Saturday, 30 May 2009

A month of soondaes: Kimchi

I recently posted about Soondae, the Korean blood sausage that is a staple of street food stalls right across the country. Then I found it to be a good addition to the genre and definitely worth trying, but a little too jelly-like in consistency to have me running back for more.

I thought that was it for soondae, until that is I discovered these boys selling out the back of a van by our apartment.

I’d never actually heard of Kimchi Soondae, and half hoped that this was a meatier sausage more like the ones we’re used to in the old country (despite being a nation of pork lovers, Korea is notoriously bad in the sausage stakes.)

When I knuckled down to eat some the stuff however I found it to be a different story altogether. Kimchi Soondae has a firmer texture than the black stuff, due no doubt to having a lot less glass noodles packing it out than the original. They also seem to have thrown some onions in, mixing it up a little consistency-wise and making it resemble uncooked chorizo. This for me, made it a little more palatable.

As for the kimchi component, I found it gave a good spiciness to the sausage without being too in your face, though I did expect a better showing from the garlic (I guess it was busy stinking out the subway somewhere else instead.) I also found the small intestine casing to be a little bit too true to its original form for my tastes, but I’m going to fry it up next time to see how it goes.

As before the soondae came with a bunch of tripe and other bits, of which the steamed liver particularly stood out and to my mind was worth the 3000 won on its own. I’ve never seen it anywhere else and would love to investigate it further.

All in all it was a pretty good tray of body parts, and coming on the same day as a particularly bad pork experience, managed to almost erase the trauma from my mind.

And I reckon I’ll go back for more.

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Friday, 29 May 2009

Kraze Burger Review on A Hamburger Today!

I recently wrote a review of Kraze Burger that the folks at A Hamburger Today were good enough to put on their site. Many thanks to Robyn (the girl who ate everything) for lowering her editorial standards and being so helpful!

Check it out, it's a great site and should be the first stop for every burger lover on the net.

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Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Pork Skewers: Today wasn't a good day.

To paraphrase Ice Cube, today wasn’t a good day.

My troubles started when I when I went to see the Doctor to inquire about vaccinations for my upcoming trip to South East Asia as I’m short a Hepatitis B and Japanese Encephalitis jab. Despite assuring him I’d never had any sort of Hep B vaccination, the good Dr nevertheless insisted I have a Hep B blood test, to the tune of 10,000 won.

I’ve had my doubts about this guy for a while – he never seems to close the office door no matter what state of undress is required, and he once removed a fish bone from my throat without any gloves on. Despite my qualms however, before I could object this happened (I know this photo is a little gross for a food blog but bear with me.)

Afterwards, I took the bus to PNU (home of Busan’s best Takoyaki) to get one of those spicy Pork Skewers I’ve been thinking about so much recently.

They weren’t how I remembered. The pork was creepily soft and tender, leading me to the conclusion that it was in some way reformed. It was also for that matter cold inside, something that wouldn’t have bothered me too much if it wasn’t a balmy May evening. As for the spicy barbecue sauce slathered on during cooking, it did little to stimulate my taste buds. And I was left holding a skewer I had no means to dispose of.

Then I got my ass kicked in Tekken 6 (I'm the one with no shirt on.)

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Monday, 25 May 2009

San Nakji: Tying Up Some Loose Ends

I’ve wanted to try San Nakji (live baby octopus) ever since I first heard about it, some six months before touching down in Korea. When I finally got here, I made a few attempts to search out and consume this alien delicacy, but price and scarcity defeated me too easily and I climbed up onto my laurels and rested awhile. Luckily, however, neither were an issue last weekend as a trip to Geoje Island presented the perfect opportunity to get my gums moving.

Geoje lies about three hours west of Busan in Gyeongsangnam-do province. It is a popular tourist destination in the summer months, when both population and prices swell like a pigs head that’s been in the water too long (something we encountered there on a previous trip.) May, however, is a great time to visit so we spent the weekend in a sea view pension on Wayheon beach with my visiting aunt and uncle, Joan and Eric, and my cousin Steve and his girlfriend Vicky.

As usual food was never far from the centre of things, with highlights including an extensive Saturday night terrace barbecue capped with a bottle of beautifully smoky Bowmore Single Malt sent over by my parents. Things started to get really interesting however on Sunday, when on returning from a boat trip to a nearby island we happened upon a pier-side tent selling fresh sea slugs, sea squirts and live octopus.

Vicky and I wasted no time ordering a portion of each (20,000 won in total) and were soon cheek to tentacle with a plate of wriggling baby octopus and another of sea slug and sea squirt. Naturally, I went for the octopus first, managing with some difficulty to pry it off the plate with my chopsticks (apparently it didn’t want to leave,) before dipping it in sesame oil and salt and popping it into my mouth. The first mouthful was strictly damage control, as I chewed ferociously to prevent the suckers from sticking to my throat on the way down and choking me (on average six people in Korea die each year in precisely this manner.) After Vicky assured me it was too small to be a serious choking hazard, however, I got stuck in more heartily and began to understand why this delicacy is so popular.

Texture-wise, it felt at first a little like I was eating a wriggly stick of jelly. As I chomped down this soft outer layer gave way to a surprising dense inner core, giving it a strange but satisfying chewiness. As for the taste, the dominant favour to start with was that of the salt and sesame oil or spicy pepper dipping sauce, but this too soon gave way to a deeper, more pervading bottom-of-the-sea freshness. This sensation stayed in my mouth long after I finished up and left the island, and remained in shades even after a (second) lunch of Daeji Bulgogi (spicy marinated pork) on the way back to Busan

After battling the Nakji I next turned my attentions to the much more colourful plate of sea snail and sea squirt. The snail, for its part, seemed to consist of mostly shell and cartilage but nevertheless delivered a strong sea punch. As for the sea squirt, it proved to be much softer than the snail, breaking down easily in my mouth and leaving a slightly bitter aftertaste (nothing a shot of soju wouldn’t take care of!) Both tasted good dipped in either the spicy pepper sauce or the sesame oil and salt, but it was the still moving Nakji that I returned to time and again.

Mid-way through my meal the captain of one of the nearby vessels came over, and by grinning widely and grabbing his crotch tried to impress on me the “stamina” giving properties of Nakji before he was shooed off by the attending ajumma. I’m not sure how true this is, but I do know the San Nakji was much better than I’d expected and provided me with one of the most memorable eating experiences of my life.

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Thursday, 21 May 2009

Keeping my Tempura

Next month we have open classes in our Hagwon. What this means is that for five weeks we must practice the same class over and over again with our designated students, culminating in a display of the kids’ educational prowess in front of their mothers in June. The whole practice is a complete waste of time and unfortunately pretty indicative of the Hagwon system as a whole. Education comes far down the list after money, appearances, and more money again.

It’s also pretty stressful. One of the classes I’m teaching has only been learning English for a few months now and are more preoccupied with shoving their shoes in my face than listening to anything the big red man at the front has to say. The other class, meanwhile, is composed mainly of the most disruptive kids in the school thrown together where they can tear each other, and their teacher, apart in isolation. Neither class is particularly bad, but they don’t make it easy on themselves and I’ve found myself shouting at them for all the wrong reasons.

As such there have been some pretty dark moods of late and none of these more so than on Wednesday, when after a ten hour day I decided to take the long way home by heading down to Seomyeon to check out the street food situation. I’d seen various pochamanchas in the area before and half-remember some really good noodles on the street there after a night drinking, so thought that if anything could lift my mood, it would have to be some serious kerbside eating action.

Upon exiting the subway the first food stall I saw was one selling an all star line up of street food. A great big ban-marie of deokbokki sat next to another filled with compressed fish jelly on sticks, while next to these a coil of soondae steamed away and tempura of various shapes and sizes bubbled and spat in a large metal pan of oil. It all looked pretty good but the trouble was that it was just too busy. As such I walked by in search of something-else-I-thought-I-might-have-seen-sometime, but finding my minds eye to be out of tune with my sense of direction, I somehow ended up back where I started. This time, however, the stall was a little quieter and with time pushing on I decided to jaw down and get it over with. It was then that my tempura education really began.

I should say re-education actually, because I’ve had this stuff before. The first time was at a hole-in-the-wall in Haeundae the first week we got here. On that occasion the tempura was soggy, old and greasy. Not the best start really. Later when I tried it again at various buffets and Japanese places I also found it lacking – not always disgusting, but just not great.

Happily, this wasn’t the case this time. On offer was a selection of octopus tentacles, mini kimbap (rice, ham and radish rolled in dried seaweed,) prawn, rice cake and green chili peppers, all dipped in a thin white batter then deep fried to perfection. Most of these stalls work on a trust basis and you simple select what you want to eat from the trays in front of you with a pair of mini tongs, then tell the vendor what you’ve eaten. In the interests of diversity, I chose one of each to start.

First down the hatch was the octopus tentacles; long spindly pieces of tender octopus covered in a salty, crisp, light batter that kept slipping off in places and exposing the good stuff underneath. Great on its own, the accompanying dip of soy sauce (strong, salty, and loaded with sliced chilis) transported the octo to another realm. I soon found out that the same could be said for most of the other tempura on my plate – fresh ingredients cooked in the same light batter then elevated with a timely introduction to the soy sauce. Fantastic.

However, the real pay day undoubtedly lay in the battered green chili pepper. I’d seen these boys before in passing but had assumed that a whole pepper in batter would be a mix of sensations my body wouldn’t be receptive to. I was wrong. The pepper was fresh, crunchy and to my surprise, stuffed with glass noodles (these things get around!) Having been emptied of seeds, the heat was of a manageable temperature, though you can never quite tell when you bite into these which way it’s going to go. The batter and soy sauce naturally worked their magic and it quickly became the best thing I’ve eaten all week and trust me, this week’s been good.

I paid up feeling full (the whole thing cost a mere 2000 won) and left in much better spirits than I arrived, proving to myself once again that salvation often lies in a humble streetside food cart. Well done me.

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Saturday, 16 May 2009


Toast, pronounced toa-se-te, is the pot noodle of Korean street food. Sold at literally hundreds of hole-in-the-wall counters across the city, it consists of an omelette-like mixture of egg and onion, a slice of spam(!) and some slightly sweetened bread cooked on a larded-up hotplate and made to resemble a toasted sandwich.

Sound unappetizing? It kind of is, but something about toast nevertheless keeps me coming back. One of these occasions was Thursday afternoon when I decided to bridge the gap between lunch and a late dinner of Shabu Shabu with a trip to my local toast counter after school (I say local, but it actually took me a good fifteen minutes walking in the opposite direction from my apartment.)

Once there I wasted no time in ordering the usual (ham yachae toast) and before I knew what was happening I was ready to go. Approaching it with my usual disregard for cooling time the first bite was mainly heat, as the scalding egg omelette insinuated itself around my mouth. This part of the sandwich was firm, reedy and largely inoffensive, though probably would have benefited from a bit of salt. Underneath the egg lurked the spam, which also by and large managed to stay out of the picture. Instead, the dominant taste undoubtedly came from the liberal amount of yellow and pink sauces applied at the end of the cooking process; a synthetic and oddly chlorinated mustard cocktail that left me feeling a little like I’d just done ten lengths in the baby pool with my mouth open.

No doubt about it, toast leaves you feeling slightly sheepish, but there is something about this amalgamation of wrongness that I can’t help but revel in. It is also cheap, portable and filling, and although I may from time to time balk at its ingredients, toast somehow manages to transcend the sum of its parts and provide something uniquely Korean.

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Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Soondae Bloody Soondae

OK, I know this pun is both ripped off from the Simpsons and in slightly bad taste (it is, after all a U2 song) but given the subject matter, I really couldn’t title the post anything else.

Soondae is a Korean sausage consisting of pigs blood, barley and glass noodles stuffed into a casing of small intestine. It is a popular street food, and with a soondae van making regular appearances in the street by my school, one I just had to try.

I love blood sausage. A thick slice of black pudding nestled underneath a plump queen scallop or drenched in brown sauce next to my bacon and eggs is one of the things I miss most about home. I’m also quite partial to a few slices of Morcilla now and again and am open to a relationship with any other member of the blood sausage family that comes my way. As such, it was with some deal of excitement that I found myself striding towards the van on a muggy and wet Tuesday afternoon.

Once there negotiations began in the usual vein (name the cheapest price displayed, point and grin) but the vendor on this occasion seemed to take genuine pleasure from my obvious novice status. As he pulled each item out of a mammoth steam-belching pot he displayed it for my approval, before deftly slicing it up at speed and piling it thick and high on a polystyrene tray.

First came the soondae, a good-sized length of glistening black tubing looking a little like Morgan Spurlock’s intestines must have after eating McDonalds for 40 days straight. This was followed (to my surprise) by a few pieces of tripe, then some bits and pieces explained comprehensively as “small intestines.” The whole lot was sliced up and packed away with a sachet of pinkish salt and a tub of sauce for a mere 3000 won, making it by volume the best value food I have written about to date on this blog.

Naturally I tried the soondae first, finding it much more jelly-like and glutinous in texture than the dense, blood-cake character of the stuff I’m used too. This was undoubtedly due to the effect of the glass noodle filler, but also probably had something to do with the fact that the soondae was steamed as opposed to grilled or fried, leaving the intestinal casing almost as slippery as was intended for its original use. Despite this textural difference however, the soondae left a familiar and welcome iron-y taste in my mouth akin to the other blood sausages I’d tried elsewhere. When dipped in the salt and sauce, a spicy, watery ssamjung (bean paste) however, the effect was entirely unfamiliar and for me, a little at odds with the rest of the flavours.

Next came the extra bits. I’ve never been a committed nose-to-tailer so for me this was a little further away from charted territory. For it's part the tripe was pretty inoffensive; Mild and chewy it reminded me more of an oyster mushroom than anything which might come from the wilder and more unpalatable parts of an animals anatomy. Next to find themselves between my chopsticks however were some of the pieces that the vendor described as “small intestines.” These ranged from a wobbly jelly-like cut that was rather mild but pleasant in flavour, to a denser, richer cut that was much more flavourful. The later was much darker in colour and incredibly tasty, reminding me unmistakably (but perhaps erroneously) of roast beef. Not being a connoisseur on the finer points of intestines I am at pains to find out just exactly what this was, and have to date spent some time trawling the web in a fruitless search for an answer.

Although I found the huge portion a little too rich for one sitting, all in all it was a pretty good tray of animal parts. Soondae and its accompanying unidentifiables was a tasty and worthwhile diversion on a wet Tuesday and definitely something I will eat again.

As street food goes, not even a bad pun can eclipse that.

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Sunday, 10 May 2009

OK Takoyaki!

I’ve never been too enamoured with Takoyaki. The first time I tried these Japanese octopus balls was at a buffet and they had been lukewarm, soggy and thoroughly unremarkable. Later, when I tried the Takoyaki van close to our school I was similarly unimpressed with the results. I’d waited 20 minutes in line and had spent most of that time in a state of nervous suspicion that the Korean lady behind/next to me was in the process of bunking the queue. When I finally got my Takoyaki the results weren’t great. It was limp, almost devoid of octopus and drenched in that weird Korean mustard so beloved of toast stands throughout the city.

As such it was something of a last chance saloon when I sampled the Takoyaki in PNU (Pusan National University.) I’d passed one place many times and had always been impressed by the long lines of people waiting, so despite having a date with a pan of sizzling red hot pan of dak galbi in less than an hour, I joined the back of the queue and tried (again) to find out what all the fuss was about.

Takoyaki are cooked in a special cast iron hotplate studded with dimples a little smaller than golf balls. The chef must keep them constantly turning with a pair of toothpicks to stop the batter from burning, something that requires incredible speed and dexterity. Post – hotplate, the balls are dusted with Katsuobushi (thinly-shaved smoked dried tuna that gives a powerful punch to anything it comes into contact with,) and topped with a spicy chilli sauce and another sauce quite similar to mayonnaise.

It’s advisable to wait a few minutes after cooking before impaling your first Takoyaki and popping it in your mouth. I didn’t, with the result that I thoroughly scolded my mouth and spent the next few minutes flapping about trying to ventilate my burning word hole. The next Takoyaki was more successful however, and I found out just why this particular vendor is so popular.

Although firm on the outside, the batter inside the ball isn’t, flooding your mouth with a warm liquid the consistency of a good mornay sauce the second you bite into it. Delve deeper, and you are rewarded with a tender piece of octopus, perfectly cooked and slightly chewy. Meanwhile the chilli sauce (not unlike that found in British kebab shops) lends the arrangement a bit of a kick, while the Katsuobushi imparts a lingering, full mouth smokiness you can feel in your nostrils.


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Wednesday, 6 May 2009


Tuesday was Childrens’ Day here in Korea so we made the most of our day off with a trip to the beach.

Songjeong, the most westerly of Busans’ beaches, is relatively free of the high rise sprawl that dominates the others. It also seems to enjoy better water quality and tends to get less crowded, making it a great place to loll about the sand for a few hours on a sunny day.

A number of small food stalls periodically dot the promenade here, and with food never far from the equation I quickly decided on buying some Hoddeok, a kind of hollow cinnamon pancake. At a mere 1000 won a piece, these treats were exceptionally good value and with the vendor’s prime beach side location, I didn’t even need to put my shoes back on.

It was good. The thin, slightly crispy outer shell enclosed a sugary, cinnamon jam–like substance so sticky you could catch wasps in it. Sandwiched between its bodyguards, the filling was sweet without being sickening. The best part however towards the end when the cinnamon had trickled down to the bottom of the bun, creating a concentrated, gooey reservoir through which the last few bites were transported to decadence and hell and damnation.

With the temperature nudging the mid-twenties and the previous night’s carousing having drained me of around 90% of the water from my system, I had worried that the Hoddeok would prove too much for my tortured insides and rob me of what little moisture remained, rendering me as motionless and helpless as a beached whale. Happily however, it did no such thing and before I knew it I was bounding into the water obliviously.

I even managed to keep sand out of it.

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Monday, 4 May 2009

Gyeran Bbang

On a recent Sunday morning wander through the streets of our neighbourhood, Sarah and I came across a vendor selling egg bread, or Gyeran Bbang in Korean.

My first experience of egg bread was when a student brought a huge bag of it in to share with the class. Feeling the 4 o’clock hunger beginning to gnaw at my insides, I subsequently broke my “no food” rule and allowed them and I a brief afternoon snack before tackling the finer points of English Land 4.

On that occasion the bread was fluffy and ever so slightly sweet, a good foil to the richness of the whole egg that lurked inside waiting to pounce on you with its just-cooked consistency. I remember thinking that if I just had a rasher or two of bacon and some hollandaise sauce that would be me for the day – the kids could teach themselves.

That day passed and although I often saw the egg bread cooking away in the street by our school, I never again indulged. Until I saw this chap that is.

Casting my mind back that Eggs Benedict moment at school I thought I could perhaps regain some of the Sunday glories of yesteryear and promptly ordered one. Unable to buy just one however, I resorted to purchasing three for 2 chun, not a bad price but unfortunately more egg bread than I was after.

As it turned out in this case quantity was no substitute for quality; the bread was overly sweetened and had the consistency of a twinky, much too chewy and artificial for my liking, while the egg itself was unfortunately more than a little overcooked. The combination meant I abandoned the first one less than half way in and had to resort to yet another act of forced littering, abandoning my charges on a wall before legging it in the direction of Dongnae subway station.

Better luck next time.

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