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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Korea Roundup 2011: The Final Highlights -- Fresh Tofu and Cold Noodles to Weather Snow

When it's extremely hot, Koreans eat even hotter foods like samgyetang, or chicken ginseng soup, so it's only natural that when it's extremely cold, Koreans eat even colder foods, like nengmyun, or cold buckwheat noodles.

This beef broth-based dish is very hard to get right. I still haven't found a great place in LA. I got a taste of the OG back in Korea at Hanwoori, which incidentally also serves a very mean jeongol guksoo, or beef noodle soup cooked tableside, that I reviewed a while back.

Here are other highlights.

1. Gamjajeon, or potato pancakes, similar to latkes but less shredded, served at Marohwajeok, which also serves killer yookhoe, excellent quality raw marinated beef strips with Asian pear strips and bulgoki.
2. Modern gujeolpan at Jeongdaham, which was like the original kogi "taco." Usually made out of flour and water, the wraps were colorful based on the additions of black sesame (dark grey) or spinach (green). And the fillings are traditionally different kinds of delicately sliced vegetables or meat. This one had vegetables but dressed in a light spicy mustard sauce that gave it an interesting kick.

Jeongdaham (정다함)
(031) 786-0877
3. The mushroom soup at the same place was also excellent. It tasted so comforting and rich with mushroom aroma and the addition of wild sesame powder that gives anything a very smoky and nutty flavor.

4. And the myulchi bokkeum, with the "candied" dried anchovies staring you in the eye, was crunchy, salty and slightly sweet -- hitting all the right notes.

5. I must give a shout-out to the tiny joints around Dongdaemun like Yeolboonshik (열분식), that invariably and utterly consistently serve fantastic kimbab, tuna rolls with perilla leaves that are made to order, for a meager $2. And on top of that, super spicy and gooey in a good way rabokki, stir-fried rice cakes with al dente ramen noodles, a hard-boiled egg, lots of green onions and fish cakes. The total damage for the entire meal: $5. OMG.
Yeolboonshik (열분식) -- It delivers!
(02) 2237-4535

6. Freshly made tofu at Dubu Maeul: Everything else was mediocre but the huge block of fresh tofu with stir-fried over-ripe kimchi was something I really missed in LA. I used to be able to go to any market's basement and sample piping hot tofu blocks fresh out of the tray. This tofu, made fresh every morning at the restaurant, took me back. Time to make my own tofu at home, perhaps?
Dubu Maeul (두부마을)
(031) 266-3868

7. Galbi and Nakji jiim at Moodol: I'd never had braised short ribs with octopus before, so it was an interesting treat trying this version that was a specialty from Cheolla Province in Korea's Southwestern region. Octopus could easily be rubbery if overcooked but combined with super soft short ribs, they were tender and had just the right level of chewiness. The marinade wasn't overly sweet or salty but just right.
Moodol (무돌)
(02) 515-3088

8. Moving on to desserts, I had a revelation with this rice cake called duteopttuk from Chaegeundam. I could tell it was made with extreme care and skill. It's not sold in your typical rice cake shop but take one bite and you'll taste the cinnamon, pine nuts, chestnuts, walnuts and jujubes, as well as the hints of sweetness from honey and essence from dried yuja rind, also known by its Japanese name, yuzu.
Chaegeondam (채근담)
(02) 555-9173

9. For some serious desserts, we headed to Be Sweet On and had the most spectacularly grandiose and sweet indeed St. Honore cake, apple tartine and a strawberry layered wafer cake. The St. Honore was, in a word, ridiculous. The puffs were perfect, topped with a dark brown and glossy caramel with custard cream on the inside. Wow.
The strawberry layered wafer cake was probably the least memorable in terms of flavor. It was good but not as satisfying as the other two. The strawberry ice cream tasted home-made and was delicious.
The grand finale was the apple tartine, which was monumental in its vertical structure. The puff pastry layers were crumbly, crunchy and a bit on the over-baked side but still excellent. I felt like I was eating a deconstructed chausson au pomme, French apple turnovers that are one of my favorite things in the world to nibble on as a snack (warmed up in an oven, of course). Turnovers a-la-mode at that, with a scoop of home-made vanilla ice cream. I wished I could have finished it but alas, I was wavering between this and the St. Honore that's harder to come by unless you can fly to Paris at a moment's notice.

Be Sweet On
(02) 323-2370

I wish I could have tried more places and traveled outside of Seoul but I'll have to get a rain-check for that. Please share you Seoul eats stories here!

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