Thursday, June 30, 2011

Split Banana

When I moved to Staunton in 2005, the biggest thing I felt Downtown was missing was an ice cream place.  There is Kline’s, a great ice cream place, but it is on the main business strip of Greenville and requires a car.  Considering most of Staunton takes place in Downtown, I wanted there to be a place I could go by after a performance at the Blackfriars Playhouse or after a nice dinner or even to take a break from the summer weather.  It wasn’t until Split Banana opened a couple of years ago that my long standing wish for ice cream was answered, and the smell of freshly baking waffled cones wafting in the night breeze became a staple of West Beverly Street.   

Split Banana, though, isn’t just merely an ice cream place; they make their own gelatos and sorbets as well.  Featuring local honey and milk and cream from grass-fed cows in a small farm in Pennsylvania, their frozen concoctions show a strong commitment to high quality ingredients.  Of the 18 flavors that vary with the time of year, there are usually around 4-5 ice creams, 8-10 gelatos, and 2-3 sorbets.  They usually keep some standard  flavors, like coconut, cinnamon, birthday cake, vanilla bean, cookies and cream, and chocolate.  Then, there are some flavors which champion the area, like Highland County Maple and Virginia Peanut.   Finally, there are the adventurous ones: cocoa ancho (a chocolate and cayenne pepper union), white chocolate gisbi (a white chocolate with lemon cookies), Guinness (that tastes just like Guinness) and orange contreau.      

Split Banana allows you to get a child size (one scoop), small (two scoops), medium (three scoops), and large (four scoops), which make for interesting permutations and combinations of flavors.  I usually get the child size, but like to occasionally play around with my foodie knowledge to find suitable flavor pairings, or when I just can’t pick one flavor.  My favorite combination was a cinnamon scoop with a cocoa ancho, which was a great combination of rich chocolate and spicy cinnamon and pepper.  

When I was there a couple weeks ago, Split Banana had my all time favorite sorbet they do—Pineapple Basil.  I am naturally predisposed to the chocolatiest, richest, gooest desserts and so it takes an impressive light, fruit concoctions to make me choose that over decadence.  Whenever I see Pineapple Basil it is without a second thought that I order that, passing the other creamy chocolaty alternatives.  Pineapple Basil is bright, light, fresh, with a sweet acidity that is undercut by the sharp, slightly spicy basil.  It is flirty, playful, and mischievous.  

I was happy when my ice cream dream for Downtown Staunton came true, and I have spent a lot of time sitting in their green, fifties style booths, listening to the gentle hum of the freezer, enjoying gelato.  I’ve appreciated the flavor experiments as well as the dedication to the classics.  The joy they take in their product comes through in each scoop.    
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Happy Hour at Mockingbird

Although I do love Staunton dining, one thing that restaurantours never quite got in the spirit of is Happy Hour.  In traveling in other towns and living in Harrisonburg for a couple of months, I know what a great deal and event happy hour can be.  Cheap food.  Cool drinks.  Lots of, well, happiness. 

This great sense of deal is usually missing from Staunton’s Happy Hours.  However, the big exception is Happy Hour at Mockingbird Restaurant and Music Hall.  Available Tuesday through Saturday (4:00-6:00), Mockingbird has the most spirited Happy Hour in town.  What makes their Happy Hour so indicative of  what is at the heart of this ritual is lots of cheap drink options and tasty food to accompany.  Also, just out of pure foodie altruism, there is usually a snack to munch on.  One time it was bread sticks, but last time I went it was homemade potato chips that were seasoned with what I think was Old Bay.  They were very thin, crunchy, and tasty. 
The way Mockingbird’s Happy Hour works is on a three tier system of food and drinks.  This line-up is going to change as of July 1st, but currently stands as the following . . .

  • $3: Drinks—Well Drinks, Selected Draft Beers, Lionhead Lager (which is actually $2); Food—Sweet Potato Fries or Hand-Cut Potato Fries
  • $4: Drinks—Wine by the Glass; Food—Bruschetta, Oyster and Clam Rockascino, Beer-Battered Mushrooms
  • $5: Drinks—Cocktail Special; Food—Three Cheese Pizza or White Garlic Pizza

I am a bourbon girl and so the $3 well drink is all I need, although knowing $4 wine is an option means I can be upscale if I want to.  I usually would get the Sweet Potato fries because they are the best in town.  Not necessarily because the fries are so above par (they are cut thin, which makes them more savory than sweet), but because they come with a peanut dipping sauce for which I would kill to have the recipe.  It is amazing!  It is creamy, savory, and just slightly peanutie.  Delectable.  

Last time I went, I decided to experiment with the Oyster and Clam Rockasino.  The name is from a combination of Oyster Rockefeller and Clams Casino.  The oysters are creamy and cheesy and are topped with spinach and pancetta.   Being served this way, the oysters are melt in your mouth.  The clams, which were a little chewy, are still prepped in a flavorsome combination of bread crumbs, yellow and red peppers, and cheese.  At the center is some spicy arugula and a green I couldn’t identify, so you can have a bit of spicy greens to offset the creamy seafood.  And, remember, only $4 . . . $4.   
But don’t just come to Mockingbird for Happy Hour.  It is has a great trivia night every Tuesday and a Rock’n’Roll trivia once a month (and I wish they would add a film trivia once a month as well).  There are tons of really talented bands that come through the music hall as well as a really fun Local Mic Night and a Local Mic Youth Night.  Saturday’s and Sunday’s feature a Farmer’s Brunch and there is Sunday Supper that night as well.  Some come for Happy Hour and then come back for the rest. 
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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tequila and Lime Coleslaw

One Tequila Two Tequila Three Tequila . . . Coleslaw
This is a coleslaw with a lot of tang and not for the faint of heart.  Because the tequila and the lime give it so much bite, I do have to break my “no mayo” rule and balance half Greek yogurt with half mayonnaise.  I tried it full Greek yogurt on my first pass and it was just too tangy and almost makes your tongue buckle.  If it is too tangy, you have one of three options: go salty, go spicy, or go sweet. 

I like to leave everything in big bites, but I think it would also be fun to just mince everything in a blender.  FYI: This contains alcohol that is not cooked, so it is the best choice for a bbq with kids.  

Soaking the Cabbage             
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoons tequila
1 tablespoon of lemon and lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups red cabbage, sliced
4 cups white cabbage, sliced
water to cover

1 cup Greek Yogurt
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup cilantro, left whole
¼ cup olive oil
Juice and zest of one lime
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon tequila

the soaked cabbage, drained
1 cucumber, peeled and diced into thin strips
1 poblano, thinly sliced in strips
½ red onion, thinly sliced

Day Before (optional: I like to do this to soften the cabbage and give it a little extra flavor)
  • Put the cabbage in a large bowl.  Add 1 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of tequila, 1 tablespoon each of lemon and lime juice, and 1 tsp of salt.  Add enough water to come about 2/3 up the bowl because as the cabbage relaxes it should be enough liquid to cover.  Cover with a lid and put in refrigerator for 24 hours.
  • Put the Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, 1 cup cilantro, ½ cup cider vinegar, dash of garlic salt, pinch of salt and pepper, zest and juice of one lime, 1 tablespoon of tequila, and dash of Tabasco in a blender.  Puree till creamy.  
Putting it all together: 
  • Heat a medium skillet over medium- high heat.  Saute the red onions for a minute or two and then add a tablespoon of tequila.  Cook until the tequila cooks off, about five minutes or so.  Then set aside to cool.  
  • Drain the cabbage and return to the large bowl.  Add the cucumber, poblano, red onions, and dressing.  Stir well.  Then, place in frig to harmonize.  Enjoy! 
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Language of Food

In the movie Contact, one of the plot points surrounds the idea that math and numbers are the only universal language.  However, I think food is a universal language in its own way.  We may not understand what the other person calls the dish, but we know the sights, smells, tastes, and textures of the dish.  After tasting a new dish, we know if we like it, hate it, or are undecided.  An “icky” face is pretty much the same in any culture.  A “yummy” gesture almost always translates.  All of those responses happen wordlessly.  

I was reminded of the way food transcends while on the plane from Los Angeles to Japan.  While on the flight, I bonded with two Chinese men who were sitting next to me.  Although they spoke only a handful of words in English, we bonded when I ordered wine for myself and, upon discovering it was free, they poked me and gestured that they wanted some, too.  Believing in good alcohol karma, I got the stewardess to get them wine.   We toasted our bottles and were good friends after that.  To show gratitude, they gave me some of their snacks.  I didn’t know what they were and I couldn’t very well say no.  Luckily, each snack was tasty.  There was one snack of pickled and heavily salted cabbage that came out of a pouch and which they poured into my wine cup.  Luckily I’m not averse to drinking wine out of a single-serving bottle.  Then, there was a version of Chinese Sweet Tarts.  Finally, there was a small candy-looking wrapped packaged that I opened, expecting to find chocolate.  Instead, I found a tasty bite of dried jerky and dehydrated vegetable.  After each, I smiled and mimed how much I enjoyed these food gifts.  I also then made sure to order them wine when dinner was served.  I’m telling you, good alcohol karma is important. 

This story of someone who can’t talk to me and using food to communicate is not a unique event in my life.  I went backpacking in Greece in 2002 with a friend.  While on one train trip, we were fed cookies by an old woman on the train.  She smiled.  We smiled.  She ate her cookies.  We ate ours and smiled again in approval.  Also in Greece while on a ferry back from Lesvos to Athens, my friend and I were camped out on the floor with several other people.  One group consisted of a middle-aged woman, an older woman, and two young men.  My best guess was that it was a mother, grandmother, and two 20-something sons.  At one point, they opened a picnic of prawns, Greek salad, and bread.  The older woman offered us a chance to share their meal with them.  Even without exchanging words or polite dinner conversation, we exchanged food and let our joy in the meal speak for us.    

I would have liked to have known the story of the two Chinese men, where the family on the ferry was going, or what the old woman on the train had seen during her life.  For each, the gesture of food said enough.  For the two Chinese men, sharing of wine and dehydrated meat/vegetables was enough to bridge the divide of anonymity.  It made us co-travelers in a shared moment.  At one point, the one Chinese man showed me pictures of his daughter’s college graduation, which gave me a sense of their story even without knowing the details.  I like to think that bonding couldn’t have happened without food and using food as a common ground of discourse.   I like how well food has spoken for me and how food has been used to speak to me by others.  How great that we are all universal speakers of the language of food.  
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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On the Road . . . Korea: What Korean Food Means to Me

While in the airport and waiting for my plane to board, I wanted one last chance to connect with Korean food.  Duty free had already switched to American dollars.  Everyone started speaking English to me and my annyeong and kamsahamnida didn’t quite get the amused and pleased smiles they used to.   Although the tone was changing and my Americanism was vastly approaching, forcing me to reaclimate, I got one last meal to remember Korea. 

This last meal made me mindful of my very first meal in the airport.  On the first morning, I got sweet pumpkin soup.  Since it was morning, I wanted something not as spicy and a little safe since the long bus from Incheon to Gangneung lacked a bathroom and the passengers might not be able to handle a queasy foreigner.  I also picked it because though I have a great deal of food courage, I figured I would save the heavy hitter flavors for a time when Kim could talk me through it.   
 The pumpkin soup was great but so unexpected.  Although it looked creamy from the pictures, it was more starchy and glutinous than I would have expected and had big balls of gummy yummy tteok in the bottom.  That combination of textures and the amount of sweetness is less surprising now, but at the time took getting used to.  It also game with kimchi, which I recognized, gochujang, which I recognized a little but mistook it for sriracha, and a thick looking fluid with a lemongrass slice in it that I did not recognize at all.  Sadly, I did not try it because I was worried about a faux paus of drinking something I should clean my fingers with.  I eventually learned that I missed my first chance at having a drink made of rice.

Just eight days later, a more knowledgeable Katie sat in full comfort and command of the dish in front of her.  I had ordered kimchi jigae, or kimchi soup.  I wasn’t sure when my next kimchi fix would be, so savoring one last bowl was an imperative.  It came with dry and wet seaweed, green beans, rice, and a variation of kimchi with shrimp.  The broth was tangy and acidic while spicy and comforting.  Big soft chunks of tofu and chewy meat gave it texture and bulk.  There was lots of strong kimichi to create an overall rich, sharp, but calming last meal.  And, though only 11:30 in the morning, I had to have one last bottle of Soju (the alcohol of choice in Korea).      
 The restaurant itself was also a remarkable place.  In the area with the low tables, there was a screen on which a back projection displayed a beautiful scene of two people in traditional garbs and with soft petals falling from the treas.  At my table was a little greenery decoration with carvings that you find all over Korea because they are meant to scare death away.  There were also large kimchi pots in the back as one more linking of food with cultural identity.   
I said it in the first post but I want to really reiterate this point.  In thinking about what food says about a culture, Korean food reiterates how much pride that culture has.  I remember watching the episode when Anthony Bourdain went to Korea.  It starts with him pointing out how there are so many food stalls along the route from the airport to Seoul.  He took it as a testament to how much Korean food must matter to Korean people that they would want to reconnect with their food as soon as possible.  

In encountering just food culture in Korea, enjoying a meal was as much about the cook as about the positive way it represented Koreans.  I was asked by lots of Korean about how much I was enjoying the country.  They really wanted to hear that I thought well of their country and thus of them.  While eating, I often had people take the time to correct me to make sure I was eating the food in the best way possible.   In that way, eating Korean food is like experiencing the overwhelming strong sense of culture, heritage, strength, and identity in a way that I have never experienced in any other country.  I have experienced pride in personal culinary accomplishment where dish is a positive representation of self.  I have also experienced a sense of enjoying a food as an extension of enjoying a country.  But, I have never felt pride as both pride in dish, self, cook, and country, all in one bite.    

As I sat in the airport, enjoying my very last meal, I was reminded of how much I will miss Korea.  And through missing its food, miss the people that make it. 
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Sunday, June 19, 2011

On the Road . . . Korea: Seafood by the Sea

My going away meal in Gangneung was quite an event. Along the beaches, there are tons of little restaurants with large fish tanks outside. At each of these places, you can go in and request what is the equivalent of a chef’s choice tasting. What that means is that they will pull up a smattering and mixed-bag of what they have in their tanks and prepare it. Because it is going almost straight from tank to plate, it is some of the freshest seafood you are going to eat.  
Although I have tried my best to provide you with the Korean names and thorough information about the food that I ate, this is one meal that you are just going to have to settle for enjoying a picture montage.  Several of the fishes were either fishes I couldn’t identify or seafood flavors completely new to me.  So, enjoy the pictures and I’ll fill in when I can  . . 

First Round
Although I never quite figured out what the top dish was (but it was good and that worked for me), the second was a jellyfish that was tangy, sour, and slippery—I loved it.  It was especially good eaten in the sesame leaves that came as a side.  The third plate is a very gummy tteok and filled with red bean paste: a nice offset to the tangy jellyfish.
The other set of dishes featured sashimi, a very spicy gochujang fish concoction that was hot and tangy, and a salad.    The gochujang was my second favorite next to the jellyfish.

Second Round
Second round saw in increase in plate size, amount and food, and was more of a cooked fish round.

This dish was a play-on fish and chips and had a great light fish with a great crunch. 
There was also little sardines that you can eat bones, heads, and all.  I gave that my best shot, but had a mind over matter issues with chewing the bones.  I’ve been so trained to be leery of bones that I couldn’t tell my caution side to calm down. 
This was awesome and just consisted of a bake of mainly corn and imitation crab.  I would love to try duplicating this in my own kitchen because it is a great side and a sassy way to tart up imitation crab.
This was the other whole fish dish that I had before when we went out for sannakji.  For this, you end up cutting it in half and then pulling out the spine as best you can, but you will have bones to wrestle with that are not as edible.
Then, there a great side that I had several other times in Korea and just consists of oil, creamy, crunchy, potato cake—latkes with flair. 

Third Round:

This was the main event and is rather awesome.  This is just a plate of very fresh sashimi from several different kinds of fish.  You aren’t supposed to eat the cellophane noodles and, in fact, they are often reused.  The textures all varied a little with some being a little chewier, some being creamier, and some having a denser texture.  It was fun to eat them with a little gochujang and sesame or lettuce leaves.

The sashimi also came with a side of fried shrimp, hot peppers, and potatoes as well as barbequed fish balls.  Truth be told, the fish balls were probably my top favorite thing that we had.  They had a texture a lot like meatballs but were made feisty with the spicy barbeque sauce.  This is another I’d like to figure out how to do at home. 

. . . Although not my favorite meal, this one was really the most awe inspiring.  I’ve been to steak places in America that let you pick out your cut of meat or seafood places that let you choose your lobster.  Both have a great appeal of ownership and quality.    But it was such a different and incredible thing to walk by so many tanks of fish and know that they were going to be displayed and prepared in a great show of quality, freshness, and restaurant identity.  In telling friends in America about my food adventures, this is the one they are most intrigued by and rightfully so.  It was a great combination of pride in product and pleasure in presentation. 
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Thursday, June 16, 2011

On the Road . . . Korea: Foreign Food

Normally, I shy away from American chains and American food while in other countries. However, it does always fascinate me how American food gets translated into “foreign food.” For instance, Coke tastes different being sometimes sweeter or sometimes because of use of different types of sugar. Lay’s Potato Chips adds flavors like “roasted chicken,” “prawn,” and “ketchup” to the roster; McDonald’s assimilates local tastes into its menu: e.g. bacon and onion in the rolls in Prague.

In Korea, foreign food borders between the familiar and the uncanny. In Incheon Airport, Ronald and a plumper Colonel Sanders were there to greet me. However, the Colonel had added a new chicken sandwich and Ronald has Bulgogi Burger, or a shrimp burger. In walking in Gangneung, I also found other shadows of foreign food. There is pizza with shrimp and some with corn. There are hot dogs that come plain, original, dansk, chili dog, steff, cheese dog, Viking, and barbeque, and a tagline of “More meat Better Taste Delicious Food.” I also found American style pretzels and stuffed pretzels. In these, the Korean changes include “almond,” “corn,” “hot,” and “sweet potato.” Baskin Robbins also makes an appearance, offering “honey granola” and “green tea” and a hot option of ice cream and waffles (which I really wish they sold in America). 
The chain I took the most time researching was the Dunkin Donuts. I am usually a Krispie Kreme girl by temperament, but my curiosity won over. On the surface, this could be a fancier version of your local Dunkin: coffee, donuts, bagels, and breakfast sandwiches remind you of the usual accoutrement. Take a step closer and the face of similar begins to show its cracks.

Bubble Tea in the form of Milk Teas, Lattes, and Sweet Potato flavor are one difference. Then, the donut selection reveals quite a unique selection. There are carrot, broccoli, spinach, and plain tofu donuts . A little sweet and a little savory with a really distinct lightness of the dough (the carrot and plain being the clear flavor winners). Then, there are little round bundt looking donuts with a texture that is a lot like banana or zucchini bread and that are topped with things like crunchy pepitos. There are many chocolate donuts, and one with a crunchy baked cheese topping just begged to be tried. The final donut of note was a tomato and glazed twisted donut that border between genius and disaster, not quite accomplishing either. Although the donuts are a mixture of taste triumphs and taste confusions, Korean Dunkin Donuts is a pretty exciting foreign food twist. If my Dunkin started selling Bubble Lattes (which are just pure happiness), Sweet Potato Bubble Tea (which are also fantastic), and tofu donuts (a light and tasting alternative to overly dense donuts), I’d probably go more. 

This was the first trip in a while that made me really think about the idea of “foreign food.” Even when in England, Ireland, Prague, and France, foreign food is still fairly recognizable. Foods to me that felt exotic become mainstream and what I feel is mainstream becomes denatured of its “foreignness” to fit local palettes. Putting red bean paste in a donut or serving a shrimp burger is just a way of making the “exotic” familiar much in the same way that America created General Tsao’s to make Chinese food more appealing. As Dunkin Donuts in Korea showed me, donuts are as Korean or as American as and me.

Other Favorite "Foreign Food" Pics:

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On the Road . . . Korea: Flying Bird Tea Shop

While in Seoul, Kim recommended a pretty unique food experience of going to the Flying Bird Tea Shop. The little tea shop is known for the little birds that fly around the tea house. They bathe, chirp, and give the place great ambiance. It also has the most beautiful bathroom I ever seen: it features live goldfish in a large decorative bowl as well as a floor covered with smooth pebbles and with medium stepping stones to get to the toilet.

We decided to try a couple of the teas. The first one was Omicha, or “Five Flavor Tea,” that boasts stimulating all five flavors. I found sweet, tart, bitter, and a little salty from the pine nut floating on top. It reminded me of kool-aid if kool-aid had no sugar and just relied on a natural sweetness. Next was the Holy Mushroom Tea, a medicinal tea said to help with diet, hypertension, and cancer. It has kind of a watered down mushroom taste with the mushroom being very subtle at the end of each sip. It did get a little bitter with each sip, but that was a good counterbalance to the rice cakes. The last tea was Jujube Tea. This tea was very thick and sweet. At first, I figured it was the mushroom tea because it was so dense and a color reminiscent of mushrooms. But, the coloring comes from being made from sweet dates and the tea is believed to relieve tension. Kim mentioned it tasted raisin-like and it reminded me of brown sugar.

With the tea, we had a couple of snacking options. Flying Bird provided hangua, which are similar in shape to Cheetos, but are white and covered with sesame and black sesame seeds. They are a lot like American rice cakes or Cheetos in texture. They are airy and sweet. Kim had also brought some tteok ddek, or little rice cakes. They look like they’ll be sweet, but aren’t really. Some have a little extra sweetness to them, but overall they take on the more toasty and roasted qualities of rice that is similar to the flavor the hojicha or genmaicha green tea. Some were flavored with grape or had actual fruit and nuts in them. One had mugwort, giving it a strong herby quality. The texture is what I enjoy the most. It is gummy and spongy and reminds me a lot of when I used to tear of the crust and ball up Wonder Bread. Tteok ddek has that same sense of smooshy and comforting.

The Flying Bird Tea Shop was one of those great stops that remind you just how much ambiance matters. Between the Zen bathroom, that had a heated toilet seat, the playing birds, and the comforting tea, the experience was just as much about meditation and sensation as it was about food. It reminded me a lot of the other restaurants in the vendor district in Seoul in which the restaurants are on the second stories with big windows facing the pedestraian mall. You could enjoy the meal while enjoying the sights and sounds of the shoppers. Although not zen-like in the way that Flying Bird was, it still shows an emphasis on food as part of day and experience, much like a Korean translation of the Parisian café. You shop, you eat, you people watch, your relax, you enjoy. Doesn’t get much better than that.
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Sunday, June 12, 2011

On the Road . . . Korea: Food Courage

Penis Fish -- One "bizarre" food I did not try,
but thought you might enjoy seeing
What I have learned from watching Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain is that the idea of strange foods is a somewhat relativist term.  And, as I have watched them slurp intestines, chew bodily organs, and contemplate slimy specimens with relish and enthusiasm, I have almost come to believe them.  Emboldened by this, I went to Korean planning on trying the strangest food I could find— sannakji, or live octopus.

My first real test came on the day Kim’s friend Gavin took me to the market.  I had told him about my first trip and he took me back to help me get reoriented.  While walking, I had mentioned my one “bizarre food” goal of trying sundae.  Though the American spelling conjures a very different association, sundae is blood sausage, which is made from pig intestines and filled with pork blood, barley, and cellophane noodles.   We found a place and Gavin asked me if I wanted to try sundae or chicken feet.  I wimped out on the chicken feet and so sundae it was. 
 The stall we found sold sundae, liver, cheon byeon (crepes with vegetables rolled insdie) and kimchijeon (crepes with kimchi cooked in the crepe itself).  The crepes were fantastic and were my second favorite snack in Korea.  Very kindly, the man eating next to us gave us his order because he was full and wanted us to enjoy them.  They are light but have such a great sharpness and spiciness because of the kimchi.  The sundae was also pretty good.  I had black pudding in Ireland and was expecting a taste experience of iron and body, but the barley gave it a little texture, while the noodles make it a little gelatin like and combine with the barley to give chewiness and lightness.  The only thing I didn’t like was the liver.  I have had fried chicken liver on many occasions and so am fairly used to the flavor.   Ironically, I ate that first because I thought it would be safer and was not prepared for the strong flavor of organ and meat.  My guess is that it was actually pig’s liver instead, which might account for the amount of veins and the strong taste.  Between the two choices, give me blood pudding any day.
While on my food courage kick, Kim and her friends all took me out for sannakji.  You can evidently get sannakji two ways.  One is how we ordered it—a prep that involves cutting a live small octopus up with scissors and serving it while it is still wiggling.  Two, the whole octopus is placed, live, on a stick.  You then skillfully bite it in a strategic place so as to kill it, which keeps it from trying to crawl back out your throat while you are eating it.  On hearing that some have died while trying option two, I went with the former.   
As you can see from the video, they are really hard to get off the plate.  They are a little chewy and slimy and it is best to chew them as much as possible to prevent suctioning in the route from mouth to stomach.  This is the most tender way of getting octopus in Korea since most of it is fairly tough.  Although I enjoyed the legs, the body segments took a little too much chewing and to me was not a very tasty part.  You are supposed to dip them in sesame oil or in gochujang, although the restaurant owner was very clear about the preference of the sesame oil and kept directing us to use that instead of the gochujang. 
With the sannakji, we also ordered fresh squid and the owner gave us a complimentary, or “service,” plate of fish.  I much preferred the squid to the sannakji because I thought the texture was softer and smoother, it wasn’t quite as slimy, and had more flavor. 

What sannkji did remind me was that “food courage” is merely just getting over “food fear.”  Fear of what is squishy or strong tasting or unexpected or uncertain.  In experiencing and writing about this range of "bizarre" foods, I did realize what a funny thing food perspectives are.  In talking about foods you are not used to, the only words really available are "exotic," "bizarre," "strange," etc. all employing a note of other and a negative connotation.  Think how much harder that negative beginning makes it to try something new when you are already coming in with bad expectations. 

In teaching sexuality and literature classes, I’ve come to discover that the biggest problem with sex is that everyone has a rule for it and most think their rules are what is “true” and “right.”  Same goes for food.  Taboo food is only taboo because it goes against what you think is right and correct about food.  That doesn’t make it wrong. 

Food relativism, like sex relativism, takes thinking about preference, individuality, variations, experimentations to decide what is good to you.  I’m glad I pushed my food courage limits.  Who knows, maybe next time I’ll be able to try those chicken feet . . . maybe.
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Friday, June 10, 2011

Foodie Blogroll Featured Blog of the Week

DownHomeFoodie is being featured as one of Foodie Blogroll's five Featured Blogs of the week!!!!!
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Thursday, June 9, 2011

On the Road . . . Korea: Vendor Food, Pt. 2

Korean sweets give new meaning to the word sweet.  It is not a cloying sweet, but a sweet that you feel in the center of your teeth.  What makes their sweets so interesting to me is that the sweet can be offset with texture or sometimes a little bit of salty sesame or nuts.  The sweets I came in contact with were also honey based, which gives the sweet more nuances than just lots of white sugar. 
Raspberries and Cherries
These aren’t so specially different or new, but I loved all the fresh raspberry and cherry vendors in Korea.  3,000 Won (or about $3) gets you a pretty big cup full of bright red tart seduction.  

Waffles and Bungeoppang
I was on the go so this picture didn’t come out so well.  Waffles are big in Korea.  They come with ice cream and gelato and then on the street, folded in half with creamy honey and a shmear of a less tangy version of cream cheese--crunchy, slightly sweet, delicious.  Also at the stand was Bungeoppang, or little fish shaped waffles made in a mold and filled with red bean paste.  Also delicious. 

Ggul Tteok (or "tteok with honey")
This is tteok in yet another form.  This time, it surrounds a liquid honey gel that oozes out of a gummy, squishy case.  The green ones also have mugwart and provide a herbiness to offset the sweet.  

Sweet Potato Bubble Tea
I got this on my last day.  Sweet potato is a very common flavor in Korea and seems to be all over the place in snacks, desserts, pastries, everywhere!  This Bubble Tea did taste just like candied sweet potatoes. Why it was purple, I could not say.   But, it was so refreshing with the tapioca pearls and hit really the spot after a meal of kimchi soup.   I really wish I could get this in America. 
This is one of the more exciting sweet vendor foods because it is both tasty and comes with a show.  We found several of these stalls in the touristy shopping districts of Seoul.  Although termed on the box a “cake” and also called a "cookie," it is more like candy to me. 
The demonstration of making them is half of the fun.  The candy is made from taking a hardened honey and pulling it in a taffy pull manner.  The key difference is the addition of corn starch that somehow magically keeps each pull from binding together, resulting in a final product made of hair thin strands of honey.  The threads are then wrapped around sweetened peanuts and sesame seeds or almonds and sesame seeds.  I tried both and was more partial to the peanut version. 
This is a video of making the strands, but on the left you can see one of the guys making the final version.    

Coming up next . . . watch me face my "food courage" by eating live octopus. 

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