A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.
Sakura (cherry blossoms) bloom late in northern Japan, and the blossoms typically coincide with the Golden Week holidays.
As I always seem to find myself in Tokyo toward the end of March, and never at the beginning of April, I was looking forward to finally seeking sakura in full bloom on this trip... For Hiromi's schedule, late April worked better, so we chose to make a special trip up north to take advantage of the seasonal progression
Hirosaki Park in Aomori prefecture has more than 2600 cherry trees, and the timing of the blooms makes this park a popular destination for both locals and out-of-towners.
May 2 wasn't technically a holiday, and we faced some rather dreary weather... overcast skies and occasional rain, along with periodic bursts of wind. Thanks to that, the crowds were fairly mild.
I don't think we ever got around to having a normal lunch that day, but we did have some nice sakura-mushi-dorayaki, steamed dorayaki pancakes made with salt-preserved cherry blossoms and sweet white bean paste, found at one of the many vendors inside Hirosaki park. Later, we discovered a section populated entirely with yatai and hungry park-goers, and snacked on kabocha dango with a sweet miso sauce, as well as some black simmered konnyaku on a stick.
We imagined we might come back at night when the park was completely illuminated for night-time hanami, when various salaried workers would congregate, drink a little too much, and eat some combination of yatai treats and hanami bento... Alas, we reached our evening destination, took a bath, had dinner, and were completely exhausted... we didn't make it back until daylight.
May 2nd, at Asamushi Onsen, on the way to Hirosaki. We wake up early and have another bath, then breakfast, and we head off. But first we looked out the window, and decided to make a quick trip to the beach...
Our ryokan wasn't quite on the waterfront, but it's just a short hop across a busy road to the beach...
Yu no Kabuto Iwa
A big rock, a little island, just across the bay.
A view of the left side of the island reveals a dramatic-looking pine.
There's a gate and a long stairway to a temple starting at the waterfront.
We made our way toward Aomori city, and discovered this odd looking building called Asupamu, to which Hiromi made a beeline in our rental car. It turns out that it did its job very well: the ground floor is full of gift shops peddling various Aomori specialties, and an impressive observation deck about 13 floors up. (We didn't feel any need to spend 600 yen each for that, even after buying so much stuff that we were good for up to two hours of free parking).
We gave in and bought a lot of them, some of them destined to be our gomen nasai present for coworkers when we return to the office, and some treats for friends, family, teammates, and fellow Meetup members. Oh, and some "gifts" for purely self-indulgent purposes. We need those. Self-indulgence is good.
After sampling the delights of the many Asupamu gift shops, we had pie from an Asupamu apple shop. We likepie. This one has some cream cheese in it. Aomori is famous for apples, so that makes this local food.
I chose this chausson (lady slipper?) for myself, but Hiromi thought it was boring compared to two of the other nifty options and I could sense her disappointment. Until she proceeded to eat at least half of mine. (I got my fair share of the cream cheese one though... I'm just making fun of her for visibly, if quietly, doubting my judgment).
Of course, no coastal tourist shop would be complete without some sort of rotating squidmobile.
So my low-protein dinner transitioned into the extreme opposite in the morning... not only did everyone have a pot of tofu, made right at the table in bunrai nabe style, but we also had this surprisingly nice egg dish.
Where's the egg, you ask?
Well, it's on the side. There's a little negi, soup stock, and miso, and we mix the egg in using waribashi... Within a couple of minutes, the flame underneath the seashell cooks up the egg.
Hiromi's version of the egg dish also featured some dried scallops. Dekitate toufu
Fresh and creamy tofu, served with a little negi and shouyu for dipping.
Of course there's a fair assortment of tsukemono (pickled vegetables), some yamaimo, a little hijiki... a very complete, very substantial breakfast.
Our breakfast is served with a little houjicha, roasted green tea, which somehow seemed a very homey way to start the day.
We stayed at an onsen ryokan (hot springs resort) called Asamushi in Aomori city.
Most Japanese ryokan, given sufficient advance warning, are reasonably accommodating of vegetarian needs, though they don't always quite understand them. Usually things work out, with occasional use of non-vegetarian soup stock or a garnish of katsuobushi. In some cases, the food ends up being a bit ascetic.
Ryokan also tend to veer toward the fairly esoteric, so some of these dishes I've never seen before.
I was mostly happy with the taste of the food at our first ryokan this trip, but the meal ended up being surprisingly devoid of protein... usually there's at least a bit of tofu or some egg dish, or sometimes some yuba. This time, though, there wasn't even a hint of that. Even my nabe dish was little more than a suimono, though I think Hiromi's had a little tofu. The actual dishes were actually quite nice, but I felt a bit low in energy after the meal, which rarely happens when I eat at ryokan.
Hiromi's had a bit more seafood, of course.
A few side dishes
These were some of Hiromi's side dishes.
Apparently Aomori has a fondness for youshoku, or Western food, as we discovered later in Hirosaki. I think this presentation, offered to Hiromi, was meant to be a kind of cute deconstructed pasta dish. My version had some grilled bamboo shoots with a miso sauce.
One of Hiromi's dishes, this features fu (the cute cherry blossom shaped wheat gluten item), kagomi, shrimp, and takenoko (bamboo shoots).
Itadouri no ohitashi
Itadouri, Japanese rhubarb or knotweed, one of many spring sansai (mountain vegetables). While not technically rhubarb, it has a slightly acidic bite to it. When lightly dressed, it's slightly vegetal and gently bitter.
Fuki no tou
Fuki no tou, the sprouts of butterbur. This is particularly common in spring in northern Japan, but it's also found, and eaten, frequently in other parts of Japan.
I always seem to end up with tempura at ryokan... even if they aren't serving it to everyone else... It seems to be a typical substitution for a sashimi course. This one features some mountain vegetables, mostly kagomi.
Some more vegetables with sakura
I think this is was a mustard-flavored aemono, but my memory is failing...
Daikon to negi no suimono
A light clear soup with daikon and negi.
As a special treat for Hiromi, the ryokan brought a small dish to our room featuring these nama-shirasu, which were still alive and kicking.
I've seen Hiromi refuse to taste something only twice. The first was bundaeggi, and she pretty much says all bugs are off limits. The second was this. I'm not sure the taste or aroma would be terribly shocking, but it seemed just a bit too disturbing for her. Actually, strangely, I think it bothers me less than it does her... and I don't eat any fish... Though I guess the point is moot.
Note the splashes of soy sauce along the side of the bowl are the work of the fish, not of sloppy plating.
(Video Link, in case video embedding doesn't work for you)
After dinner, I ate some kurogoma ice cream to get at least a little hint of protein, and Hiromi ate a really nice apple sorbet.
Hiromi did all the heavy-lifting as far as organizing and planning our Aomori side trip... I just carried some luggage.
She drove us to Oirase Trail in Aomori, not terribly far from the onsen ryokan where we were planning to stay, but a fair stretch away from Hachinohe, the train station where the shinkansen let us off.
Like most tourist attractions in Japan, the place is filled with tourists like us, and especially so during Golden Week. However, we manage to snag a few quiet moments.
A slab of stone rests against an old tree. Legend has it that an evil woman lived under this slab, and lured travelers with her beauty. Unfortunately, she didn't do anything terribly mystical; she would just kill the unfortunate passers-by and steal their stuff.
A middle-aged guy concentrated on rendering a river scene as we quietly passed by.
An apparently edible sansai, which we think was featured at dinner later that night.
Most of the trail is fairly basic, but a few stretches that would just be mudbaths most of the year are covered with simple wooden plankways.
A specialty of northern Japan, and particularly popular in Iwate and Akita prefectures,Kiri-tampo are usually made with uruchi-gome, which falls into the category of everday rice. The other two categories of rice are mochi-gome, the pearly glutinous rice, and saka-mai, which is riced used for brewing sake.
We stopped at a small lake-front gift shop while between cities in Aomori. We weren't in any hurry to do any actual shopping, but we started looking at the types of things offered as fancy Aomori omiyage so that we could be suitably jaded by the time we were actually ready to buy.
I was sucked in by a little storefront window where a woman was busy grilling kiritampo over hot sumi, Japanese oak charcoal.
We had to have one. Each.
Although breakfast was heavy, we hadn't really eaten a real lunch, so this was a nice light snack, and very reasonably priced. We placed our order and the obachan handling the grill suggested we head upstairs to sit down, where we could sit in relative comfort facing the lake.
Middle of nowhere, Aomori
Five or ten minutes later, our kiritampo arrived, dressed with a sweet-salty miso flavored tare (sauce). It was far more than we ever hoped it to be.
We found, but did not make use of, this helpful device...
For just 100-yen, you could use this old-school tabletop device to obtain an all-knowing omikuji, complete with horoscope.
May 1st we had an early start... By this time, my jetlagged habit of waking up at 6 am without the aid of an alarm gave way to a more ordinary pattern of begrudgingly getting out of bed around 7:30 or 8. We had to use multiple cell-phone alarms to make sure we woke up in time... We had departed the football game after-party around 11, just in time to get home around midnight to bemusedly consider packing for our short trip to Aomori....
I think most of the serious packing waited until morning, but we had to wake up around 5:30 to make sure we could get to Tokyo station in time to grab breakfast and to make the shinkansen train.
JAL Sky Time Yuzu Original Citrus Drink
I grabbed an overly-sweet yuzu drink from a vending machine to take on the train... I tend to make one that's closer to 4-5% yuzu at home, but mass production has certain cost constraints... the stronger-tasting yuzu drinks in Japan I've found tend to be about 200-300 yen for a small glass bottle... this was a bit more generous in size, but is only 2% fruit juice.
Hiromi picked some reasonably vegetable-heavy bento... There's no such thing as a vegetarian ekiben (train station bento) anywhere in Japan that I've seen.
This one has a little shrimp, so Hiromi ate that part... Perhaps throwing this Balance Bento out of balance? Ah well. I was also a little sad that the takenoko gohan, which I usually love, was filled with tiny bits of chicken or pork...
Yasai Tappuri Haru-Yasai Bento
This one, true to its description, was full of vegetables, but also had its fair share of animal bits.
These would have to do...
The two bento sustained us for the three hour train ride north. At our destination, Hiromi picked up our rental car and took us the rest of the way to our destination, on very little sleep, while I crashed in the passenger seat, mostly oblivious to the length of our trek across Aomori prefecture.
We had a leisurely morning one day and decided to stay home for lunch. We took advantage of some food Hiromi's parents had sent us away with, all acquired at a supermarket.
The souzai (side dish) set, ready to eat, included several small portions of simple dishes that are easily prepared in bulk, but rather time consuming to do in small quantities. At home I've made some variation of almost all of these dishes, but rarely all for the same meal.
I don't usually buy a lot of convenience foods in the U.S.
Some sweet-savory beans, tamagoyaki, kabocha no nimono (simmered squash), one aemono, a little hijiki with moyashi, and two other simple nimono. One contained gobo (burdock root), daikon, carrot and ganmodoki. The other is a mildly seasoned satoimo (small taro potato) dish with scallions and a little bit of yuzu peel.
We also had some black sesame, starch-thickened, gomadoufu, which came with a little sauce packet.
We only needed to prepare a little rice to accompany this to have a fairly decent everyday meal.
On the Sunday before Golden Week, Hiromi had a practice session to attend, so we needed to have a late dinner. Ochanomizu completely clears out during Golden Week, as it's mostly populated by university students, so nearly every place we walked by had just closed for the evening. Most of the shops closed around 8:30 or so, even if their signs indicated that they were customarily open much later.
An incredibly intoxicated woman just outside of one restaurant loudly offered a bottle of something that was allegedly jasmine tea to everyone within earshot, and some of her friends humored her, tasted something that was likely higher proof than the average bottled tea, and spit it out onto the street. We discovered that the restaurant around which they were congregating was still open.
The restaurant promised we could still eat if we coult get all our orders in within about 30 minutes... We were up for the challenge. The one caveat is that the shop specializes in yakitori, grilled chicken (and assorted parts) on skewers.
View of the kitchen
Fortunately, many yakitori shops have a number of vegetable options, and we happened to stumble into one with a surprisingly long menu.
Sobacha-Ryokucha to Shochu Cocktail
We started with these allegedly seasonal drinks made with ryokucha (green tea). Mine had soba-cha and shochu in it... thanks to the toasted buckwheat, it resembled a slighlty alcoholic genmaicha with a pronounced buckwheat aroma.
Our first thing to nibble on... some sort of cheese-filled stick harumaki... My memory of the other ingredients has faded, but it was pleasingly crunchy and creamy.
Spring greens salad
Some bitter greens with a kind of grapefruit dressing, topped with little webs of dried fish and a garnish of katsuobushi. Another example of the sense of humor required to be vegetarian in Japan, perhaps, but the greens and dressing were nice.
Soramame no sumibiyaki
I always delight in unexpected greatness in simplicity... These were one of our favorite treats of the night. Oak charcoal grilled soramame (fava beans) served with coarse ume (Japanese apricot)-flavored salt. The easiest way to eat this is to out the fava beans one by one and eat with a grain or two of the salt.
Shouyu-butter tofu with moyashi
Another pleasant surprise... This tofu was served on a small sizzle platter with a sauce made from little more than butter and soy sauce, and tasted surprisingly indulgent. It's topped with negi (scallions), and like so many other pub side dish in Japan, is dressed with some katsuobushi.
Tsukune-stuffed shiitake for Hiromi in the background, served with a heavy dose of yuzu-kosho, and grilled bamboo shoots with slightly sweetened miso. It's really hard to get nice bamboo shoots in the US, especially this fresh. I don't know why that is, exactly. But these were very nice, very appropriate for spring, and they were completely free of the unpleasantly preserved taste that most bamboo shoots in the US have.
Hiromi and her cheer team had a game on Monday, April 30, just before we headed off to Aomori for a little hot spring vacation and late hanami at Hirosaki.
She's part of Club Cranes, a 2nd-division X-League American Football team sponsored by Toa construction company.
Because there's a fairly long warmup, Hiromi suggested I could wander around the station or drink coffee for a while before heading to the stadium via taxi. But one of her teammates suggested that this was altogether unnecessary, and that perhaps I could serve as their paparazzo for the day. We grabbed some takeaway bento for me and some onigiri for Hiromi right at the station, and the entire group gathered into two or three taxis to head on over to the stadium.
I sat down in the stands at first, but was invited to come down and take a bunch of photos right from the sidelines.
Rehearsal action shot
Sidelined for a few weeks...
The big guy heading back to switch to game gear
After some warmups, it's game time... the Cranes players and cheerleaders change into their game colors. I got to stay close to the action...
The pre-game bow
An early touchdown
Hiromi's team took the early lead, but missed the extra point... It put them at a slight disadvantage for the first half.
Everyone else ordered a kind of set meal, but since I'm the odd duck and don't eat animal bits, we ordered a few vegetarian items. With 40 or so people, we completely filled the tatami room at the edge of the little Chinese restaurant we visited.
We had a little to drink, a lot to eat, and some people made a series of little speeches and a few very personal announcements...
My poor camera's 2 GB memory card was completely full at the end of the day, thanks to a couple of days without transferring to my laptop and the excessive number of photos I took that day, but I found some completely blurry images I could toss and made room for a few hurried food shots...
I returned to Seattle Tuesday morning... still a little jetlagged, but I managed to pop into the swing of things and sleep almost normally again. I still have a ton of photos to dig through, and things to catch up with... more to come.
I've been to the smaller, original location of Macchinesti in Akabanebashi two or three years ago with Hiromi, the Vivace-inspired outlet opened by a protégé of David Schomer. But they also run a bigger shop with a simple savory food menu not far away in Azabu-Juuban, which benefits from a pleasant outdoor seating area.
Hiromi felt the urge for some decent coffee after we woke up late Sunday morning, so we made a pilgrimage to the new location, found in a posh residential area in Tokyo.
Seattle meets Tokyo
Eggs Benedict on the menu
We've never encountered this favorite of Hiromi's on the menu anywhere in Tokyo, and have only seen evidence of it on expensive hotel menus online. In Seattle, we often make eggs florentine or whatever at home, and Hiromi gets her fix for the porcine version when we go out for a weekend brunch.
Take something home
We didn't take any beans home, of course, since there's no coffee brewing equipment in my weekly apartment. For those who live in Tokyo, however, freshly roasted Vivace-blended beans (and some Tokyo-only single-estate treats) are a must-have.
Ok, that was a cruel caption. But even Vivace rarely pumps out rosettas as elaborate as this duo. We might have just been lucky, though... one of the two coffees was made with a more typical single-pattern rosetta.
On a wet and rainy April 28, Hiromi, Hiromi's mother and I trekked to Meiji Jinguu, then briefly toured Shibuya's Tokkyu Foods Show depachika madness. We were planning to have dinner at Hiromi's home that night, so we actually wanted to pick up a few things to take home.
The nifty thing about department store basements in Japan is that you can assemble a fairly elaborate meal without ever needing to whip out a spatula or your handy kitchen saibashi.
Not one of the dishes required more than a bit of reheating, although for one of the two grilled eggplant dishes (far left, middle) I chose to make a quick nerimiso to help the two variations stand apart from each other. Even in that case, however, the department store had a ready-to-buy sauce you could take away to remove even this tiny step of production.
I also made a quick seasoned soup stock for the big ganmodoki (upper left), but everything else was just a matter of heating, at most, and plating.
Among the other dishes: Fresh yuba with soy sauce, an okra ohitashi with yuba, two kinds of vegetable croquettes, supermarket sushi, blanched kogomi (a spring mountain vegetable similar to warabi), a vegetable aemono, dashi-maki tamago (a broth-seasoned omelet), takenoko gohan (bamboo shoot rice), and four kinds of inari-zushi. One variety had a wasabi-seasoned rice, another was gomoku, another might have been made with azuki, and the last one had age puffs made from black soybeans.
It wasn't all easy, though... A fair amount of time unwrapping, plating and transporting foods from the kitchen to the table made preparation take almost as long as making a simpler dinner might have taken. Of course, the quality was much better than the average takeaway meal at a US supermarket, and everything was nicer than most of what you might find at even upscale urban specialty shops.
An Indian restaurant may not be the most obvious place to eat one's first meal in Tokyo.
But this is far from my first time in Tokyo, so I can dispense with the ambition to eat the best possible Japanese food every meal I have in this city. Tokyo is kind of a part-time home for me... Since 1999 or so, I've averaged very close to two Japan stamps in my passport every year, sometimes several weeks per trip.
Besides, the tempting Italian-Japanese fusion inches from our weekly mansion was completely booked for the night. It was already rapidly approaching 9pm, when most restaurants start winding down in Tokyo, so we settled for another small temptation just a few hundred meters away.
We ordered a pair of papadum, lentil-based crackers. Each papad was topped with marinated onions and other vegetables.
We were originally tempted to order a spinach dish but then noticed an okra curry on the menu. We've often had a simple okra and tomato masala, which we're huge fans of. This was a heavier dish with okra and potatoes along with a tomato-based sauce, which was not incredibly exciting, but was pleasingly comforting.
After a few minutes, we received another dish of what appeared to be the same okra curry, and we were told this was saabisu (free). We didn't quite expect it also to be studded with bits of lamb and chicken, but Hiromi made use of the animal bits. Based on the hodgepodge of ingredients, Hiromi surmised this was likely meant as part of the makanai (staff meal).
We ordered a chickpea curry as our primary protein source for the evening, which looks perhaps a bit similar to the okra dish but was fortunately seasoned somewhat differently. Sometimes Indian restaurants in Japan serve the same base for almost every dish, especially if they're financed by Japanese owners. This place doesn't seem to commit quite that sin, although there are only a handful of vegetarian mains so it's a bit hard to tell.
This is a little different than the parathas I'm used to, as the dough seems to be twisted into a spiral. It was quite addictive, though... After everything came, we did order a bit of an unremarkable saffron rice, partially because we never received any tori-zara to set small portions of food, and maybe partially because it didn't quite seem like dinner without rice. Like many Indian restaurants in Japan, they used expensive but texturally and aromatically inappropriate Japanese rice rather than basmati. I don't really know if this is meant to accommodate local tastes or if the import tarriffs on rice make real basmati too expensive.
We also had some inexpensive but rather mild "cocktails", one made with mango, and the other meant to be a gently spiked sweet lassi, which tasted suspiciously like Calpis brand syrup (we liked it anyway).
Anyway, we were reasonably pleased with our choice to eat here. The food was slightly above average for a Tokyo Indian restaurant, and the staff was exceedingly nice to us, even offering us a complimentary salad before the rest of our food arrived.
During a trip to Osaka in Japan about 7 years ago, I visited an Indian restaurant run by a friend of a friend, who confided... no... broadcasted... that he gets tired selling the same setto combo meals one after another to 80% or more of the Japanese customers who walk in to the restaurant. He said loudly, in Japanese, that people who order set meals get much more boring food and that people should try to be adventurous "like these two" and order various things from different parts of the menu, as it would be much more delicious. After his gentle tirade, the couple sitting next to us brustled a bit, and proceeded to order two of that night's setto specials...
Phone: 03-5298-2036 Tokyo-to Chiyoda-ku Gai-Kanda, a 5-minute walk from the Ochanomizu station Hijiri-bashi exit, straight across the bridge.
I don't remember how long ago it was, but probably about four or five years ago I was staying somewhere in Nishi-shinjuku... Several times on the way to somewhere more interesting than Shinjuku, I found myself walking right past a tiny bakery called Rappopo. I was tempted by the aroma of constant baking, and by a shockingly long line for a train station bakery.
Most people were walking away with a Rappopo Pie. It's built on a foundation of pie crust, or perhaps what in Germany is called Biscuitt-Teig. Above that, there's a thin layer of something like pound cake, followed by a thick layer of sweet potatoes, and a layer of apples, and then topped with some sort of lattice-pattern piped streusel.
At about 700 yen, give or take, it seemed like too much to indulge in all by myself, so I kept waiting until I had a good excuse to buy one... maybe a chance to split one with a friend or three... well, such an opportunity never arose on that trip, so I finally grabbed one on my way to Narita airport.
Once I arrived at the airport, I set out to eat one quarter of the pie while it was still a bit warm, thinking I'd snack on some of the rest during the middle of the 9 hour flight.
Narita airport is a really boring place to be trapped for a couple of hours, especially if you've been there a dozen times or so and you've seen all of the duty-free shops, convenience stores, and gift shops. Even more so if you've already done all your gift shopping before leaving.
So after due consideration... Do I want to walk around the airport aimlessly for another twenty minutes? Or have another slice of this nice pie? I chose the more comforting, fattening route.
Every 20 minutes or so I repeated this internal conversation, until the pie had completely disappeared.
Friday afternoon when I arrived in Tokyo, I had some time to kill, so I spent an hour or so at Shin-Marunouchi building on opening day, but I avoided every temptation to try one of the many fantastic-looking new shops.
But when Hiromi and I met on the Yaesu side, we passed another location of Rappopo, and our fate was sealed... we had to have one of those pies.
Reunited with both Hiromi and Rappopo, the three of us made our way to the Ochanomizu weekly apartment we had arranged for this stay in Tokyo. Hiromi and I each tucked into a small wedge of the pie shortly before we started hunting for dinner, some towels and some knee supporters for my increasingly temperamental legs.
I've been trying to catch up to my Japan trip, but I took far too many photos in Korea.
The main goal for my trip to Hanhyanglim gallery was to get some insight on the possibility of importing some nice contemporary Korean pottery, and I was pleased to find that the gallery gift shop's buyer's taste runs a pretty close parallel to my own. I still have to work out a lot of details, but I'm hoping to bring the work of at least one of these production potters to YuzuMura.com later this year. Let me know if you have any favorites...
Vase with carved illustration
Medium-sized low open form
Tea cups, bowls, and a large serving plate
Mugs and deep plate
These green tea mugs come with a tea infuser and lid. I really like this artist's work.
I have a nokcha cup with an infuser in the same style from this artist, so I was happy to re-discover this artist.
My last reasonably complete meal in Seoul was a late lunch last Thursday... Somehow, after a week of sleeping six hours a night I didn't have quite the energy level required to search for something more substantial, and I was only moderately hungry that night... I ended up just grabbing an overpriced smoothie and some more of those addictive but deadly hoddeok.
Anyway, Thursday afternoon I found this little spot, Waelbing Buchu Nara, just a short stretch from Namsangol Hanok Village. It's extra tiny, and only has room for a bit more than a dozen people to sit. But I was drawn in because of the short, simple, reasonably healthy-looking menu. More importantly, they had gimchi-jeon (kimchi jeon), which is one of the few vegetarian-ish jeon I hadn't indulged in on this trip.
The restaurant offered up a few simple banchan, though I skipped the one that involved a bunch of fried tiny fish.
Common enough, but this pretty daikon kimchi was quite nice.
I might be wrong about this, but I believe this is minari, similar to garlic chives.
Kong namul guk
The jeon comes with a bean sprout soup... It's fairly strongly seasoned with bits of what appears to be dried mackerel. Thanks to my vegetarian habits, it was a bit difficult to for me to eat much of this, but it was a nice touch.
The main event
I ate way more of this than I should have... but the kimchi jeon was pretty nicely done. On previous trips to Korea, at a couple of restaurants the kimchi jeon I've had somehow seemed slightly undercooked. I think that owed itself to the complexity of identifying how well cooked a very uneven batter covering copious amounts of kimchi might be.
At Waelbing Buchu Nara, however, I was pleased with my order. The surface of the jeon just teeters on crispness, while the pancake itself is almost fluffy. The kimchi adds a lot of flavor without being overwhelming.
Even with my almost nonexistent Korean ability I was able to make myself reasonably well understood, and they understood my badly worded request to make sure the jeon was devoid of meat. (It's not all that common to add pork or seafood to this type of jeon, but some places might).
Namsangol Village is meant partially as a tourist attraction, and partially to educate Korean schoolchildren about their country's history. It's a reconstruction of an old Korean village, focusing pr imarily on the accommodations of royalty and wealthy craftsmen. It provides a glimpse, however superficial, of the lives of people before electricity, elaborate subway systems and sophisticated HVAC systems.
I visited Namsangol on my last trip to Korea, but that trip long predates this little journal of my re-imagined life, so I took my afternoon distraction in this area as an opportunity to look at things with fresh eyes.
Window, Bedding, and Chest
A place to rest
Want heated flooring? Heat the whole foundation. This is called an ondol room, and you can still rent rooms in Korea which simulate this via electrically heated flooring.
Although I tend to make an effort to go to a place like Pulhyanggi whenever I get a chance to go to Korea, I've long wanted to try another Seoul institution which is also known for fairly high end cuisine.
Sanchon, located in Insadong, offers an elaborate prix fixe vegetarian meal somewhat comparable to what you might find at a place like Pulhyanggi, but more firmly rooted in the Buddhist tradition. Pulhyanggi, while it was influenced by monastic cuisine, focuses more on the culinary traditions of the Korean aristocracy.
On my sixth evening in Seoul, I invited a friend to join me at the restaurant, and we arrived in the middle of the evening's entertainment. The location is a bit more intimate, and the stage is located right in the center of the dining room, which makes the experience a little more like a dinner theater than the more restrained approach at Pulhyanggi.
In fact, it was a little overwhelming... Sudden dramatic shifts in lighting, fairly loud drumming, occasional chanting or call-and-response bits, along with bursts of amplified recorded instrumentals, all presented just centimeters from our table, made the show the center of attention. It had a slight Disney vibe, though I noticed a few diners got quite into the drum performance.
Thankfully the performance soon ended and the restaurant lighting settled into something more comfortable for dining and conversation.
Small parcels of wrapped vegetables
We start off with this small serving of juk (rice porrige) and something remiscent of the crepes wrapped in the nine-sectioned dish from Pulhyanggi. The pancake dish has a bit stronger flavor than the nine-sectioned dish, perhaps from the addition of buckwheat in the crepes batter. We also receive a dish of some Korean mountain fruit, which was reminiscent of either omija berries or sansho, but didn't seem quite like either. We also have a simple mul gimchi, which unlike the previous water kimchi I've shown from this trip, was made without chilies, and is closer to the one I first experienced several years ago on my first trip to Korea.
Seven mountain vegetables
It's spring, so mountain vegetables have been in full swing. We receive a basket of them, alongside with some dressed bitter greens. In contrast to Pulhyanggi's rich, complex flavors, Sanchon's preparations and choices of ingredients tend to have a more austere, almost medicinal character.
Gosari wraps with gochujang
Another simple crepe-like dish with fresh, blanched gosari, jp. zenmai, known as bracken in the US. The gochujang made this one more exciting than I expected.
Full of daikon, tofu, scallions, and enoki, this is a very hearty miso stew.
Bellflower root in a spicy sauce
Actually, this might be gobo, but I think this dish is bellflower root. It's very nice... a little sweet-spicy.
Peanuts and honey
Peanuts with a something sweet, probably honey.
This one could turn into a dangerous habit... it's fried kombu, crunchy and slightly salty.
Fried spring vegetables
We received a plate of fried vegetables, made with a fairly heavy batter. I think one of these was fuki, and there was some renkon. It was served just slightly warm.
After-dinner rice confection
These ubiquitous sweets have a puffy, slightly glutinous, slightly crispy texture, and are generally made with various nuts. For me, they're sort of a guilty pleasure, though they don't seem so incredibly indulgent since they're only moderately sweet.
I don't know what possessed me to go to Lotte World, the megalithic shopping center, in Jamsil, complete with indoor ice skating rink and a shooting range. But I did, and of course, I needed lunch.
While touring the food-laden Lotte department store basement section, I acquired some very nice artisanal gochujang, dwaenjang, and ssamjang, which may be responsible for my sudden urge to eat dol sot bibimbap.
But I walked over acres (hectares?) of shopping madness before deciding to do that, narrowly escaping a Disneyland-like hell of a parallel universe constructed inside the 3rd floor of one of the Lotte World buildings meant to resemble a traditional Korean village. When I saw photos outside the entrance featuring bizarre cartoon-like characters in big-headed costumes, I realized that this particular tourist trap was not for me.
And so I moved on in search of food.
As it turns out, most of the building suffers from the same chain-driven mediocrity that any other big shopping mall in the world aspires to, complete with TGI Friday's and KFC and Lotteria. But it looks like it's possible to eat a decent meal even in the cafeteria-like sections of the complex. One of said cafeterias was where I ended up.
You can walk around the cafeteria perusing short menus, then you place your order at a counter in center of things that serves as a hub. The cashier dispatches your order to the appropriate shop electronically. When your number appears on a mechanical sign, you go to the appropriate vendor and pick it up.
My dolsot bibimbap dispatched with the conventional raw egg in favor of a partially cooked one. That may be because they don't heat up the dolsot well enough to completely cook the egg as you stir it into the rice and vegetable mixture. The flavor was respectable, but I've actually had a better, spicier dolsot bibimbap in a department store basement quick-service restaurant in Japan. In a pinch, it works, but I prefer to eat this kind of thing at a small mom & pop place in a decaying old building.