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Posts Tagged ‘Korean

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

Stopping for sikhye at Gwangjang Market

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On the last visit to Seoul, as usual, arrived early in the morning and got to the hotel way too early for check-in. As is the tradition, the concierge offers to hold the bags for free and left to spend the first morning in Seoul a mere couple hours after getting off the plane. Stopped by Namdaemun Market first, which has become a regular haunt since the preferred accommodations are always in Myeongdong, located just next door.

Afterwards, headed straight to Gwangjang Market and walked up and down the numerous rows of freshly-cooked food with friendly ladies hard at work behind their griddles. Was still a big groggy from the flight and could not entirely take everything in in that moment, a very unfortunate dilemma in such a magical place like Gwangjang Market.

However, on the way out, stopped by a stand after spotting one of those machines filled with the ever-recognizable sweet rice punch called sikhye (식혜) and had to stop for a cup. It was ₩1,000 (less than $1) and offered a flavor unique to both Korea and to the market culture itself. It’s sweet and refreshing, and even has rice kernels floating around it.

It became a memento of the first wandering adventure on the second visit to Seoul.

On the next visit (because pretty sure there will be a third), will make sure it a longer stay and will involve many more market tours (and that’s on top of the daily visit to Namdaemun).

Written by Paulo Loreto

January 19, 2018 at 5:44 PM

Banchan in Haeundae

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On the first trip to Busan, the first item on the list was to enjoy some seafood, particularly eel. After a relaxing train ride from Seoul (not much a fan of zombie movies, but willingly taking the ‘train to Busan’), was soon in the southern beach city and made a beeline for the subway and Haeundae Beach.

After several stops, finally made it and took a walk down the wide central pedestrian pathway that led directly to the beach. Approaching the sand, looking to the left and right, it was an amazing contrast between beach and nature and massive development just steps from the water. Walked all the way down to a long pier, took in the view and spotted some waterfront to restaurants, then headed back.

While walking back, found a small street filled with restaurants, many with tanks full of eel. After strolling down one way, walked back up and stopped at one of the restaurants.

Before even getting to the main course, the banchan laid out was an impressive spread.

Different types of kimchi, soup, bean sprouts, salad, japchae, and so much more – along with a basket of greens to wrap the main course in – was enough to entice the taste buds. Having enjoyed banchan in different parts of the world, from Seoul to New York City, this was definitely the most diverse and unique.

Along with the attractive dishware, the shot currently serves as wallpaper for the desktop computer and mobile phone.

Written by Paulo Loreto

January 14, 2018 at 8:17 PM

Pastries in Gangnam

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With an ever-shifting work schedule at the newspaper, it has been a while since last getting to update. Ever since the last post of enjoying lasagna in Genoa, Italy, have also re-visited New York City, returned to Seoul, and made the first venture to Busan. With 2018 underway, am looking to ensure this blog is regularly updated (guess it’s a resolution for the New Year).

On the second trip to Seoul, made the first visit to the ever-touted neighborhood of Gangnam and it is definitely a far-cry from the regular haunts of Myeongdong and Itaewon. However, like Myeongdong, it is a shopping haven, with lots of stores to walk in and out of. Also wandered through various back alleys and found lots of small restaurants and cafes all over the place.

Also stopped into a massive Daiso store… shortly before happening upon another one a block over.

Eventually, took a pit stop at Gontran Cherrier, an international bakery chain named for its founder, a French baker and pastry chef.

Clearly, a green tea latte is likely not the typical French café item, but with the likely Asian twist given to the products offered at the Seoul location, it was one of many “fusion” items available. A delicious and creamy offering that helped cool down from the long day of walking – especially after climbing a few hills.

Then, there was the croissant – and their version was filled to the brim with cream. The taste is worth getting croissant flakes and powdered sugar all over the place. The idea of just opening it and seeing all the cream inside is enough to bring on hunger pangs.

However, the only downside was, when walking out of the café, it’s only a few steps until you’re right in front of a gym; at the time, fit and toned clients were standing outside taking a rest (some on a smoke break). While it may have put the deliciousness of the croissant in perspective, it was still very much worth it.

Written by Paulo Loreto

January 5, 2018 at 5:02 PM