Kimchi Fried Rice: Because I miss Korea a little

It’s freaking cold outside. For whatever reason (POLAR VORTEX OMG!) South Texas has become quite cold for the past few days. It reminds me of Korea. Well, almost. I enjoyed the winter in Korea quite a bit, unless I had to go outside, and you know how life is, right? You need to go outside to go to work, the grocery store, anywhere. So yeah, I enjoyed winter in Korea, but I didn’t enjoy the slipping on the ice and such. At any rate, the cold snap here made me a little “home”sick for Korea, I guess. Combine that with the ridiculous craving I’ve felt for all foods Asian and you have a shopping trip in the making.

Saturday was kinda nutty. We went to Whole Foods, where I nailed down some ingredients I needed for ramen broth (kombu, nori, etc) and then headed over to Trader Joe’s where I purchased a bag of kimchi. Why kimchi? Why now? Why ever? I don’t remember really going out of my way to eat kimchi while we were in Korea. I liked it well enough, but damn, at every meal? It’s been a long time. Almost a year. It was time to get a little kimchi back in my system. After all, “Kimchi is good for your body condition.” et al. We also stopped at the “Oriental Market” down the street (I guess it was opened when “oriental” was the preferred nomenclature), where we picked up some danmuji, fish cakes, various frozen bau and fish balls (heh).

Wanting to use some of the kimchi right away, and needing to make something to take to work this week I figured I’d do kind of my classic “how do we use all of the crap in the fridge and cupboard” thing and make fried rice. But add kimchi, ssamjang (half Korean pepper sauce, half Korean style fermented soybean), and red pepper flakes and you’ve got yourself some KIMCHI FRIED RICE. It made my house smell a little more like “home” I guess, with the funk of fermented food products and pepper flakes in the air.

I don’t know how Koreans make fried rice. Hell, I don’t know how anyone makes fried rice, but basically, I cook rice, let it cool, and then well…fry it. We had a bunch of leftover meaty bits from a chicken I roasted a couple of days earlier, and as Carolyn was baking, 9 egg whites. For vegetables I had some julienned carrots that needed using and of course the kimchi. I kinda just chopped everything up and tossed it in the oil, and after it seemed to meld together I tossed in the rice, pepper flakes, and ssamjang, stirring until it looked like everything was coated.

The results of this experiment weren’t so bad. I had a hot meal for the past two days at work, and I haven’t been nearly as hungry when I get home in the afternoon. Plus, any time you have kimchi at a table full of Americans you have a conversation waiting to happen (e.g. Ew, what’s that?).

At any rate, it’s nice to have a real attachment to something from another time and place. Kimchi does cause me a guttural reaction, and not just in the obvious way. Something about that funky smell reminds me of just how easy life was when we were teaching English in Korea and had just a few cares in the world. Plus it’s good for your body condition.

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Discovery: The joy of the unexpected

Look, I don’t really believe there’s much out there left to be discovered. Even the most remote, mysterious bits of the Amazon have pre-contact tribes of people who call the areas home. There’s really no foods that someone hasn’t eaten (in a practical sense), or any great surprises left in the world that someone hasn’t already been startled by. Okay, fine, there might be, but these aren’t things that I’m even remotely likely to discover for myself. When I speak of discovery, I speak of the joy of simply trying something, going some place, or experiencing something new.

I’ve discovered a few things in the past year or so that have made my life much richer, more satisfying, and more likely to end in a shallow gravy of cholesterol and shame. Whatever. This post is about discovery, so I’m going to share some of my favorite discoveries with you right now.

The Primate’s list of discovery!

Macau - Portguese Chorizo

Chorizo cooked tableside. Hello.

1. Portuguese Food – Dude. I never expected that my favorite discovery of our trip to Hong Kong would be the Portuguese food we ate on Macau. Delicious, simple, vaguely familiar yet new at the same time. This was a great discovery.

Taking a dip betwixt two hongs.

Sea Kayaking in Thailand

2. Sea Kayaking – I don’t particularly like boats. I don’t particularly like boats without engines. Who knew that loading up some snacky-snacks in a Kayak and taking off from the beach could be so much fun? On our trip to Thailand, Carolyn and I made a day of sea kayaking. I didn’t even get seasick.

Lawson red chicken

These “RED” chicken nuggets are delicious and cheap. They’re surprisingly…real…and the cheese flavor isn’t bad either.

3. Japanese Convenience Store Food – You’ve never eaten a chicken nugget like the ones they fry up at Lawson convenience stores in Japan. The “red” flavor is mildly spicy, the “cheese” flavor tastes like a chicken breast wrapped around cheetos, breaded in crushed cheetos, and fried in a vat of cheese. If liking this kind of crap is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

4. Gyeran Bbang (Egg Bread) – Carolyn and I discovered this the last time we visited Seoul before leaving Korea. It’s like a sweet cornbread muffin with an egg up in it. It was delicious. There’s not a ton of Korean street foods I would say are must eats, but this one ranks right up there. *Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of good food on the street in Korea, but not a lot that compares to banana roti.

Thai style roti - the best damn banana pancake you've ever tasted

Thai style roti – the best damn banana pancake you’ve ever tasted

5. Banana Roti – Okay, speaking of street food. Banana roti. It’s kinda my ultimate street delicacy. Bananas fried in neon orange margarine or coconut butter or whatever it is wrapped up in a thin pastry and cooked until it’s crisp? Yes, please. This is the one discovery from Thailand that I can’t seem to get at home.

Vietnamese Coffee by mhaithaca, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  mhaithaca 

6. Vietnamese Coffee

Ironically, this life-changing discovery happened at a restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. Vietnamese coffee is simple. Coffee, sweetened, condensed milk, ice. It’s a flavor that your soul recognizes, that your mouth loves, and that your stomach welcomes. It’s probably also a caloric bomb that will help guide you towards that shallow gravy faster than you’d like.

So surprise, surprise. What started out as a post about travel has once again turned into a post about things I like to eat. What’s a primate going to do about that? The answer is polish off the Ben and Jerry’s Liz Lemon frozen Greek Yogurt I have in the freezer. (Attention Ben & Jerry, I’ll give you that plug for free. Please keep producing the Liz Lemon flavor. kthxbai.)

So long, Korea! – The good eats I’ll miss.

Oh korea, you know I’ll miss some of your food, right?

Ah, the foods of Korea. They’ve been an adventure. I’ve got to say that during our first meal at orientation in February 2011 I was a little bit worried. The food we were served didn’t taste anything like the Korean food we’d tried at home. We were on a slim budget so we didn’t eat out until near the end of orientation, and what a relief. We’ve eaten lots of Korean meals at lots of Korean restaurants, and these dishes are just a few of the ones I’ll miss. Why won’t I miss the galbi, you ask? Well, basically the galbi I know for a fact we can get at home…and it’s pretty much the same. Korea really does have some great foods, but it will be really, really nice to get some different flavors in our maws.

The good news is I’ve figured out how to make a couple of the things I think I’ll miss, I’ve gotten familiar with the doenjang, gochujang, gochu, sesame oil, garlic and kimchi. I think I can make some good Korean noms in my own kitchen.

I think that more than just the foods of Korea, I’m going to miss the few times a year we’ve had to sample cuisines in different parts of Asia. Variety is the spice of life, right? Life in Korea has given us the opportunity to visit places that would have cost thousands of dollars more to reach if we had to fly from the U.S., and each of those places has been full of delicious, wonderful things to eat.

Yeah, I’ll miss the foods of Korea. Foods that, upon arrival, I thought smelled and looked rather unpalatable have grown on me, and will have their comfort food applications in the future, I’m sure. More so, I’ll miss the adventure of trying new foods in new places without having to pay an arm and a leg to get there.

恭禧發財 Happy Lunar New Year!

Lunar New Year is upon us, of course all of a week after we return from Hong Kong, which is probably an amazing place to be for Lunar New Year, but I digress. My middle schoolers had their last day of graduation week yesterday, and after school we began a three day weekend to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday. I have no idea what the Korean traditions are for this thing, but from my observation the traditional Friday night activity is to sit in traffic for hours. After a quick coffee break, we headed over towards Carolyn’s school to find a shabu shabu place. The cars that were sitting in the street seemed to still be sitting there, idling miserably, as we walked back towards our apartment.

Anyhow, the point of this post isn’t to talk about Korea’s version of Lunar New Year celebrations. It’s to talk about what is likely the most expensive meal we’ve eaten in Korea, and what is either my first or second favorite restaurant dining experience of our time in this country. Now that we’re done with all of the kung hei fat choi kinda stuff, let’s have a look at pictures of our dinner.

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So we thought we ordered a beef shabu shabu set, and when they showed up with a cart full of food the first things off the cart were mushrooms, greens, and a gigantic platter of seafood with clams and octopi and prawns and whelks and all manner of things. The beef followed shortly thereafter.

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Surprise! A “service” (free) order of Korean style sashimi (hwe).

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Here’s a closeup of the seafood platter. It was all super fresh and delicious. The crab was like freaking butter. As was that giant scallop. High quality stuff. Nom nom nom.

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The grand finale of shabu shabu involves dumping a plate of udon noodles up in the pot. Once again, nom nom nom.

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Where’s the beef? Right here! Thinly sliced and delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

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They had an all you can eat sushi bar. Check out the lime green wasabi on the nigiri. No, your eyes do not deceive you, that is freaking honey mustard on that makizushi.

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As with any Korean “buffet” (I’m reticent to say buffet. The shabu shabu was above par on food quality, but there was a buffet of “traditional foods” too) there was a ton of pretty little cakes. Unlike most Korean places, these were not slices of white bread. Yay! We really picked them up because they were super pretty.

After we paid the huge bill of 45,000 won (pretty hefty for Korea) the mom n’ pop that owned the joint bowed and wished us a happy new year. It was really cool, and laid back. As I mentioned, on the way home we walked past the traffic that was still sitting there, but at this point we weighed more than most of their cars. All in all, a great way to ring in the new (lunar) year.

Nice Buns! Korean winter street food favorites

Korea’s street food scene isn’t always the most exciting, certainly not compared to Thailand at any rate, but there are some gems out there that are worth picking up. Street foods here seem to be somewhat seasonal, and in the winter a couple of our favorites come out to play. This is a tale of street food used to supplement an unsatisfying meal, and by joining me on this adventure you’re condemning yourself to some potential mouth waters, so be prepared to get that mess under control.

It all started with lunch

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Today Carolyn and I needed to do some shopping, so we met after work to get lunch at The Onigiri, a place that serves (as you might imagine) onigiri, or Japanese style rice balls. I’ve written about these triangular bits of delicious before, but The Onigiri makes them bigger and better than any of the ones we can find in the convenience stores. When we arrived, The Onigiri had obviously changed ownership, but it was the same people working there and the menu was mostly the same, minus our favorite rice ball, the tonkatsu onigiri. Boo. Carolyn got a cheese, tuna, and mayo onigiri, and I had the teriyaki spam one, it was kinda disappointing, definitely not as good as it used to be. Unsatisfied with our dining experience, we decided to pick up a couple of wintertime buns that the little ladies sell on the side of the road. This is some good stuff, so I’m going to be nice and share the experience with you.

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Boong-eo Bbang: A Korean winter street food treat!

The picture above shows the first nice little lady we visited on the street today for a tasty treat. She was selling boong-eo bbang, or what I call “fish buns.” Essentially, pancake batter is fried in a fish shaped mold and red bean paste is dropped in to form a not-exactly-sweet but also not-really-savory treat. To be honest, the red bean paste in the ones we had today was a bit on the bland side. Sometimes it’s mostly brown sugar with a little bit of red bean. Today it was mainly red bean with very little brown sugar. Still pretty yummy anyhow.

Here’s a close up of the bun while still fully intact and actually too hot to eat:

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And another picture of what it looks like on the inside after you bite it’s little head off:

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I give fish buns three bananas (not so subtle use of primate theme) out of five. They’re fun to have every once in a while, but hardly worth the wait. But seriously three of these for about $0.85 is a steal.

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Kook-hwa bbang: little hockey pucks of Korean winter street food joy

Or next stop, about 30 meters up the street was the kook-hwa bbang stand of another little Korean lady. These buns are shaped like miniature hockey pucks, and have a slightly thicker batter than the fish buns. They’re also filled with red bean paste, but they always seem to be a bit sweeter. The pancake batter on the outside is a bit thicker and gooier and has a little more of a pull in its texture.

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These little hockey pucks of Korean street food dessert joy will almost always be sold to you at the price of five for 1,000 Korean wons, or about $0.85. It’s a cheap fix if you just don’t think you can make it home from the subway station or through the supermarket without going all Donner Party on the little brats loitering at the cart return. Nom nom nom. I give them four out of five bananas.

I think the thing that really makes these two varieties of Korean street food special are that you can only get them when it’s cold outside. You wouldn’t want them when it’s warm, because they’re served too hot to eat. Your money gets you a hand warmer AND a snack. There will probably be a day soon, when I’m leaving a “real” office and wish one if these little red tents was on the side of the road to sell me a cheap snack for my commute home. Of course, who’s to say there won’t be some sort of food cart selling kebabs or gyros or something even tastier instead?

A simple Korean curry for a cold night

This delicious Korean style curry will warm you up from the inside out.

This delicious Korean style curry will warm you up from the inside out.

 

I’m something of a curry nut, I guess. The mix of spices and flavors makes my taste buds dance like so many fat hippos in tutus in some ancient Disney movie. That is to say, the flavors of a curry hit hard, but they do it with grace. A few years ago I was a fat schlub watching the Food Network on Friday nights wanting to make exciting exotic foods like curries and noodle bowls and not bothering to look up a recipe on the internet and do it. At the time Asian foods in general seemed super fancy and stuff.

It wasn’t long after our arrival in Korea that we were introduced to Korean style curries. For the first year we ate lunches in the school cafeteria (before we became wiser and more health conscious) and curry day was always great, because it wasn’t completely disgusting it was actually served hot and tasted like something you might actually want to eat. We started making curries at home the Korean way and it didn’t take long to learn how to make a good, Korean style curry that tastes just like the ones served at the cheap Korean food stalls.

The Primate’s Korean Curry

Buy this stuff:

  • One Korean Curry Powder Packet (Ottogi brand is good for this, Golden, Bekse, or Vermont Curry varieties all work)
  • One large potato (or two small ones) – cubed
  • Two carrots – cubed
  • One zucchini – cubed
  • One package of tofu
  • Two eggs
  • Two tablespoons white flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • canola oil
  • rice

The cookery

  1. Coat the bottom of a large-ish pot with canola oil, heat to medium-high.
  2. Dump all those cubed veggies in. Stir occasionally. I like to get a sear on them. Salt and pepper lightly.
  3. Cover the veggies with water, bring to a boil. Cook until tender.
  4. When the vegetables are tender, stir in the curry powder and drop the heat to a simmer. It’ll thicken up pretty quickly after this step.
  5. Coat the bottom of a skillet or sautee pan with oil and bring to medium heat.
  6. Beat the eggs and flour together to form a batter,
  7. Slice the tofu into about 1 cm thick slices, dip in the batter, and fry until golden brown. Flip and fry until the other side is golden brown too.

Plate it up

A Korean clay bowl would be great for this, but anything will do. Slop the curry on top of your rice, then neatly arrange some of the fried tofu on top. Pow! You’ve got a dinner that will impress any date. Especially a vegetarian date. You certainly won’t miss the meat in this dish, because the flavor of the curry and the volume of the vegetables and rice will keep you plenty full, but if it is a date night dinner, have the toothbrushes and toothpaste ready before you put on the moves.

 

My top 12 foods of 2012

Penang Curry with Duck

Spicy, but not too spicy.

Penang Curry – Thailand

 

The most amazing bowl of ramen ever.

Thick and hearty with amazingly tender meat.

Hakata Ramen – Japan

 

Carolyn's chicken with cashews

Spicy, sweet, and nutty.

Phad Kai Med Mamuang (Cashew Chicken) – Thailand

 

Chicken Rice - Southeast Asian Soul Food

Rich flavors with a bit of spicy, sweet, and sour.

Chicken Rice – Malaysia

 

Jolly, jovial, yakitori chef!

Umami.

Yakitori – Japan

 

Carolyn's phad Thai noodles.

Sweet and savory.

Phad Thai – Thailand

 

sushi

Fresh from the ocean.

Sushi – Japan

 

Assam Laksa, or AWESOME Laksa?

Dark, fishy, mysterious.

Assam Laksa – Malaysia

 

Doenjang Jjigae - Korean soybean paste stew

Doenjang Jjigae – Korean soybean paste stew

Doenjang Jjigae – Korea

 

Udon and Sukiyaki from a nondescript little Sukiya in Namba

Cheap and delicious.

Udon – Japan (left); Sukiyaki – Japan (right)

 

Massaman Curry

Hearty, filling, and easy on the stomach.

Massaman Curry – Thailand