Saturday, February 27, 2010

kimchi jiggae dinner

On my list of Korean foods to try was kimchi jiggae. So we went in search of a small kimchi jiggae restaurant over near the US embassy. This place was hard to find, with just a sign above the door which got lost among all the neon signs sticking out into the alley.

We opened the door and immediately walked into a table, with patrons. We managed to work our way upstairs and sat down. The stairs required intense concentration and much dexterity. I highly recommend staying completely sober if eating upstairs in this restaurant for your safety. The foot of the stairs are across from a stove with pots of bubbling stuff, which means falling would result in more than just bruises. And the steps themselves are a bit narrow, even for my size 5 feet.

Once we sat down, they brought out trays with our pot (for 2 people) of kimchi jiggae and put it on the burner. Note the green pipe -- this is the gas pipe. The pipe came down and wrapped behind me along the wall. There are so many things I see in restaurants here that I don't think I would ever see in the U.S., such as barbecue grills on the table in front of you, burners on the table, and gas heated cooking stoves right in front of you.

Kimchi jiggae is a stew made with 3 year old kimchi, tofu, and pork. It's spicy. For me, it was a touch spicy, but it was still good. Made my nose run and sweat break out on my forehead.

Our side dishes... kimchi, bean sprouts, water radish kimchi, something else in red sauce, and an egg roll, which was essentially an omelet with green onions.

This is the entrance to the restaurant. To the left is a door with Chinese symbols that say small rain. I'm not sure what that means.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thai Water Market

On our second full day in Thailand, we headed out to a water market outside of Bangkok with a couple of my friends from Japan.  We had a van, driver, and tour guide to ourselves.  And of course we stopped at as many of the tourist trap places as the tour guide and driver could get us to.  That's one of the things that I dislike about some of the places I've traveled to, the insistence upon the part of various taxi drivers, tour guides, etc, to stop at every single place that can try and squeeze a baht or a penny out of you for things that usually aren't worth the money.  I realize they get kick backs and other forms of remuneration for bringing tourists in, and that they have to make a living, but I do not want to go shopping, thank you very much.

On our first tourist trap stop of the day, we stopped at this palm sugar place, and tasted palm sugar.  To the side, they had this huge orchid form/nursery area that was filled with beautiful orchids.  On the ground, I saw a little crab making its way from one side to the other, and unfortunately, for some reason, the picture came out all black.

After the palm sugar/orchid farm, we stopped at the wild animal/ride an elephant place.  We did see an elephant with a driver along the side of the road on our trip out of town.  But this place was depressing.  There was an elephant chained to a wooden structure so people could have their picture taken with the poor animal.  And there were the others chained up waiting for people to ride them.  There were other animals that were caged up so tourists could see them.  But we managed to talk the driver into leaving as quickly as possible.

Then we got to the water market itself, and took a boat ride.  Along both sides of the canal are vendors selling stuff of all kinds.  There are also vendors in boats that float along, too.  If you see something you like, the vendor will reach out with a hook and grab onto your boat and pull your boat to the edge or next to their boat.  The vendors are amazingly polyglot, switching from one language to another so quickly.  In our case, they would speak both English and Japanese in an attempt to get us to buy stuff, quoting prices in dollars and yen.

There were all sorts of dogs roaming about the area, too.

My favorite part of the water market:

When we first floated by, there was a giant snake hanging around on a platform below this sign.  When we floated by again, the snake was gone.

Outside of the market area is a more residential area.  There were obviously people living in these houses, which are all raised up above the water level.  There are walkways along the waterfront, and bridges over the canals connecting the houses.  Back away from the market area were some very nice houses.  I could certainly imagine staying there for a month or two, away from the hustle and bustle of the world, relaxing and listening to the sounds of the water.

Another dog.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Yongsusan (Acrovista branch)

On Wednesday last week, a wonderful foodie friend of mine introduced me to a restaurant in Seoul called Yongsusan.  There's a branch in Los Angeles (950 S Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA, 90006, 213 388 3042) -- anyone within driving distance of this place should go.  And if you don't go on your own, I will make you go when I come back.

The food served is modern Korean, based on Kaesong style traditional food.  The decor is modern Korean at this particular branch (Acrovista -- which is near the JW Marriott), with traditional Korean tables (small and short) used to create modern tables and used as decoration on the walls.  Below is the place setting.

Sea weed soup.  This was light and tasted like the ocean (minus the gagging saltwater experience).  It's difficult to describe, but it was like essence of seafood.

Tofu encrusted with black sesame seeds. I'm not a fan of tofu normally, but these were slightly crunchy, light, and oh so delicious.

The next course was bean sprouts with dried persimmon (the orange stuff in front), with noodles with bean sprouts (in back).  First, I had a bite of each separately.  The persimmon one was slightly sweet.  Then I combined the two for a totally different flavor.

Then there was this dish.

Which became these little guys. Which were dipped into a mustard sauce.

Next was a dish with pork marinated in a slightly sweet sauce, white kimchi, and radish.

Combine the pork, white kimchi, and radish into an amazing combination of salt and sweet.

Next was the Nine Gods dish, which was a broth with all sorts of delicacies inside it, including walnuts, shrimp, oysters, fish cakes, and other goodies.  There was a special shaped spoon that we used to eat this that fit into the bowl.

And then there was tempura.  Things dipped in batter and fried always taste better.  These are peppers stuffed with minced pork with some herbs (bottom part of the plate) and oysters with kimchi (upper part of the plate).

Jellyfish salad with mustard sauce.  The mustard sauce was sinus clearing, kind of like a large dose of wasabi. There were also small slices of beef and mushroom, plus finely julienned cucumber.  Jellyfish salads are really like noodle salads, and if you didn't know it was jellyfish, you'd think you were eating noodles.

Even more tempura... shrimp and ginseng.  The ginseng has a consistency similar to that of a sweet potato, and has a very slight gingery tang to it.  I've had it in samgyetang, and to me it has a woody taste to it that I'm not particularly fond of.  Shrimp tempura... 'nuff said.

Seafood and vegetable skewer with shrimp, squid, mushroom, and broccoli in a light teriyaki sauce.

Galbi, or ribs, that fell off the bone.

Kimchi, which was brought out just before the main course.  Yes, the main course.  The main course is considered to be the rice or noodle dish at the end.

These are the side dishes that came out with the main dish.  From top clockwise, freeze dried squid, garlic tops in red pepper paste, and dried anchovies.  The garlic tops (you know, what you get when you let the garlic sit for too long in the pantry), are kind of woody in texture.  They look kind of like green onions, but they didn't have as much of a tang to them as I thought they would.  The freeze dried squid are salty and semi-sweet at the same time.

The main dish.  In this case, I opted for the hot noodles.  The choices were hot noodles, cold noodles (potato starch noodles with red pepper paste), or rice (sort of a rice porridge with water added to the rice where a crust is allowed to form at the bottom of the pan).  The hot noodles are thin buckwheat noodles, with a small bit of kimchi and some shredded beef brisket.

The dessert...  Rice cakes.  The one on the left is kind of chewy, with a light flavor to it.  The one on the left has a half a cherry tomato in it, so when you bite it, there's a burst of tomato flavor mixed in with the rice cake.

With the rice cakes came this drink made from grapes.  This is nothing compared to the Welch's grape juice found in the grocery store.  It was sweet, yet light, and really tasted like fruit.

Even though this all seems like a ton of food, it really wasn't.  Each of the courses ranged from one to three or four bites each.  The noodles were not that plentiful.  It was just enough food to feel comfortably full at the end.  This was also one of the most memorable meals I've ever eaten.
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Monday, February 22, 2010

Wine Wednesday turned into Italian Wednesday

For a while, there's been a highly irregular Wine Wednesday gathering where we go to a wine bar and have wine and whine.  But our wine bar was closed one Wednesday when we managed to get our act together and a group of people together, so we headed up the street to La Tavola and had Italian food and wine.

The lasagna -- good, could have used a touch of salt.  But decent.

Pasta with a cream sauce.  As I recall, it was decent.

The tiramisu.  Yum.  Although I don't understand the point of the fork outline.  I've seen this on other desserts at other restaurants.  I suppose it's kind of cute.

A second tiramisu with a different decoration.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bangkok Adventures Day 1

Our first full day in Bangkok.  Oh, it was gloriously warm.  It wasn't that cold in Seoul, but it was cold enough.  So it was delightful to be in a place that steamed up my glasses when I stepped outside.  We stayed at the Royal Princess Larn Luang, since that was the ISCGM meeting location (and the reason for the trip).  We were able to walk around a fair bit, although the hotel was just a bit beyond comfortable walking range for a few places.

In the hallway near the elevator, they had a bowl full of flowers.  And yes, they're real (and yes, I poked them to find out).  By day 2, they weren't looking quite so fresh as they were the first day.

We headed towards one of the palaces near the zoo first.  This is one of the pedestrian bridges over the canal.

Statue of King Rama V.  It happened to be the anniversary of his death that day, so temples were open for free, and people were leaving flowers and offerings at the foot of the statue. They would put them on a tray, and one of the guard would take the tray when it was full and put the items near the statue.

One of the many palaces or palace type places along our route.

Monitor lizard along one of the canals.  Turns out we saw several of these along our walk along the canal.  Along with a few people with fish nets wading in the water.

This is Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram, a Buddhist temple also known as the Marble Temple.

Dogs of Bangkok.
At the temple we saw several dogs wandering about or even just lazing about.  After being in Seoul, where I rarely, if ever, see stray dogs, it was kind of surprising to find dogs all about in Bangkok.

Smaller structure within the temple grounds.

Bangkok parking.

I love being in places where the plants and flowers are so lush and green.  And I am still fascinated by all the houseplants that grow outside and can turn into gigantic bushes or trees.

Colors of Bangkok.

More houseplants outside.  I still find it fascinating to see these kinds of plants, the ones I have in little pots in my house, everywhere outside.

Corner of a roof seen through vegetation.

Golden Mount, another Buddhist temple.

This one is almost like a ride at Disneyland.  You go up one side (one way traffic), with things to see along the way, like this row of bells.

View from the top of Golden Mount.

After our walking adventure, we went back to the hotel to relax, then headed out to Pat Pong that evening for additional entertainment.  Pat Pong is the red light district that caters to foreigners.  And as you walk down the  street, all the various "salespeople" come up with menus of things you can pay to see, none of which are appropriate to describe in a public forum, so I will leave them to your imagination.  This is where we were followed by a European man, and when we stopped and turned around, he immediately said he was married and had kids.  We managed to ditch him in the Japanese section of Pat Pong, where all the signs were in Japanese.