When you just don't know what to do with that stuff

Posts Tagged ‘Korean

Appreciating soju

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There once was a time one of the local supermarkets in Bacolod City carried massive qualities of soju; unfortunately for me, at the time, had yet to develop an appreciation for the distilled Korean spirit. Today, after two trips to South Korea and getting fully immersed into K-Pop, K-dramas, and “Hallyu,” the once-prevalent green bottles are not as plentiful anymore and the price has shot up.

Now, soju is everything.

It accompanies many dinners and with every meal at a Korean restaurant, whether it be in Seoul, Busan, or New York City, at least one bottle is needed to make the meal complete.

The clean, crisp taste is like no other drink. It doesn’t have the sharpness of other clear alcoholic drinks and it’s not heavy like a beer (although, somaek – mixing beer and soju – is a delicious “cocktail”). And, despite a fairly high alcohol content, it does not have that jarring taste one usually experiences from imbibing in strong alcoholic beverages.

According to a piece by Anna Archibald for digital publication, “Soju also has a vaguely sweet, milky flavor that makes drinking an entire bottle—the way Koreans traditionally do—easy.”

“It pairs well with food, too,” she added.

Archibald also discussed the presence of soju in western countries, noting, “Higher-proof sojus tend to hold up better in cocktails and can be used in place of vodka, gin, and whiskey.”

In addition, Jung Chaeyeon of K-Pop girl groups I.O.I and DIA claims soju is effective in reducing bloating. The singer-actress says consuming half a bottle will help decrease swelling by the next day; a practice she undertakes the day before a shoot.

Plus, a 2015 article in BusinessKorea cited Dr. Bae Hee-jun of Seoul National University Hospital, who conducted research that found three to four glasses of soju a day lowers the risk of stroke for men. For women, it’s one to two glasses.

Beyond enjoying it as a drink, soju can also be appreciated for its health benefits.


Written by Paulo Loreto

July 8, 2018 at 10:50 AM

Just the essentials

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Housesitting for the night and had everything else in mind except (ironically) dinner and snacks.

First and foremost, it was a work night, so the laptop and charger went in first. That was followed by the iPad and all the other chargers necessary to both get through the evening and begin the day – like making sure the Bluetooth headset was charged for a morning at the gym.

After packing clothes, then came the toiletries.

As somebody on a daily routine (and with the basics at the ready in the place I was housesitting), it was all about gathering the “beauty essentials.” Face wash, toner, moisturizer, face mist, hand cream, body lotion, and sunscreen were all thrown in the bag.

All packed and ready to go and I’m reminded, “What are you going to eat?” Perused the kitchen and packed more essentials.

Just happened to pick up terra chips at a local supermarket that morning, they were on sale ‘Buy 1, Get 1 free.’ They’re pretty dangerous though, especially during work, the bottom of the bag sneaks up on you. Also brought some mate tea bags, always works for a pick-me-up when staring at a computer screen and for a nice morning wake up call.

Then it was dinner itself. What else but ramen? A trusty bag of ramen, a bottle of soju, and also packed a container of kimchi – complete.

Needless to say, the evening and following morning flew by. On subsequent overnight stays, have found the same formula works every time.

Written by Paulo Loreto

June 18, 2018 at 12:01 AM

A reliable source… for dinner

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On numerous occasions I have found myself ending the workday, shutting down for the night (way past a traditional dinnertime), and scrounging around for something to eat. When there weren’t leftovers from lunch or a random smattering of ingredients in the refrigerator – resulting in one’s personal episode of “Chopped” – there’s always the old reliable ramen.

While the ramen collection sits proudly on top of the refrigerator, with a variety of flavors on display, the old favorite sits along the side. Whenever I’m not in the mood for a hot, steaming bowl of ramen, with a delicious broth ready to be savored after slurping a big pile of noodles, there is always jjajangmyeon.

At first, was unfamiliar with the dish and had no idea how much of a classic it was in South Korea. Going through the instructions, it said to drain most of the water, with the remaining left to be mixed with the sauce powder. Putting it all together, it was delicious, rich, and savory – became apparent why the dish is so popular.

On the first visit to Seoul, had work obligations and was left to scrounge for dinner late into the evening. Staying in the Myeongdong section of the city, there was plenty of activity late at night and managed to find a hole-in-the-wall spot selling a variety of local fare. Spotted jjajangmyeon on the menu and there was no question a fresh-made bowl needed to be sampled.

Obviously, it was better than the instant variety.

The sauce was creamier and, with real bits of meat scattered throughout, the savory flavor was even more pronounced. Visited Seoul again the following year, stayed in the same neighborhood, and, by chance, found the same spot – ordered jjajangmyeon.

Locally, there is NOWHERE to find jjajangmyeon; and the places that purport to sell it are just serving an order of the instant pack (and adding half a hardboiled egg as a garnish). At least, on those late nights at home, can enjoy a bowl of one of the most unique-tasting noodle dishes and pair it properly, with danmuji (picked radish).

A satisfying lunch in Manhattan’s Koreatown

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Based on the last couple experiences with Korean food establishments operating in Bacolod City, can only say the situation is disappointing. Have tried stopping by different places to give them all a try; I’m not even trying to measure it up against Seoul or Busan, but to at least attain that same satisfaction of enjoying authentic Korea cuisine – the kind served all over the world. While there have been highlights in the past from some of the local restaurants, it would appear everybody has begun cutting corners and it’s leaving customers with subpar offerings.

One place that promotes an all-you-can-eat samgyeopsal (pork belly) special has been good in previous times; however, on the last visit, was told by the waiter they may not have enough inventory to supply an all-you-can-eat order – he, then, proceeded to offer higher-priced options. Having a hard time seeing how that is anything but deception and walked right out of the place. What kind of management offers a promotion they cannot support? Not sure how many others fell for their bait-and-switch scheme, but it didn’t work for me.

Another place offered banchan comprised of vienna sausages in a mystery sauce, along with kimbap that was made with canned corned beef and mini squares of cheese. Thinking between whether the kitchen was working with scraps that day or those were their choice ingredients, either way, the circumstances were unacceptable. Both street vendors and even convenience stores in Seoul have much better kimbap. During the last visit to Seoul, a samgak kimbap, the triangle kimbap offered at every convenience store, became a daily habit.

With two places checked off the list, went to a third, which was once believed to be a reliable spot. To my surprise, that same corned beef-cheese kimbap found its way to the table. Oddly enough, the menu options were beef or tuna, considering the “beef” was canned corned beef, can only assume the tuna is canned tuna.

That questionable kimbap is most definitely a deal-breaker.

Officially, there are no places in the city where one can really enjoy delicious Korean food, which leaves me longing for places that do serve quality dishes, like in New York City’s Koreatown.

When hitting the strip of Korean establishments, located a few blocks from New York City’s Penn Station, usually eat at Miss Korea BBQ or Kunjip – the former was one of the first restaurants visited in the area, while the latter was introduced by a good friend.

One of the primary differences was made apparent immediately, the banchan. This wasn’t just two of three plates offering kimchi, wilted bean sprouts, and (like the second mentioned restaurant in Bacolod City) a plate of chopped up vienna sausages. It was a full array of side dishes, maybe around 10 small plates, along with a whole fried fish – a pleasant surprise.

Have found bibimbap is a regular go-to and having ordered other dishes like tteokbokki in previous visits, needed something different on this particular visit, and spotted the nakji bokkeum. Spicy, stir-fried octopus served with udon noodles on a sizzling plate – amazing stuff. The meal was so satisfying, threw back two bottle of soju with lunch; left both full and happy.

Doubt I could ever have that same feeling walking out of any of the restaurants in Bacolod City purporting to serve Korea food.

Spotting doughnuts in Koreatown

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On the most recent visit to New York City, was working remotely for the newspaper, which meant the work day started at 3:00 a.m. and ran until around 12 noon. Throwing in some time at the local gym, getting to take in as much as possible in the afternoon was a priority in order to truly appreciate the time back on the old stomping grounds.

More often than not, on any given day in Manhattan, it will likely be spent wandering up and down the strip of 32nd street referred to as Koreatown. Especially with a Koryo Books location to pick up the latest K-pop album, along with a Nature Republic store, it has become more than an eating destination.

Was walking eastward when a big sign that read “ginseng” caught my eye; incidentally, was in the market for ginseng products and had to check it out.

The place was called Besfren, with a cute logo with rabbits on it, which apparently is based on a fairy tale about a pair of rabbits that lived on the moon and made rice cakes. Stepping inside, noticed one side had a wall lined with ginseng products and the other side was a full-fledged café.

Before browsing the ginseng, and eventually picking up a small pack of sachets, was in awe of the pastry display. So many options, each with a very unique look to them. However, there was nothing more eye-catching than the green tea doughnut. After going for the brightly-colored pastry, also ordered a ginseng ginger latte, which offered a punch of ginger flavor with every sip, hopped on the subway with excitement, anticipating the joy of indulging in the doughnut.

Seeing it both in the display case and on the table ready to consume, this “doughnut” was more like a mini-cake – huge for a doughnut. Took the first bite and the green tea flavor was potent and, given how dense the doughnut was, it was not dry. Plus, the crème in the middle offered a nice complement to the pastry itself.

The next time in Koreatown, will definitely need to stop in again (wonder if the stamp card I picked up will still be valid).

Written by Paulo Loreto

February 10, 2018 at 1:37 AM

Picking up ginseng at Namdaemun Market

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On the last visit to New York City, happened upon a shop in Koreatown that was a half-café and half-ginseng store. Had been curious about those ginseng sachets, particularly after watching “Descendants of the Sun” and the excitement the crew in Urk had after receiving boxes of the stuff. Picked up a small box to try it out and thought it was good stuff – really potent.

Visiting Seoul later that year, a couple boxes of the ginseng packets were immediately added to the shopping list.

One night, went to pick up some mandu (dumplings) from a street vendor encountered the day before and got lost, ended up way off course in a completely unfamiliar neighborhood. After a lot of meandering, ended up at Namdaemun Market, which was nearby the hotel (accommodations in Seoul are always made in Myeongdong).

Was walking the pathways lined with the mostly closed shops when I was reminded about the ginseng and saw one shop was still open. Taking a look at the merchandise displayed outside, the old lady running the store popped out and offered assistance. While such transactions are usually done in English (equipped with a calculator to display numbers), she was insistent on speaking in Mandarin. After offering the very few words of Mandarin I know – in an effort to say I’m not fluent – it was apparently enough to convince her I was.

Luckily, managed to get what I needed, she knocked a few bucks off the final cost, and even threw in a free bag of ginseng candies (which proved to be great for the trip to Busan the following morning).

Today, am down to the last few packets, which is only indicative of another trip being due. The packets, once used as a pick-me-up at the gym, have proven to be more effective at work. On those drowsy days, particularly when it’s hard to focus, after one shot of ginseng, everything is back in order and efficient. They are lifesavers.

Written by Paulo Loreto

February 2, 2018 at 9:51 PM

Spicy eel in Busan

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After wandering around Busan, South Korea for the first time, it was lunchtime and had to find a place to eat. Knowing it was the one chance on the trip to take in the beachside culture (was only in town for the day), needed some kind of seafood. After a quick look around, stopped in for some eel and fresh sashimi at a small restaurant a few steps from Haeundae Beach.

When ordering the eel, had a variety of images in mind, but was only sure that it was going to be spicy. Prior to Busan, had eel in sushi at a variety of places, sliced into strips and stir-fried in sauce in Hong Kong; and grilled from a food cart in Seoul’s Myeongdong district.

The banchan arrived, which was exceptional (more plates than expected), then the sashimi arrived – a gorgeous sight.

The server then approached with a deep black bowl and placed it on the burner that was set up at the table. Took a peek and spotted a heaping pile of meat slathered in a bright red sauce, then noticed everything was moving! The eel was sliced literally just before heading to the table. The pieces of eel wiggled back and forth as the fire flicked on. Watching the movement, along with an occasional stir, the wriggling slowly faded – guess it was a signal to show the food was done.

Every bite was amazing, wrapped in lettuce, perilla leaf, or with a spoonful of rice.

Thank you for the sacrifice, delicious eel.

Written by Paulo Loreto

January 26, 2018 at 9:59 PM