Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Korean Full Moon Festival: 정월대보름

Full Moon Photo by Moyan Brenn
Wow…March has a lot of foodie holidays. March 3rd was the unofficial holiday of Pork Belly because pork belly has 3 layers of fat and March is the 3rd month of the year. On the 14th, you have white day coming guys should be ready to take their ladies out for a celebration.

This year it is also the first full moon of the new year or what we call Jeongwol Deborum So…Happy Jeongwol Deborum Everyone! Yay! It’s the first full moon of the lunar calendar on March 5th and it is definitely worth celebrating. So how do you celebrate? I’m going to get to that but first, let me tell you a little about why this holiday is so important. 

Korea in the past was mainly an agricultural society and it depended on a good harvest to survive. If there was a drought or pestilence like bugs, many people might not live to survive the new year. Plus, in the past, the average person did not have access to pharmacies and health care so good health was truly a blessing. Korea, in the past, mainly went by the lunar calendar because it better marked the seasons and times for harvests. The first full moon was a giant beacon of hope. It signified the beginning of the end of the long winter and the arrival of Spring.

So, obviously, this was a day of optimism and celebration but also full of superstitions. During the day, a game that children would play on the chilly day was to visit friends call out to their friends. If their friends answered, they would say "Ne towa sawa” which means, “Buy my heat.” Little kids were selling a raincheck on the heat from the forthcoming summer months to their friends now, since when it is hot, it would be worthless then.
Nuts for 정월대보름 picture by 정암사

To celebrate, people would clean the house and prepare special snacks and a meal. The most important snacks were hardshell nuts such as peanuts, chestnuts and walnuts. On the first full moon, each person would get the number of nuts according to their age. Then, they would crack the nuts using their teeth. The sound would keep away bad spirits, the nuts would provide essential nutrients, and the use of the teeth, they believed, would strengthen the teeth for the coming year.
Ogokbap Picture by RDA 
Ogokbap Picture by 정직한농부

It was also important to have ogukbap or 5-grain rice. This would be mix of rice, millet, sorghum, beans and barley. It was important that this nutritious rice was to be taken and shared with 3 different families for luck. They would eat the rice with rehydrated vegetables from the previous years harvest and yaksik cookies. For drink, people would have guibalgi-sul or "clear-hearing" alcohol. This special alcohol was the clear alcohol from making rice beer and they said that it would help people hear clearly.
정월대보름 Picture by
At night time, the villages would continue the celebration with a large bonfires to burn rice straw and other wastes from the previous year. This would kill any eggs of pestilence and the burned wood would then create fertile soil for the new year. Plus, it’s really cool to dance and have a party around a big fire under a full moon.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gangnam Review: Helen's Kitchen : Rice Wine Bar

Helen's Kitchen

Helen’s Kitchen : Korean Cloudy Rice Wine Bar

Makgeolli is called farmer’s alcohol because it is a simple alcohol made from ground rice, water and yeast (nuruk). Served chilled, this drink has a crisp taste and it is slightly carbonated so it goes well with greasy dishes such as onion or potato pancake or spicy dishes as sauteed pork in chili paste or kimchi and tofu. Makgeolli can differ from city to city and the taste can be altered by the use of different rice or by adding bean, corn, herbs, and even fruit like raspberry.

Helen’s Kitchen offers a wide range of artisan makgeollis served with traditional dishes such as savory seafood and onion pancakes, tofu with kimchi, acorn jelly with chive salad, and grilled garlic octopus that are a fine match with the drink. They have seasonal makgeolli's and specials on most nights. At Helen's Kitchen you can taste a wide range of different makgeolli's. They have makgeolli's at different price points as well. You can try the very common Seoul makgeolli (4,000 won) to some that might cost 20,000 won a bottle. At this pub, they have over 25 different types of rice wine drinks.

I can't say it is my favorite Makgeolli bar, but it is great for Gangnam. They really try their best to show the wide range of rice wines and the food is cooked right. Now, I didn't see a Helen in the Kitchen (I think there was a Mr. Kim), so I don't know what the meaning of the name means. I should have asked the owner, but I think it was the 3rd stop and at that point my conversation skills were limited to talking about...forgettable stuff. The kitchen is not the main draw for this place- it's the wide variety of rice wines. Sure, it is much more expensive than other places but everything in Gangnam is 20 to 30% higher. But in comparison to other places in the area, Helen's kitchen isn't too bad. You can get out of there nicely drunk and full for about 15,000 won a person.

The atmosphere is comfortable and the staff are very friendly.

Recommended makgeollis are: Takbaeggi, Saeng Doksan, Sobaeksan Dong-dong ju, and ask the bartender what the rice wines of the day are.

Name: Helen’s Kitchen
Address: 149-31 Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Phone Number:  02-539-6067
Hours: 4pm-2am
Category: Bar: Korean Rice Wine
Price: 10,000-20,000 won
English Menu: No
Spoken English:Yes
Vegetarian Options:Yes
Directions: Directions: Go down the road across from Seven Luck (Samseong-ro 104 gil) and walk 2 blocks
Busan Makgeolli
Makgeolli Bottles

Monday, February 23, 2015

Soy-marinated Crab: Pro-Soy Crab

Pro-soy Crab in Sinsadong
One of the better meals that I have had this year has been at Pro-kanjang Gyejang. This place specializes in soy-sauce marinated crab. This dish is a delicacy in Korean culture and some might (I heard that Chef Pierre Gagnaire didn't care for this dish). This is a dish that most people can only have at certain times of the year and winter is the best time for the crabs gorge themselves on food to get ready for mating season. What sets Pro-kanjang gyejang apart from other places that the crab is delicate in texture yet not overpowering in flavor.

Some of the places that make this dish make the dish too salty and it requires several bowls of rice in order to eat it. Here the crabs are full of flavor and yet subtle enough that you can eat a whole plate of them without any rice at all. They are simply addictive.

I was lucky enough to follow Chef Andreas of the JW Marriot Hotel to Prosoycrab. He was doing a shoot for a German Television Show and I was asked to tag along. What that meant was that I got to talk a lot about food and then eat it. Not a bad gig I must say.

In the kitchen we watched the cooks expertly chop the crabs so it could be easily picked up and eaten. The crab is so delicious that you'll want to pick clean every little bit of meat. The prize of this dish are the golden eggs which is like foie gras and uni. Absolutely delicious.

Afterwards we had some of their famous crab soup. For the soup they use the male crabs and the for the soy-marinated crabs they use the females. I guess it is an equal opportunity restaurant.

Great food and good service. I must tell you that it is not the cheapest restaurant. A small order of the soy marinated crabs (enough for 2) costs 55,000 won and a large costs (enough for 4) costs 80,000 won. You can see the menu below.

Pro-Soy Crab (프로간장게장)
Seocho-gu, Jamwon-dong 27-1 Pro Building


Pro-soy Crab Menu Seoul
Pro-soy Crab Seou Menu
Pro-soy Crab Menu

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It takes 24 hours to marinate pigs feet at Pyeongando Jokbal jip (Korean Marinated Pigs Feet)

Pyeongando Jip's Famous Marinated Pig's Feet (Jokbal) in Seoul, Korea
Pyeongando Jip's Famous Marinated Pig's Feet (Jokbal) in Seoul, Korea
Pyeongando Jip is famous for their marinated pig's feet and during the dinner rush you'll often see a line out the door even in winter. The owner, now grandmother, Lee Gyeong-soon is a no nonsense woman that is all about efficiency and order. Since her place is an institution, so she can run it the way she would like.

The place is not pretty or modern- it actually looks quite drab. Good thing that this doesn't affect the taste of the marinated pig's feet.

The recipe is Gyeong-soon's secret and the feet have to be marinated for 24 hours before they are cooked. The meet falls off the bone and the normally chewy pig feet is tender and buttery. It is absolutely  delicious. It even feels healthy when you eat the meat with some garlic and wrapped in lettuce. Gyeong-soon assured me that this was good for my health.

Now I can't say I recommend their bindaetteok. I like mine a bit crispier but here it is a bit soft. I guess they can't be good at everything. I highly recommend you take a trip over here.

Pyeongangdo-jip (평안도집)
Seoul, Jung-gu, Jangchungdong 1-ga, 62-16
Cost: 13,000 or 15,000 a person
Directions: Go out Donguk University Station Exit 3 and walk straight. It's down an alley. If you take a taxi, just tell them the name.
Pyeongando Jip's Famous Marinated Pig's Feet (Jokbal) in Seoul, Korea

Revisited: Giant Mandu Hotpot at Sadong Myeonok

Sadong Myeonok
Good restaurants are places you want to go to again and again and introduce to your friends. Sadong Myeonok is exactly that type of restaurant. It's famous for their giant dumplings that they make hotpots with it with beef, noodles, and veggies in a rich broth. There is also an egg yolk that they put in an onion and you mix the yolk into the broth. The dumplings are great and so is the seafood pancake. It is so crisp that it is mouthwatering. The restaurant has been around for over 25 years and the owner said that many famous politicians including Lee Myeong-bak has been there.

I can see why. The place has great food.

Here is the original post I wrote on the place with contact information and directions
Giant Dumplings
Joseph and his Hot Pot
Mandu Jeongol
Yummy Dumpling
Seafood Pancake
Me and the owner
Sadong Myeonok