Stinky Cheese Therapy is the Best Therapy

As much as I dread Korean winters, I look forward to it for one reason and one reason only. Cheese. Specifically, raclette cheese! (Well, skiing comes a close second but hitting the slopes during high season entails dealing with half the population of Korea up there on the slopes with me so that’s no fun. I’m old. What can I say?)

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2.5 kilos of raclette cheese (three different kinds including one smoked), an assortment of charcuterie and some cured magret de canard made by my friend’s mom carefully wrapped in cheese cloth. All smuggled back to Korea from France. This photo makes me salivate with joy every time I gaze at it. I’m an animal.

Raclette originated in the Swiss canton of Valais, but is also produced in the French regions of Savoie and Franche-Comté. The word raclette derives from the French verb “racler,” which means “to scrape”; the raclette cheese round is traditionally heated in front of a fire and scraped onto plates.

Traditionally, Swiss cow herders used to take cheese with them to work and in the evenings, around the campfire, they would place the cheese next to the fire and, when it reached the perfect softness, scrape it onto some bread. These days, ready-cut cheese slices are brought to the table and each slice is melted/browned in small individual pans by diners over an electric table-top grill, then poured over the food on the plates.

Raclette cheese is commonly accompanied by platters of boiled or steamed potatoes and charcuterie. Raclette dining is a relaxed, casual and social affair and can often last several hours.

This was me and Joe just the other day in front of the TV, catching up on the latest episode of Black-ish while watching (and listening to) the cheese bubble away. Our first raclette party of the season and it certainly will not be the last.

Joe and I purchased our raclette grill last year and have hosted a number of raclette parties since. Pre-sliced raclette cheese is available in Seoul at foreign food marts around Hannamdong and Itaewon as well as department store food sections.

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This is the most common brand of sliced raclette cheese I’ve seen here. But, you can also order some very decent raclette cheese from France Gourmet–made with locally-produced milk–as well as select high-end delis that handle imported charcuterie and cheese. The grill itself I ordered on G-Market.

A word of caution, though. Unless you want to go to bed with cheese funk, make sure to shut your bedroom doors before you fire up your grill as your entire house will reek of cheese after a raclette meal.

Crack open a Pinot Gris or a Riesling and you’re good to go! Happy (cheese) days!

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Winter Cravings: Got Soup?

I’m going to refrain from using the word “lazy” and instead go for “busy” to describe the whirlwind that was the full month and ten days since I last wrote. We had close friends visiting from Colorado and New York, two important weddings (and related before and after celebrations) as well as our best friend’s birthday party in November. We were out most weekdays and weekends, eating (a lot), drinking (a lot), getting full, getting drunk, and bed-ridden from exhaustion and hangover on those rare times when we were actually home. On top of that, Joe was hit by a car about a week ago while picking up a friend from the airport, fractured his leg and is on crutches for the next seven weeks. Boo. 😦

I’m looking out the window as I write and hearing the wind howling and seeing the first snowfall of the season flying in all directions. It’s hardly beautiful. Not in the sprawling grey concrete mess of high-rises that is Seoul, anyway. However, I am willing myself to feel motivated, not because of the snow, but because it’s the last month of the year and I’ve been consistent with updating this blog I started back in May and I have so many overdue posts I need to publish I don’t even know where to begin.

I was on the beach just yesterday with my toes in the sand, my trusted Kindle and my chilled beer by my side and then BOOM. December cometh.

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For me, when it comes to cravings, there are those perennial ones like a bowl of pho or sushi or a good pizza or kimchi jjigae or even something as humble as a toasted Vegemite and chips sandwich. Then, I get those seasonal cravings as well: a steaming bowl of manduguk in a flavorful beef broth, chilli con carne, raclette (it’s stinky raclette season! oh, JOY!!), rich pastas. Fish cakes on sticks in hot broth, say, is a winter favorite.

I took this photo in Haeundae back in October during the Busan International Film Festival. 상국이네 김밥 is one of the many snack restaurants along the Haeundae traditional market alley that offers typical non-expensive bunsik fare such as tteokbokki, kimbab, sundae, deep-fried seafood (deep-fried everything) and fish cakes, but they do everything right.

Made with mostly the meat of white fish, these fish cakes have less of the dense starchy texture and more of a springy texture when you bite into them. If you ever go to Busan during the warmer months, get a take-out box with an assortment of deep-fried calamari and shrimp, buy some ice-cold beers and head to the beach. Perch yourself on the sand, take off your shoes and snack on the impossibly light crispy battered morsels of seafood while listening to the waves and sipping your beer. Good times.

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If fish cakes in hot broth isn’t your thing, how about a bowl of szechuan-style dandan noodles in a rich lamb broth that will blow your mind with its flavor explosion this winter season? Head over to the Chinese enclave located outside of Daerim Station on subway lines 2 and 7. Walk out of exit 12. You will see signboard after signboard written in Chinese; if you’re illiterate, like myself, ask for 봉자마라탕.

FYI, the restaurant only offers a Chinese menu. I’d read in blogs that the restaurant offers a translated version of the menu in Korean, but it’s a way simplified version of their original extensive Chinese menu on the wall. They have rice dishes, stir fries, dumplings and noodles, meat and seafood dishes but their signature dishes are malatang and dandan myeon featured in the photo above. Here is the address.

봉자마라탕 – 서울시 영등포구 대림동 1057-68

Bongja Malatang – Yeongdeungpo-gu Daerim-dong 1057-68

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Or if the mere thought of venturing outdoors becomes terrifying this winter, try making this at home: my mom’s kimchi jjigae with pork spareribs. Have I mentioned that my mom is a phenomenal cook? Living abroad, my sister and I grew up watching, from as far back as we can remember, my parents host dinner parties left and right. She was a legend, her creations hailed by VIP guests visiting from Korea, neighbors, fellow expats, our teachers as well as our friends alike, as some of the best things they’ve ever eaten. My sister and I used to be the envy of our friends whenever they came over for birthday parties mom used to throw for us–sushi rolls, egg rolls, her Chinese-style savory and sweet steamed buns (made from scratch), crispy soy chicken wings, shrimp toasts, mini corn dogs, home-made chocolate-glazed doughnuts.

Last weekend, I went to my folks’ house for lunch and this was bubbling away on the stove. I’ve already shared this photo on Facebook and friends have been asking me for the recipe. I haven’t had a chance to make this myself, yet, but the trick to making this is to marinate the pork spare ribs in a gochujang-based sauce with:

– gochujang

– garlic

– mirin

– chopped scallions

– sesame oil

So, this is pretty much your standard gochujang bulgogi marinade minus the soy sauce and sugar. You need just enough marinade to coat the ribs. Let the ribs season, preferably overnight. Remember that too much marinade will make the jjigae too salty. For 4 servings of jjigae, mom used about 12 pieces of ribs.

Chop the kimchi into bite-sized pieces. Place it in a bowl and drizzle the cabbages with perilla seed oil. Massage the whole thing with a gloved hand so that the oil and kimchi are completely incorporated.

Make a quick stock with some dried anchovies (the large kind used to make stock, not those teeny tiny ones used to make banchan with) and a palm-sized piece of dried kelp (dashima in Korean or konbu in Japanese).

In a large pot, place the kimchi at the bottom with the ribs and stir-fry over medium heat. Make sure the kimchi doesn’t burn or caramelize. Pour the stock, just enough to cover the ingredients in the pot and boil until the cabbage is soft. Steer away from pouring in too much stock at once as you can gradually add more; bland watery kimchi jjigae is so bleh. To test whether the ribs are nicely cooked, use a pair of tongs to pull away the meat from the bone. If it shows signs of detaching itself from the bone, it’s ready.

With a hot bowl of rice, this is the ultimate Korean-style soul food you’ll eat this winter.