Friday, April 24, 2015

Dan can Cook: Spicy Pork Rice Rolls (Jaeyok Kimbap)

Ok, I will admit it. I was a bad boy last week so my lovely wife was a little upset with me. So on Sunday, I had to make it up to her. While she slept, I cleaned the house (even though I still think it would be easier to hire a maid); I went shopping (in the rain...the sacrifices you make for love) and then I made homemade rice rolls or Korean kimbap. 

I have to admit, they turned out pretty darn well. Here is the set up.
Spicy Pork Rice Rolls Set up (Kimbap)
Now the pork, I got some moksal (meat from around the neck) and then I chopped it up really fine and then cooked it with some oil, red chili paste, plum extract (maesil), garlic powder and a bit of sugar. Just make sure to stir or the sauce will stick to the pan and burn. I simply julienned the cucumbers (take out the seeds) and carrots. For the rice, I took it out, and added some lemon vinegar (my new favorite vinegar in Korea. I also bought some kimbap seaweed, sesame leaves (gaennip) and some yellow turnip.

It's pretty easy to put it together. This is my first attempt. Rice first, but be sure to get some plastic gloves or it will stick all over your hands.


Afterwards, I added the spicy pork and rolled using a kimbap mat. I brushed it with sesame oil and then cut.

Korean kimbap sesame oil
I have to admit, not so pretty. So I changed up my method on the second attempt. 

Spicy Pork
I found out the you need to separate the pork from the rice so I put the cucumbers, turnip and carrots on the bottom, the sesame leaves on top and then the pork. They looked and tasted much better. The good thing is that my wife forgave me but now requests I make these more often. 

Spicy Pork Rice rolls Jayok Kimbap

Friday, April 17, 2015

Grand Opening at Booming G

Lasagna at Booming G
Salmon at Booming G
I was lucky to be invited to the opening of Booming G in the New Sidus HQ Tower in Gangnam. The chef is Bora Song who is well known in the foodie community. She has set up a great Italian focused menu and she uses her creativity to add depth of flavor to her dishes. 

While I was there I had an excellent free-form lasagna made with fresh noodles. I loved the meat and sauce on it. There is a secret ingredient in it to give it body. Ask the chef to find out what it is. 
Risotto from Booming G
Chicken Wing from Booming G
Her mushroom risotto was creamy and poppy. I thought finally I found a place that made risotto with arborio rice but nope she hacked it. The poppy texture was made by adding barley and rice. We also had a salmon dish that had crispy skin and salmon cooked just right. 

They have a decent beer selection as well. This is one of those places I will be back to visit and I hope it does well. 
Fricken Toy Museum at Booming G

Chef Bora from Booming G

Oh, and in and around the restaurant is a fricken toy museum with all sorts of stuff from Star Wars to Marvel. Awesome. 

Congrats Chef Bora!

Booming G
267-15 Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul basement 1
Open on your mobile map with this link

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tteokbokki: The Beloved Spicy, Chewy Rice Cake Dish of Korea

Korean tteokbokki 떡보끼
Tteokbokki or the westernized pronounciation: Topokki is one of those dishes you have to experience to understand the hype surrounding it. It is a beloved dish in Korea that invokes nostalgic memories and emotions. It is a child's special meal after a long, grueling day at school or a dish shared between girls to discuss gossip. It is a dish with many different variations such as with cheese sauce, sesame soy, and even tomato. These days the trend is for gukmul Tteokbokki or spicy broth rice cakes. The noodles are in light broth that is spicy and sweet.

I have seen many a Koreans debate about their favorite topokki and about the merits of different styles and sauces. Some like thick long rods of rice cake while others like the smaller and chewier nugget-style rice cakes. There is also a debate between the fluffier flour made cakes and the must chewier rice-made cakes. Toppings range from simple fish cake to various seafood such as octopus, mussels, shrimp to other ingredients like cheese, beef bulgogi, dumplings, ramen, egg...the possibilities are endless. After you eat the dish there is inevitably sauce and other bits left over so it is possible to make a fried rice with the leftovers by adding seaweed laver, sesame oil and corn.

When I meet international travelers on food tours they are all curious about this dish. They perceive the hype surrounding it but they can’t seem to fathom what it really is. I guess to travelers seeing it for the first time, it may look like a red hot mess. Some of my guests have seen this dish before on Korean dramas and television so they are curious. They want to try it but they assume that it is very, very spicy and they don’t really know what the rice cakes or the fish cakes in the sauce are. Some guests have even asked me if the dish has tripe or pig skin in it. Also with so many places from street carts to store fronts selling this dish, they can’t decide where to try it.

For those that don’t know what topokki is, it is rice cake noodles in a spicy chili sauce. The dish is said to have evolved from a royal court cuisine dish that was made with rice cakes, mushrooms, carrots, and beef in a sesame-soy-sauce seasoning. Rice cakes in olden times were a luxury that was reserved for special occasions and for the rich. In the mid 19 hundreds, because of advances in technology and rice surpluses this ingredient was more readily available.

It is widely believed that the red chili paste version recipe was invented by accident in 1953, when street food vendor Ma Bok-rim accidentally dropped a rice cake into her father-in-law’s black bean noodle dish. It tasted good, so she started experimenting with sauces and seasonings.

She found that the red chili paste tasted the best and started selling it from her street cart. She would sell topokki along with steamed corn and potatoes to those going to a nearby theatre. The dish was a big hit and soon she upgraded her street stall to a restaurant and others copied her. Her restaurant can still be found near the entrance of Sindang-dong Topokki Town, proudly proclaiming “Since 1953.” 

Mabongnim Halmeoni Tteokbokki

Opened in 1953 by a woman known as Mabongnim, the restaurant takes pride in its 60-plus years of service. They serve a Korean casserole dish called tteokbokki which has chewy rice cake noodles in a spicy soup broth that has noodles, fish cakes, seafood, dumplings and more. This restaurant started as a small food stall that was serving snacks to guests going to the nearby theatre when a mistake was made. A rice cake noodle fell into the black bean sauce and Mabongnim had an eureka moment. She cooked the noodles in a sauce and tteokbokki was invented. As Mabongnim gained popularity, other similar establishments opened nearby, and eventually, formed “tteokbokki street.” The elderly owner is well known. She even starred in a red-pepper paste ad in the 1990s. The secret of this restaurant’s tteokbokki lies in the sauce. Here red pepper paste is mixed with Chinese soybean paste for a sweet and spicy taste.

Mabongnim Halmeoni Tteokbokki
Click Here for mobile map Jung-gu Dasan-ro 35 gil 5 (Sindangdong)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Parts Unknown Seoul Episode with Anthony Bourdain

Daniel Gray with Anthony Bourdain in Seoul

Wow. One of the highlights of my life as a foodie was to meet Mr. Anthony Bourdain when he came to Seoul. When he finally came to Seoul with his team, I was excited and I hoped that maybe I would be asked to be on the show, but I didn't know what would come of it. Joe McPherson of Zenkimchi was working as the fixer on the production so I thought they already had their foodie for the show. I was lucky to meet up with the lovely Nari, who is a producer with Zero Point Zero Productions and director Marc. We met up for noodles and we talked about the show and I gave suggestions for guests on the show. I then recommended some of friends for the show and some other food experts that I knew. The production seemed to be quite big and they were looking for people that had real insights into Korea. I recommended my friend, DJ Shine from the rap group Drunken Tiger. I am really looking to see how his interview goes.

What was interesting is that I had something to do with the steps leading up to Mr. Bourdain's return to Korea. I had first worked with Zero Point Zero back in 2009 as a fixer for Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie Show. That was my first job working in video and I am proud of that episode. Over the years I got to work with lots of other productions and then I was asked by Euny Hong, author of the Birth of Korean Cool to help set up interviews and translations for her book. I didn't know then that Nari would give Mr. Bourdain a copy of that book. Apparently, Mr. Bourdain liked the book it was one of the reasons he wanted to make his triumphant return to Korea. Small world.

I think the show will show the real side of Korea and not the sterile, healthy, beautiful, castrated view that many would like you to see. Korea is sophisticated and beautiful, but I feel the kinetic, exciting parts are what will draw people to Korea. Korea is fun. It's exciting. The food can be messy and smelly, but it tastes real. People like to drink in Korea and I think that is fine as well.

I was so happy to meet one of my heroes and I got to be on his show. Reading Kitchen Confidential made me want to work in the restaurant industry. After university, I worked in restaurants to survive and I thought my calling was to be a chef. I started attending culinary school until my mentor, Chef Lou, gave me deeper insight into the industry. He said that my silly degree wasn't going to get me a better job in the restaurant industry and it was simply a vanity project. He told me work and learn on the job, save up and buy my own place. Chef Lou was a bitter old guy that had been through it all. He put in his time and he had places of his own, which closed. He was working as a head chef of the restaurant I was at because he needed to live. He was a lifer and I hope he is well today.

So what was it like to meet Anthony Bourdain? Amazing. He is a remarkable person. He can eat and drink anyone under the table and yet maintain a zenlike composure. He was the star on set but he would direct how he wanted the scenes to play out from the background. He had incredible insight into Korean concepts of Han. I simply tried to keep up with him and stay sober.

Watch the Seoul episode on April 26th at 9pm ET/PT on CNN.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Crazy Spicy Cheese Ribs at Hong Brick

Crazy Spicy Pork Ribs with Cheese from Hong Brick
I believe that food should be fun and social. Luckily there are others that think that as well. Friday night was the first Seoul Food and Travel Meetup and we had a great time. We explored the area of Garusugil, ate some food and got to know each other. It was fun and casual. We had some people from America here on vacation Keren and her daughters from California. Keren runs the Haydon Street Inn, a bed and breakfast in Healdsburg California. We also had AK Salling who is running Scandinavian Cooking Classes in Seoul called Mad & Haggye. We had an expat teacher Natalie and a new arrival, David join us.

The Review

So our first stop was at Hong and Brick which is famous for their cheese fondue and spicy pork ribs dish. You can get it at different levels of spiciness. Unfortunately, we did spicy. We should have asked for medium. It is spicy. really spicy. Like hurt your belly and be careful when you go pee spicy. It was really good dipped in the melted cheese which had some corn and peas in it. The ribs were tasty. They were charbroiled and then covered in sauce. I liked the addition of the rice cakes as well which took away some of the heat and added a chewy texture. It was pretty spicy though and they didn't really have much in the way of side dishes other than some pickles and more corn. Surprisingly, the corn helped to cool down the spiciness. They also had peach juice but it wasn't Cool Peesse Brand (yes there is actually a brand called that). Peach juice in Korea will actually cool your mouth off. This one didn't so much. Go for the real stuff if you can get it.

Afterwards, we got the fried rice which had kimchi and seaweed in it. It was good.

Overall, not so bad for the price and it was fun. For 6 of us it came to about 73,000 won and we had a couple beers there. It's not gourmet, but it was a fun place to dine.

Hong Brick
2 stars out of 4
Click here to open the map app on your phone Seoul Gangnamgu Sinsadong 536-7
서울시 감남구신사동 536-7
Crazy Spicy Pork Ribs with Cheese from Hong Brick

Crazy Spicy Pork Ribs with Cheese from Hong Brick

Crazy Spicy Pork Ribs with Cheese from Hong Brick