Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Weekend Bites: Chef Meili, W-Mall Food Court and A Scary Baby

It was a good foodie weekend. I met up with some friends. I was interviewed by the BBC for a segment on young entrepreneurs in Korea (yeesh, I don't think I'm young anymore, but I'll take it) and I ate a lot of good stuff. Here is a round up.

Chef Meili's Austrian Deli
Chef Meili
First of all, I visited my old friend Christian Meilinger over the weekend. I had heard that he had moved on to Austria but his sausages and deli meats would stay in Korea just taken over by Mission Springs Restaurant. Apparently, yes and no. He is still here because he feels he has a responsibility to his customers and so he has set up a small deli over by Hannam-dong. He is serving up his handmade sausages and delicatessen treats. The place is not as fancy as his last place but the food is still excellent.

Chef Meili
Austrian Deli
Click here for the map on your phone Seoul, Seongdong-gu Oksu-dong 475

Food Court at W-Mall

25 Layer Cutlets from W-Mall
W-Mall Food Court

It looks like the gourmet food court scene is not going to die off any time soon. After shopping with the wife, we went to the food court in the W-mall to get some bites. The space is very nice however, the place you order is super cramp and disorganized. I think for such a nice space, they should have automated machines or something. Anyway, while its nice to get decent food brands in a food court, it comes down to the staff. Some of the stuff were fine, but I felt others were not. Especially, Chunshin Pocha. This was one of my favorite places back when Samcheongdong was a quiet, unknown place. They served amazing dumplings and noodles before they franchised. Now the meat in the mandu that I got was...alien looking and the dumplings looked like they just poached it in oil instead of cooking it. The noodle dish looked like Chinese noodles but they lacked salt and taste. My pregnant wife was disappointed and that is not something you want to do. We also had the 25 layer pork cutlets and the tteokbokki from Gukdae tteokbokki. These were alright. The 25 layer pork cutlet from 25 Katsu was interesting but not much different from regular pork cutlets. My wife and I decided we liked their udon soup.

W-Mall Food Court
Click here to open the map on your mobile Geumchan-gu Gasan-dong 4th Floor

After lunch we went shopping for baby stuff and we spotted this scary baby trying to get out.
Scary Baby

Letters to Daniel: Is it difficult to Start a Business in Korea

A special thanks to the production team from the BBC to come to our little bar, Brew 3.15 in Seoul to interview me about being a young entrepreneur in Korea. Thanks! 
A question that I am asked frequently is, "Daniel, is it difficult to start a business in Korea?"

I have to say, "yes and no." It first depends on the type of business you are trying to start and your visa status. I won't go into all the different visas and such. I mean you can find that out here: http://southkorea.angloinfo.com/working/starting-a-business/ Apparently, now if you are trying to get a foreign investor visa you need to invest 100 million into the country. But I have heard this figure change from 50 million to 250 million.

I have an F-4 visa which means I am an overseas Korean. If I was married to a Korean, I could get an F-2, or I could get an F-5 visa (permanent resident) visa and I could easily do business here.

So...if you have a visa that will let you work here then the answer is, "yes." Now keep in mind, that I do startups. I like to start small to figure out the market and keep overhead low. I also plan on working at my companies for a while until I can get it to scale and then I decide if I will sell or hire staff and scale it. In the past, I have invested in small companies, been a partner and owner. Some have worked out and some have not.

Overall, the speed of setting up and doing a business here is very fast. For example, for our bar, Brew 3.14 was set up in a matter of days. I think about 5 actually working days once the lease for the previous owner was over and passed over to us.

Day 1: Take a restaurant training class at a government office.
Day 2: Health Inspection from the government office
Day 3: Check to sign over all the paperwork and inspect the space (the previous owner had it gutted and cleaned in 2 days).
Day 4: Sign over all the leases and licenses from the previous owner to new owner
Day 5: Retrieve Health Inspection, pay rent and deposits and start renovations.

Construction took about 2 and a half weeks and we were open in three. Keep in mine that my first place was a very little craft beer bar. I'm sure that a bigger place would have taken a lot more time.

However, the things to keep in mind is that in order to do a business, it is important to get the proper zoning and licensing to do the work you would like. I had an associate of mine want to start an English academy in Korea. He got initial permissions and found out about the rules and regulations about the size, number of classrooms, teaching rooms, bathrooms, etc to be classified as an English academy. However, during construction the space was reduced by the addition of walls and other constructions. In the end, the space was just short of meeting the qualification requirements by 10 centimeters. Because of this he was only able to be classified as a private classroom where he would be required to teach the classes himself and he couldn't hire others. His business failed soon after.

In the case of my restaurant (and this is why restaurants cost more) the licenses for food, zoning and liquor transferred over. Be sure that you do due diligence to find out about the previous establishment and sign over all debts and bills. You don't want to start a new business with a large overdue electricity bill after all.

Also, if you are starting a business with partners, be sure to get contracts. If you are setting up a corporation, there are some costs involved with legal help plus for foreigners, you would need to get a special stamp or signature set up at your government office. This gets a bit hairy so I would recommend you get an expert for that.

Well, I hope that was helpful. I have to admit that it is much easier and faster to set up a business here than in America (I don't know about the rest of the world). Maintaining it and profiting from it, that's another story.


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 http://goo.gl/maps/oDgRN

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)