Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
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.

On the streets: Namdaemun market, tasting hoddeok

Unlike Tokyo, Seoul still has a vibrant street merchant scene. Every subway station seems to have a few ajumma peddling some sort of medicinal mountain vegetable, bottles of some morning drinking yogurt concoctions, and the occasional roll of gimbap. The average newsstand/kiosk has a pile of popcorn or puffed barley snacks ready for the taking. And some stretches of sidewalk have an endless series of ddeokbokgi, odeng and skewered meat yatai.

In some cases, places housed in permanent buildings open up right out into the street, and these offer the best of both worlds: fresh, inexpensive street food, and access to refrigeration and handwashing facilities.

Streetside meat and sugar

Streetside ajumma preparing sweet Korean pancakes 

We happened on this shop, where an efficient ajumma was constantly preparing fresh hoddeok while taking orders, exchanging money, and serving a steady stream of customers.

Pressing the hoddeok flat

Tamping down the hoddeok

You must have hoddeok at least once when visiting Korea. Essentially a yeasted pancake stuffed with brown sugar, often featuring peanuts, walnuts or sesame seeds, they are occasionally flavored with green tea or other ingredients. I'm almost always most impressed by the simplest versions. These are sold in molten form straight from the grill by various street vendors. Some use a flat teppan style griddle and a flat metal tamper, and a few use gas-powered waffle-iron-like contraptions that press the pancakes flat as they bake.

Assembling the next order

Gathering hoddeok for the next big spender

Each hoddeok gets a very brief rest at the side of the grill, but orders come in so fast that they still reach your little hands in a tempting but dangerously hot state.

Brown sugar gooey goodness oozing molten hot out of the hoddeok pancake

The brown sugar-cinnamon filling bleeds right out of the broken pancake.

At 500 KRW per piece (about 55-60 cents), they are an ideal afternoon snack.

 

Pulhyanggi: cuisine of the imperial court, Part 2

If you're properly royal, you save the rice for last. At Pulhyanggi (see part 1), you have two options: Typical steamed rice, probably also better than the average peasant mother will make, or, if you like, nurungji (scorched rice), which is prepared from roasted rice and added water. This is rice from the bottom of a metal pot that has browned from long holding. Almost all over Asia, this slightly "damaged" rice is regarded rather nostalgically because it has such a pleasing nutty aroma.

Scorched rice

Nurungji, scorched rice with water, walnut, pine nuts

For the mass market, there are now any number of scorched rice products in Korea, sold dry or even as a microwavable product. Pulhyanggi does things the old-fashioned way, of course. We receive ours in a stoneware bowl, topped with a walnut and a couple of pine nuts.

Rice accompaniments

Banchan and Pulhyanggi for the rice course

Rice isn't complete in Korea without a suitable set of side dishes (banchan), and if you were suitably royal, and had an army of servants at your disposal, you'd expect to have something remarkable. I think we had a total of 9 or 10 side dishes.

Scallion wrapped vegetables with gochujang

Scallion wrapped vegetables with gochujang

Painstakingly wrapped, matchstick cut blanched and raw vegetables.

Simmered renkon

Simmered renkon

We wanted more of this lotus root dish.

Seasoned greens

Seasoned greens 

Shiitake mushrooms

Korean shiitake side dish

These mushrooms were served very lightly seasoned and almost dry in texture.

Daikon, carrot and nori

Daikon, carrot and gim

Probably the most strongly seasoned dish in this set, this daikon and carrot dish, mixed with gim and the whites of scallions, has a bit of sesame oil, something like the muk from the previous set of courses.

Marinated Konnyaku

Marinated konnyaku

This is a surprising treatmeant of the devil's tongue tuber, konnyaku... minimalist but flavorful.

And a little something sweet

Korean sweets

After we look suitably defeated, the waitstaff comes by with a few small things to settle our palates. The meal ends with some wedges of surprisingly good Korean pears, a small serving of a sweet Korean herbal drink, and this nice little confection.

 

Pulhyanggi: cuisine of the imperial court, Part 1

Pulhyanggi restaurant, Seoul, Gangnam-gu, Samseong-dong

 On my two previous trips to Korea, I've been to locations of Pulhyanggi at least twice. (A friend once took me to a similar style of restaurant for lunch, but I wasn't quite sure of the name).

It's easily the most remarkable place I've eaten in Korea.

I couldn't imagine going to Seoul without eating there again, and I really wanted Hiromi to have a chance to try it, so we made plans to eat dinner there on Saturday night. With the help of our hotel staff, we obtained written instructions to give to the taxi driver, and we went on our way.

The most stunning location of Pulhyanggi is located in Gangnam, a short taxi ride from COEX mall. There are at least a half-dozen branches around the city, including one in the basement of Seoul Tower, but this location, in Samseong-dong, is housed in a building designed with a classical Korean architectural aesthetic, and also features a stage for live musical and dance performances using traditional Korean instruments.

The style of service is reminscent of kaiseki-ryouri in Japan, and Pulhyanggi itself was founded by a former mountain temple monk. At least part of the appeal for me is that I can look forward to having an extravagant, memorable vegetarian meal, although there are certainly more meaty selections on the menu. Ordering is roughly table d'hôte; you select from one of perhaps five multicourse menus, organized by price, and then proceed for the rest of the evening to try to keep pace with the dozens of dishes that come to your table.

Hiromi and I respectively ordered an omnivorous and vegetarian version of the same menu, at roughly KRW 55,000/person ($55-60). There is a more budget friendly choice at about KRW 39,000, and certainly the option to treat yourself to one of several even more extravagant menus, but this price point strikes a good balance.

Some of the early dishes were familiar to us from other Korean dining experiences, but somehow the quality beat almost every humble rendition we've tasted.

Chap chae

chapchae, but better than your mom can make.

No matter how fondly one esteems one's Korean mother's chapchae, it's hard to imagine anyone outdoing this version. I don't know what made it better, but we were surprised to see such a simple dish turned into something so memorable.

Muk

Seasoned muk

One of the many starch-based jellies common in Korea, jealously guarded and consumed by Hiromi.

Salad

 Pumpkin salad

A surprisingly richly flavored salad, perhaps accented with a hint of roasted pumpkin seed oil.

Mul gimchi

Mul gimchi

A remarkably sappari "water kimchi," a variety of kimchi fermented in a large amount of liquid for several days. Although the vegetables in this variety of kimchi are tasty, mul gimchi is appreciated best by taking sips of the mild brine with a spoon. Lightly acidic, complex, and refreshing.

Grilled mushrooms and roasted ginko nuts

Grilled Korean matsutake with ginko nuts

These seemed to be grilled matsutake, although I'm not sure where one finds pine mushrooms this time of year.

This evening's performers

Traditional Korean music and dance performers, with two tourists

Our meal is then briefly interrupted when the staff suggests we might like to pose for a touristy photo with the musicians and dancers.

Tofu with nori and matchstick vegetables

Tofu with matchstick-cut vegetables

I receive tofu with a tasty sauce (perhaps ginger and a little dwaenjang, a.k.a. miso, though the particulars escaped me) and matchstick sliced vegetables, along with another couple of small vegetable side dishes.

Shellfish

Butterflied shrimp? My seafood knowledge has shrunk since I became vegetarian...

Hiromi gets a dramatically plated shellfish dish.

Stuffed tofu

 Korean-style stuffed atsuage

I have a shiitake-stuffed tofu with a slice of sweet potato, deep-fried and served at room temperature.

Jeon

Three jeon

We both share three types of jeon, pancakes with various vegetable fillings.

Fried vegetables 

Korean-style fried vegetables 

Both of us have a course of fried vegetables; Hiromi's had some meat or fish. This is the only not entirely successful dish we tasted, as the batter was heavier and oilier than we would have hoped. The best tempura in Japan is crispy without tasting greasy. These items seemed to be cooked at a lower temperature with a thicker coating. The result was crunchy but slightly tough.

Meatless "Steamed beef"

Kelp-based vegetarian "steamed beef" dish

Apparently made with kelp, this temple-style deception was a surprisingly pleasant meat analog. I think it was fashioned from wheat gluten, but I'm not entirely sure. The server explained that this dish is unique to this restaurant. Hiromi received a parallel course made with actual beef.

Nine-sectioned dish assembled by our server

Korean nine-sectioned dish assembled by our waitress

A classic dish of the royal court, the nine-section dish is simply thin crepe-like pancakes and various vegetable fillings (one is generally meat or seafood, but they prepare a vegetarian alternative for me).  Our server prepares all four pancakes for us a la minute, though when I visited this with Korean colleagues several years ago, the staff only prepared the first one or two as a demonstration, as we could be expected to figure out the rest.

Nine-sectioned dish pancakes

These are then eaten with a white-colored, slightly sweet and slightly acidic dipping sauce.

Seems like a lot of food, no?

We were already fairly satiated, especially after two other hearty meals on the same day. But we hadn't had rice yet...

See Part 2...

 

Half day trip to Icheon: All about the rice

Hiromi and I met in Seoul late at night Friday, and woke up insanely early (6am) after too little sleep. After a breakfast of al bap for Hiromi (tarako or cod roe on rice) and cool bibimbap for me, we got on the bus to meet an eGullet acquaintance in Icheon, a town I've only previously visited for its biennial pottery festival.

Bus to Icheon

And we're off...

Hiromi en route to Icheon

Our driver gets caught shoulder-driving and passing on the right...

D'oh! Pulled over...

He gets a little scolding.

Polite conversation between two professionals.

Finally, we make it to Icheon, which, in addition to being a pottery destination, is also a major rice producing area. At Cheng Mok restaurant in Icheon, it's all about the rice.

 Hot bowl of fancy rice

Apparently, this particular rice and preparation, ssal bap, was considered suitable for royalty. But you might want a few things to accompany the rice...

A few side dishes to accompany our meal

Some simple pajeon (scallion pancakes)...

Pajeon

Ssam (lettuce and other leaves) for wrapping various treats...

Ssam

Gratuitous gimchi (kimchi) porn... 

Kimchi (gimchi)  

 Hobak (Korean zucchini)

Dwaenjang (miso) soup with cabbage.

Grilled fish (for the carnivores in our party)  

We leave fat and happy...

 

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I like bread, but I miss good rolls

I lived on Brötchen, the “little breads” that we’d just call “rolls” in English, during my year and a half as a student in Germany. Insanely fresh, they came in a good dozen varieties at most bakeries.

Thanks to my tiny budget and complicated school schedule, I’d often grab a couple of rolls between classes, and eat them as a breakfast and lunch all in one…

Somehow, in spite of a large number of perfectly respectable bakeries in Seattle, savory Brötchen scarcely make an appearance in Seattle. I still sometimes miss the ready availability of pumpkin seed rolls with whole wheat, hearty and chewy onion rolls, Gouda-cheese topped buns, and even the more humble sesame or poppy seed rolls known as Kaiserbrötchen. The one thing I have been able to find decent renditions of in Seattle is the Laugenbrötchen, or pretzel roll, thanks to the Columbia City Bakery (and my occasional home-baked efforts). Sad versions of the Kaiser roll are occasionally available at various supermarkets around town, but they never have the character I expect of them.

I recently made a bunch of arugula pesto and stored it in the freezer. Somehow I carelessly transfered this to the refrigerator on Saturday, so I needed to accelerate consumption. I made a big batch of a potato-based yeast dough on Sunday, originally meant for a pizza, but as usual, I had a bit too much for that purpose.

Usually that would lead me to make a big loaf of bread. But it turns out that I had a very high-moisture dough… I actually just ran out of flour in the morning when throwing the dough together. Coincidentally, that’s perfect for small rolls. I decided to wed the arugula pesto with the dough, adding a bit more parmesan for texture contrast, and these little crusty, moist, and flavorful rolls emerged.

Arugula pesto potato rolls

Jagaimo-arugula-pesto-pan

Last dinner with Hiromi

I guess it’s a little sad that I’ve taken several weeks to get around to writing anything about our last dinner…

Hiromi got a little restaurant weary after a few weeks of farewell dinners and , even though we generally ate very well… Over three or so weeks, we found ourselves at Volterra, Lark, Licorous, Sambar, BOKA, Nishino, Monsoon, Marco’s Supperclub, Yea’s Wok, and probably a few others…

It was a whirlwind tour of Seattle’s restaurant scene. The only time I usually go to restaurants with that much frequency is when I’m out of the country, travelling. It also hasn’t even really been in my means to do that for the last few years… even though I’ve got a reasonably reliable income stream again, it was a painful dent in the wallet, but it was worthwhile.

Anyway, she requested that I cook something for her last Seattle dinner before returning to Japan, so I tried to do a nice weeknight meal.

Goat cheese ravioli with shiitake-caper sauce

I bought some goat cheese ravioli, and Hiromi had picked up various mushrooms at Sosio’s in the Pike Place Market. So I made a sauce with shiitake, some kind of shimeji, capers, shallots and a bit of butter and cream.

Eringii-pizza

The mushroom stash also included some eringii. We had some nice tomatoes but no basil, but for some reason I did have dill… so I made an improvised tomato sauce of chopped tomatoes, dill, and garlic. It turned out to be a good match for the mushrooms. The only thing I regret is slicing the eringii lengthwise, as they did get a bit chewy and tended to slice off the crust when bitten into.

We had recently made a trip to Chateau Ste. Michelle and bought about 12 bottles of wine, which is a lot for us. For this dinner, we decided to dig into a very decent Riesling labeled Eroica. It was still a couple of weeks before Halloween, but we had a couple of the trappings, thanks to a cleverly presented gift from a friend of ours and an impulse candle purchase at the Ballard Market.

Eroica

I vaguely recall considering making a salad or some vegetable side dish, but either I skipped it at the last minute or it escaped Hiromi’s photographic attention. It was, after all, a weeknight… I wasn’t home until fairly late, thanks to evil traffic and a need to make a quick supermarket stop. I wanted to make something a little exciting, but still practical for after-work preparation.

Mangodanger

Our dessert involved some pureed Kent mango, lime juice and rum… I’m sure something else went into this, perhaps a banana or something, but my memory fails me. It’s not the rum’s fault… really… It was only there to add a touch of evil to our smoothie.

Dinner was all last minute and hurried… Hiromi threw together the pizza dough from inadequate instructions I gave only a couple of hours before I was supposed to come home. I only decided to make the pasta after it caught my attention at Trader Joe’s on the way home, when I was grabbing a couple of things.

But it was a nice quiet sendoff before I took her to the airport the next morning. 

Laugenbrötchen

I impatiently made Laugen with an inadequately smooth dough a few weeks ago, and the skin never quite became glatt enough to make for attractive rolls.

I’ve actually made nicer Laugen before, but I was careless that Sunday…

Laugenbroetchen

Anyway, it’s another thing that Hiromi became a fan of, thanks in particular to the Columbia City Bakery, while in Seattle. So I thought I’d make some one morning.

Anyway, the technique is not particularly interesting… I just made a yeast dough, a customary Natron  (baking soda) solution brought to a boil, and stewed the rolls a minute or so, pressed the buns into some coarse salt, and baked until browned.

With more careful attention to detail, and a slightly warmer kitchen on the day in question, I’d have a somewhat smoother skin, but they tasted fairly decent.

Wasted demo day

I set out to Portland to do an in-store demo this morning, but neglected to check a weather or traffic report. Accordingly, about 15 minutes before hitting Portland I started driving through tremendous amounts of slush and sleet. Once I reached the bridge over the Columbia River I started to have second thoughts, and as I slid onto the I-405 ramp I decided I should probably make a quick call to Uwajimaya.

They said almost no one was in the store, and I told them I'd be turning back. When I saw the ice-covered junction for Highway 26, I realized why nobody wanted to be in Beaverton, so I continued along I-405 until it re-joined I-5. I stopped around the Portland Convention Center to grab some quick lunch, but many restaurants were shut, presumably due to the ice.

I headed back to Seattle after getting an extra dose of coffee. My day, and about a tank of gas, was mostly wasted. Next time I'll check the weather conditions before heading out of town.

The last few days I've been busy, but I wouldn't go so far as to say I've always been spending my time well. I have a lot of work to accomplish, including some tasks that should have been settled last month.

More demos, less drama

This was a pretty quiet weekend after two months of mostly good sales results from in-store demonstrations. It felt a little like summer only with less store traffic.

I want to get rid of a little bit more candy before Chinese New Year shopping kicks in, since a few items from the fall shipment are still in stores (though, thankfully, not much of it). Despite pretty good sales, I made the mistake of leaving about 4 cartons of candy back in Seattle during the tour to the Bay Area, so some of it was sitting around when it could have been sold to customers down there. Not much of that is left, but it's irritating that I had such good sales and still have the risk of a little expired inventory after everything, mostly due to my inability to move some items from one place to another while I was out of town.

Thankfully, the risk of expired inventory will decrease to a very small number one I get another 12-14 stores selling the candy. I won't have to order too far in advance of need at that point.

In other news, I really need to get myself some winter exercise gear. It's so cold that I have even more excuses for not jogging these days.

Satsumaimo soufflé

So I’ve had this dangerous affinity for meringues in the last year or so. I like them on cakes and pies, I like them on savory dishes, and I sometimes like them all by themselves.

This occasionally results in something approaching culinary genius, but more often than not, something goes slightly wrong. The most common problem is usually my piping effort. My technical mastery of piping can, more often than not, be fairly compared to the artistry of a six year old. Occasionally I just over-bake them by a few minutes and they come out far too dark.

Sweet potato souffle in situ

This one decided to explode.

You may not see it here, because I tried to find the best possible angle, but my meringue mostly deflated before it ever finished baking. It spread out more than it puffed up.

In fact, it’s technically more of a soufflé than a meringue. What I did was roast a Japanese sweet potato, slice it in half lengthwise, and scoop out a good amount of flesh, which I mashed. Then I mixed the mashed flesh with egg yolk while the flesh was still warm. Separately, I beat egg whites into a meringue, adding a small amount of sugar and a heavy pinch of salt. Then I gently folded the sweet potatoes back into the meringue, and filled the scooped out part of the potato with the mixture. To finish it off, I piped a bit more of the mixture on top with a star tip, and sprinkled black sesame seeds on top. I then baked the dish at about 375F until it was nicely browned.

I think I used a bit too much egg white. But the result, even if a bit ugly and quite technically flawed, tasted pretty nice. I added enough salt to the mixture to make this a savory side dish rather than a dessert, but you could certainly adjust the preparation to make it work either way.

Done right, it could look quite elegant, but I’m almost happy with my admittedly rustic results. It’s a little wafuu without being something you’d typically find in most Japanese mothers’ repertoires, and compatible with both Japanese and American taste sensibilities.

Next time, I want to make some adjustments to improve the stability of the foam. But it’ll go on one of my menus again.

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