and I’m already salivating at the thought of pit-roasted pork, which Joe has described as “the best f_cking pig you’ll ever eat.”

We’ve been good, so far, with sticking to our diet plan. Joe has been loyal to his salad lunches and I also stick to fiber-heavy foods like fruits, vegetables and brown rice. We’ve been eating a lot of salmon, boiled eggs, tofu, and beans for dinner. I try to cook without oil, if I can, and use very little salt when I cook. We have been off the alcohol, too, except for Joe’s birthday dinner when we had sushi and beer. Healthy food can be just as delicious and, when cooked with the right ingredients, completely satisfying, like these black bean tacos on corn tortillas we had for dinner last night.

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It’s the easiest thing to make, too. All you need is some cooked black beans, chicken stock, garlic, onions, red chilies, ground cumin, lime, cilantro, salt and pepper. I added just a bit of shredded cheddar to each taco because a little cheese never hurt anyone.

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I chopped up some cherry tomatoes and onions and tossed it with fresh lime juice, minced garlic and cilantro for a quick and easy salsa. A dash of Tapatío hot sauce for me, without for Joe. The corn tortillas were given to me by my sweet friend Bremelin who is leaving Seoul for the summer.

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Toast the tortillas on a pan, top it with black beans, cheese and cilantro. Fresh lime juice is a must, in my opinion, but limes cost an arm and a leg these days with the worldwide shortage. I bought a couple for 2,500 won, each. EACH. But, lime adds so much flavor to the beans. If I’m going to stick with this diet for the next few weeks, the food better had better be tasty.

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Fold the tortillas in half and let the cheese melt. Serve with the salsa. These were better than any meat-based taco I’ve made in the past. SO good. SO flavorful. Two of these were enough to fill me up. Another successful low-calorie dinner. And, in the meantime, Portugal dreaming…

Roast Chicken with an Attitude

Last weekend, I had a sudden hankering for roast chicken and was determined to make one for dinner. However, it wasn’t a classic roast chicken I was craving. I wanted to spice things up a bit; I wanted a sexier version with a bit of a kick. I was actually craving something very specific, namely, piri piri chicken. So, I bought a bag of Korean red chilies, lemons and garlic to whip up a fiery piri piri sauce.

I had made a tasty batch of piri piri sauce last year for a whole hog barbecue party we hosted in our backyard in honor of our best friends who were leaving Seoul for Colorado. At the time, the inspiration for the sauce had come from Joe, who mentioned that piri piri was a sauce commonly served in Portugal, where his mother’s side of the family is from, with chicken, pork and shrimp or just about any dish. The bright reddish orange sauce complemented the barbecued pork nicely, the spiciness from the chilies and the acidity from the vinegar and lemon juice balancing out the richness of the meat.

My first piri piri sauce.

My first piri piri sauce.

Joe and Luke carrying a whole pig into our garden.

Joe and Luke bring in the party, a.k.a. the pig, into our garden.

Pig, anyone?

Look at all that crackling. Pig, anyone?

There is much debate about how piri piri  or African bird’s eye chili peppers were introduced to Portugal. One of the common beliefs is that they were originally brought back to Europe from Columbus’ voyage to the Americas, which were then introduced to the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola, upon which they were naturally cross-pollinated. However, piri piri has grown in the wild in Africa for centuries and grows mainly in Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The word “piri piri” originates from the Swahili word “pili pili” (“pepper pepper”) and is widely used in Portugal and many parts of Africa. The Oxford Dictionary of English records “piri piri” as a foreign word meaning “a very hot sauce made with red chili peppers.”

African bird's eye chili, more commonly known as "piri piri" in Portugal and many parts of Africa.

African bird’s eye chili, more commonly known as “piri piri” in Portugal and many parts of Africa.

The first time I had eaten piri piri chicken was in 2006 at Nando’s, a popular South African chain with a Portuguese/Mozambican theme, famed for its butterflied, flame-grilled Peri-Peri chicken as well as its reputable bottled hot sauces. At the time, I was backpacking through Africa, starting in Cape Town, South Africa, and slowly moving northeast via overland route through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and, eventually, Ethiopia. I had eight months of navigating four different continents left on my itinerary and was traveling on a budget. The grilled chicken meal I had at Nando’s that day was a treat–tasty, immensely filling and cheap, perfect for a backpacker like me.

For our dinner last Saturday, I started out by roasting a handful of red peppers on a pan until they started bubbling from the inside and their skin turned dark and blistery. Then, I roughly chopped them up and threw them in the blender along with some onions, garlic, smoked paprika, lemon juice, white vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Pan-roasting the red chilies until blistery.

Pan-roasting the red chilies until blistery.

All in the blender.

All in the blender.

Once the sauce was blended until runny and smooth, I let it stand in the fridge for a couple of hours. (The sauce improves with time.)

piri piri sauce, ready to chill in the fridge.

Piri piri sauce, ready to chill in the fridge.

While the sauce was chilling, I butterflied a whole chicken and seasoned both sides with salt and pepper.

Seasoned with salt and pepper.

Salt and pepper all over.

Both sides.

The backside.

Then I brushed on the sauce and left it to marinate for another hour.

All over.

All over. Both sides.

The chicken probably would have been more flavorful had we flame-cooked it over our barbecue grill, which would have also been the proper way, but I was hungry and so I cheated by using a double-sided pan–heat on at full blast, searing the skin for a bit, then turning down the heat with the lid closed for the meat to cook through, and finished it off by turning up the heat again to give the exterior that dark crust.

Eat me.

“Eat me.”

So tender. Ridiculously juicy. I squeezed some fresh lemon all over the chicken.

Tender. So very juicy.

We squeezed some fresh lemon all over the meat and enjoyed it with a side of green vegetables and a stack of warm tortillas. Dark meat for me, white for Joe.

My favorite kind of food is one that is uncomplicated, rustic and straight to the point. One of my best friends lovingly calls my cooking “nonna style” and I’m flattered because that’s how I always cook my food–with a lot of heart for the people I’m feeding. The best reward for me is watching my family and friends eagerly dig in. And, this spicy, garlicky, tangy, smokey chicken was definitely demolished with a lot of love.

 

Bread, Casablanca, One Saturday Morning

As much as we love to go out or hang out with our friends, social obligations, more often than not, drives us to exhaustion.

“WHHHYYYYYYY?!” or “NOOOOOOOO IS IT MONDAY ALREADY?!” are questions we often ask ourselves come Monday morning, still in bed, trying to hold on to those few extra minutes before the shower, stressed out, and completely in love with our bed, our pillows, our blanket.  That thing called “having fun” is an evil friend, conveniently making us forget that we have to be up in a few hours to go to work and that the words “just one more drink” had already been uttered well over an hour ago. Also, the older I get, I am seriously realizing that whole “older and wiser” nonsense is the biggest load of bull ever. There’s a saying in Korean that goes: “Aging up your butt hole” (나이를 똥구멍으로 먹다) which basically means acting immature for one’s age. Amen to that.

This past Saturday was our first completely free day in a good while and we were so ready to make it awesome by not doing anything…if doing a six-hour marathon of “Orange is the New Black” counts as “not doing anything,” that is.

Actually, we did do something productive that morning like driving to the nearest bakery to buy a loaf of fresh baguette, hot out of the oven along with a couple of croissants. We came home with the goods and I made us a breakfast sandwich.

My ex-roomie couldn't eat runny yolk. Which used to make me feel sad and confused.

My ex-roomie, whom I adore,  harbors an aversion to runny yolk. Why, E? Why?

If you have good bread, preferably fresh out of the oven, all you need, really, is a bit of butter. That is my ideal breakfast — a soul-satisfying feast all on its own.

My parents have traveled extensively overseas for nearly two decades because of my dad’s work. Soon after they got married in the late 70s, my dad was sent to Casablanca, Morocco, by his company headquarters in Seoul. It was his second posting overseas after Montreal, Canada, but it was his first time traveling abroad with mom. They honeymooned in Greece on their way to Casablanca and, the following year, soon after I was born, they took me on a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain for our very first family vacation. It was July of 1978 and I was six months old.

My dad and I on the streets of Sevilla in the summer of 1978.

My dad and I on the streets of Sevilla in the summer of 1978.

After all these years, mom still speaks most fondly of Casablanca, her first home away from home. A great part of her anecdotes is, surprise, surprise, food-related. I love hearing stories about the French bakery right below their level that made the best baguettes; the smell of freshly-baked breads would waft through the windows every morning and they would run down to fetch a still-hot loaf and eat it for breakfast with butter. So simple, so good.

She also talks (dreamily) of whole baby lambs the local employee at my dad’s office would personally deliver to their door as a gift after the annual Ramadan. My parents would take the lamb to the baker downstairs and he would season it with salt, pepper and herbs then proceed to roast it whole in the oven. They would later invite their friends over and feast on the gorgeous roast baby lamb. She often mentions the local seafood, especially the bright red king prawns and lobsters that were so sweet all they had to do was poach them in some boiling water.

Over the years, most of the stories, especially the favorites, have been repeated again and again and I feel as though I actually remember the tastes and the smells she describes like I was there. Well, I was; I was just too young to remember. But, how wonderful it is to relive my parents’ special memories whenever I bite into a warm crusty baguette, 36 years later.

 

There Isn’t Any “Galbi” in Dakgalbi

I’ve heard many expats profess that dakgalbi is one of their favorite Korean foods. What exactly is dakgalbi (닭갈비), a popular dish that is as iconically Chuncheon as it gets? And, where’s the “galbi” in dakgalbi?

According to written records, dakgalbi appeared in the late 1960s in small makgeolli taverns in Chuncheon as an inexpensive snack to be eaten while drinking. It was the brainchild of tavern owners who wanted a cheaper yet tasty alternative to the comparatively expensive “gui”(구이) or chargrilled barbecue dishes. Makes sense as Chuncheon boasts a thriving livestock industry, which means restaurants were able to offer this tasty chicken dish at cheaper prices.

Dakgalbi soon became popular among soldiers on leave and also for university students on a low budget. By the 1970s, dakgalbi had earned the nicknames “commoners’ galbi” or “university students’ galbi” (the word “galbi” means ribs, which expats often confuse with the word “gui” or barbecue).

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Today, there is even a street known as “Dakgalbi Golmok” in Chuncheon, the capital of Gangwon Province, which has a high concentration of dakgalbi restaurants. Take note that the name of the dish, “dakgalbi,” is a bit of a misnomer, because despite the fact that its name means chicken ribs, there is no rib meat in dakgalbi. It’s usually chicken thigh meat, typically boneless, although some restaurants will toss in a meaty piece of femur bone or two for people to gnaw on.

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There are different styles of cooking dakgalbi. The most recognized is the kind that is stir-fried, right at the table, on a large round cast-iron pan. Chicken steaks are marinated in a spicy gochujang-based sauce overnight and cooked with an assortment of vegetables, including sliced cabbage, sweet potatoes, scallions, onions, perilla leaves and rice cake. It is a communal meal where everyone helps themselves to the chicken straight from the pan with their chopsticks. A mixture of rice, gochujang sauce, seasoned laver flakes and sesame oil can be added to the same pan later on in the meal which makes a tasty fried rice. The rice, along with all the caramelized bits, cooks into the pan, kind of like a paella. The crispy bits sticking to the bottom of the pan are ridiculously good.

Another popular version, which is relatively harder to find outside of Chuncheon, is the kind we had during our road trip: sutbul dakgalbi or dakgalbi barbecued over charcoal. It is less saucy than the kind that is stir-fried and, because it is cooked over charcoal, it has an intense smokiness to it. I personally prefer this version. I’ve also seen dakgalbi cooked over hot stones as well, but I have yet to actually try this style.

Different restaurants make their own version of marinades for the chicken, so although the color of the chicken is typically red, it could contain other ingredients such as curry powder. I’ve been to restaurants that offer non-spicy versions of dakgalbi as well, marinating their chicken in a sweet soy and garlic-based sauce, reminiscent of a traditional bulgogi marinade.

Instead of heading to the highly commercial district that is Myeongdong (yes, there is one in Chuncheon as well), home to the city’s famed Dakgalbi Street, we chose a place that was less touristy and more frequented by the locals, located in a small alley in a quiet residential area.

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ImageThe boys rocking their red Hello Kitty aprons, courtesy of the restaurant. We ordered seven portions of dakgalbi and one portion of chicken gizzards. And, of course, beers.

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The man hovering over the barbecue grill by the doorway was busy grilling dakgalbi and gizzards. Plate after plate of uncooked marinated chicken and fresh gizzards were sent his way from the kitchen. From the moment we walked in, he basically didn’t stop. The grill master doesn’t cook the meat through, though. Just enough so that once they were brought to our table, cut up into bite-size pieces and sizzling hot, they only needed to be cooked over the charcoal for a couple more minutes.

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Although the marinade is red, it is less spicy than the kind I’ve eaten in Seoul that are cooked on a pan. Less sweet, too.

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Chicken gizzards. I love them.

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And, at last, our charcoal barbecued Chuncheon dakgalbi. Tender, juicy as can be, with crisp edges and that smokiness I can’t get enough of.

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To finish off the meal, a bubbling bowl of doenjang guksu, which is basically doenjang jjigae with some thin wheat noodles. I ordered this because the complimentary jjigae that came with the barbecued chicken was so good. The soft noodles went oh-so-well with the salty soup that was packed with umami from the fermented soy beans.

The only part that sucked about that last meal on the road was that it was time to go home. But, our bellies couldn’t be happier.

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I think this one agrees.

 

Hwangto Sutbul Dakgalbi (황토 숯불 닭갈비)

Hupyeong-dong 801-12, Chuncheon-si, Gangwon-do

강원 춘천시 후평동 801-12

033-244-4595

 

 

 

A Summer BBQ: It Never Gets Old

What’s a weekend road trip with a bunch of friends without some good old-fashioned barbecue? We did the mandatory seafood and Hoengseong beef feast the last time we were on the coast three weeks ago, so we decided to go a different gastronomic route this time.

France Gourmet Korea (http://www.francegourmet.kr/) has been a reliable purveyor of charcuterie and fresh sausages for us (and many of our friends) for about a year now. The company is co-owned by three Frenchmen based in Seoul–Roland, Jean-Paul and Romuald–who share a common passion for French gastronomy, their national treasure.

Roland is a delicatessen maker’s son whose father owns a family deli in Provence. From his childhood he helped his dad produce sausages, pâtés and hams. Jean-Paul is a chef with 12 years of experience under his belt, cooking in restaurants across Europe including France, Spain and England. Romuald is an agronomist who moved to South Korea in 2009; he has since developed an interest for French cheese making.

What I love the most about this trio is they create these classic French delights using locally-produced ingredients. What is also notable is the meats they use for their charcuterie and fresh sausages are all fresh, not frozen. If you’re a cheese lover, you should give their tasty Tomme de Corée a go.

Back to the road trip. When we left Seoul, we had no idea where we were headed save for the fact that we were east bound and, hence, no idea where we were going to crash for the night. What we did know was what we were going to eat that evening. What we lacked in planning, we made up for in appetite.

Fabien, a friend of ours (the one who conveniently decided to change his car tires the morning we were supposed to leave), had ordered some fresh merguez and chipolatas from France Gourmet. So, imagine our consternation when we found out THE ONE WITH THE SAUSAGES STILL HADN’T LEFT SEOUL when the rest of us were already at our destination. “As long as the sausages get here sometime today, I’m good,” I overheard someone whisper to the back of my head.

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By late afternoon, however, the goodies did arrive. And, we went grocery shopping at the nearest supermarket to add some variety to our meat collection: thinly-sliced hanu beef brisket, hanu beef ribeye and pork shoulder.

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As the sun began to set, we remembered that we had random snacks, including four loaves of baguettes from Guillaume Bakery, some saucisson, duck terrine and foie gras, chilling away in the fridge. We decided it was time for aperos. How great is it that everything tastes better, poolside, in the summertime? With our skin still warm and tingling from a day on the beach and splashing around in the pool, we happily munched away.

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Then, it was finally time for dinner. Joe is our designated barbecue master; give him any cut of meat and he will grill it to perfection. We started with merguez, spicy red North African-style fresh sausages, commonly made with lamb or beef, then moved on to chipolatas, fresh pork sausages with herbs. We ate them sandwiched between chunks of baguette grilled over charcoal–the best kind of hot dogs in my book.

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So happy…

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JB preparing a big pot of aligot, mashed potatoes with a super smooth and elastic texture from the melted cheese that has been blended into it. It’s a great accompaniment to sausages as well as pork dishes.

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Then came the barbecued brisket, tender, fatty and slightly crisp around the charred edges.

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Please excuse my friend’s foot; it is eternally conscious of the camera.

We wrapped the earlier portion of the evening with a game of Uno, paired with a bottle of the good stuff, in paper cups. Because that’s how we roll.

 

 France Gourmet Korea

010-5289-9307

https://www.facebook.com/FranceGourmetKorea