Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tofu hell?

During dinner tonight at Ginza-Mienoumi (which, by the way, is quite nice but not the focus of today's post), the subject of food came up several times as I poked and prodded our Japanese dinner companions.

So what do you think of the Japanese food in America? Very big sizes.

What about the taste? Not bad. It depends where you go.

Nobu's not really as well known in Japan as he is in the States, huh? Nobu? Nobu? Ah, Nobu. No.

I guess Masaharu Morimoto isn't either. No.

So what kind of food is Tokyo famous for? I mean, most of the food is "imported" or has different origins, so what's "good Tokyo food?" Tokyo food is "bad" because of the soil due to Mount Fuji. Because so many people are here, everything can be "imported." Sushi is good here because the fish is really fresh. And monjayaki, like okonomiyaki, but thinner. In Korean, you know, they say... jijimi?

But then our conversation turned to the slightly bizarre, as my dad started to talk about an eel and tofu dish he once had here a while ago. Eel and tofu don't sound so strange, right? Well, it's not so much the ingredients as how it's prepared.

Imagine the little baby eels swimming around minding their own business, going about their mundane baby eel lives, suddenly wondering, "Hey, why are we swimming in a confined space next to blocks of tofu?" As the water in the pot begins to heat up - "Aaaah, global warming is real?! Those damn emissions!" they scream in panic - the baby eels kick into survival mode and burrow into the cooler tofu, unbeknown to them that this temporary shelter is really an evil ploy by clever humans to cook them alive.

If we could only get chocolate chips to do this type of thing in the oven with our cookies...

I know it sounds awful, but I can't help but be a little curious to see what this dish looks like... a picture would suffice - I'm not sure I could bear watching it in person, let alone eating it after the massacre.

On the other hand, I shouldn't really be surprised. I mean, I used to live within walking distance to a Dr. Fish cafe (where fish eat the dead skin off your feet), and I've met Chinese friends who've told me all sorts of culinary tales that include lions, tigers, and bears, oh my. So what's a little stuffed tofu?

Monday, November 17, 2008

In and around: Tokyo's Koreatown (Shin-Okubo)

I still haven't gotten used to the fact that the Korean restaurants here charge you for your kimchi and side dishes... But if any of you happen to be in Tokyo and want a little taste of Korea, Shin-Okubo's (JR East line, one stop from Shinjuku) one of the places to go!

Tsukiji Fish Market - From Boat to Bowl

Is it worth waking up at 5AM to watch a tuna auction, browse the market, and eat raw fish for breakfast? Of course! And I'd do it again tomorrow.

Much better footage can be found on YouTube but here are my attempts (and I didn't get run over!)

Workers flying by with tuna in tow, and the auction going on in the background:

Watching people at work alongside the dozens of flash frozen tuna fish just off the boat:

Why I love Korean Air

When booking my trip to Tokyo from SF, despite the availability of less painful, non-stop options, I thought flying Korean Air would outweigh the hassle of transferring and re-checking in (especially at the Tom Bradley Int'l Terminal at LAX, which I've come to realize, is NOT fun.)


For starters, once I boarded, I was welcomed with that warm and tingly familiar feeling - that air service can indeed come with a smile, and that your time in the plane, though rarely ever pleasant, can be made that much more bearable. (Virgin's also pretty damn good at this. ^^)

I also had a chance to speak in Korean again. From the counter to the gate to the plane. I even filled out my customs form in good ol' 한글, though admittedly, I couldn't understand most of the bottom part, which I just assumed asked whether or not I was smuggling drugs or attempting to import funny types of cheese.

Oh, there's also the frequent flyer miles.

But everyone knows IT'S ALL ABOUT THE GOCHUJANG. Yes, a 20g tube of hot pepper paste does wonders when you're stuck at thirty-something-thousand feet in the air for eleven and a half hours.

(PS. I had to do everything in my power not to jump back on that plane, whose final destination was ICN, after a quick Narita pit stop. Trust me, I considered it. Seriously considered it. Ah, Korea. I miss you.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

The spoiled under-30 crowd

Email forward from my 언니... ^^ I'm sure it's been floating around the Interweb for a while but I thought I'd post anyhow. I wonder what us 20s folk will get to say to our kids?

Anyhoo, off to Jaaaaappppaaaannnn!
Your spoiled under-30er,



When I was a kid, adults used to bore me to tears
With their tedious rantings about how hard things
Were when they were growing up;
What with walking twenty-five miles to school every morning …

And I remember promising myself that when I grew up,
There was no way in hell I was going to lay a bunch of crap
Like that on kids about how hard I had it and how easy they’ve got it!

But now that…
I’m over the ripe old age of thirty;
I can’t help but look around and notice the youth of today.
You’ve got it so easy!

I mean, compared to my childhood, you live in a damn Utopia!

And I hate to say it but you kids today

I mean, when I was a kid we didn’t have The Internet.
If we wanted to know something,
We had to go to the damn library and look it up ourselves,

There was NO email!!
We had to actually write somebody a letter … WITH A PEN
Then you had to walk all the way across the street
And put it in the mailbox and it would take like a week to get there!

There were NO MP3’s & NO Napsters!
You wanted to steal music,
You had to hitchhike to the damn record store and shoplift it yourself!
Or you had to wait around all day to tape it off the radio
And the DJ’d usually talk over the beginning and @#*% it all up!

We DIDN’T have fancy crap like Call Waiting!
If you were on the phone and somebody else called
They got a busy signal, that’s it!
And we didn’t have fancy Caller ID Boxes either!

When the phone rang, you had no idea who it was!
It could be your school, your mom, your boss, your bookie,
Your drug dealer, a collections agent, you just didn’t know!!!
You had to pick it up and take your chances, mister!

We didn’t have any fancy Sony Playstation video games
With high-resolution 3-D graphics!
We had the Atari 2600!
With games like “Space Invaders” and “Asteroids” and the graphics sucked!
Your guy was a little square!
You actually had to use your imagination!
And there were no multiple levels or screens;
It was just one screen forever! And you could never win.
The game just kept getting
Harder and harder and faster and faster
Until you died! Just like LIFE!

When you went to the movie theater
There no such thing as stadium seating!
All the seats were the same height!
If a tall guy or some old broad with a hat sat in front of you
And you couldn’t see, YOU WERE JUST SCREWED!

Sure, we had cable television,
But back then that was only like 15 channels
And there was no onscreen menu and no remote control!
You had to use a little book called a TV Guide
To find out what was on!
You were screwed when it came to channel surfing!
You had to get off your ass and walk over to the TV
To change the channel and
There was no Cartoon Network either!
You could only get cartoons on Saturday Morning.

We HAD to wait ALL WEEK for cartoons,

We DIDN’T have microwaves,
If we wanted to heat something up
We had to use the stove or go build a frigging fire …
If we wanted popcorn,
We had to use that stupid Jiffy Pop thing and shake it over the stove forever

That’s exactly what I’m talking about!
You kids today have got it too easy.
YOU’RE SPOILED !!!!!!!!!

You KIDS WOULD NEVER have lasted five minutes back in 1980’s!

The over 30 Crowd

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


The always amazing Imogen Heap just mentioned one of the coolest, most ridiculous contraptions I've ever seen so I had to look it up.

Introducing...the ScreamBody, a portable space for screaming!
When a user needs to scream but is in any number of situations where it is just not permitted, ScreamBody silences the user's screams so they may feel free to vocalize without fear of environmental retaliation, and at the same time records the scream for later release where, when, and how the user chooses.

I imagine this would be quite handy on the streets (or subways) of Seoul.

I could definitely use one of these. Though access to a car and highway also works wonders these days.

Have you bought your box of Pepero?

Tuesday, November 11th marks Veterans Day here in the States...

...and Pepero Day back in Korea.

According to Wikipedia...

Pepero Day is an observance in South Korea similar to Valentine's Day or Sweetest Day. It is named after the Korean snack Pepero and held on November 11, since the date "11/11" resembles five sticks of Pepero. The holiday is observed mostly by young people and couples, who exchange Pepero sticks, other candies, and romantic gifts.

According to one story, Pepero Day was started in 1994 by students at a girls' middle school in Busan, where they exchanged Pepero sticks as gifts to wish one another to grow "as tall and slender as a Pepero"[citation needed] (Pepero means "thin like a stick"). However, it is more likely it was initiated by Lotte, the company which produces Pepero.

Have you bought your box of Pepero today?

Dak kalbi... homestyle

Dak kalbi is easily one of my favorite Korean dishes. Unfortunately, finding a restaurant that specializes in it when you're not in Korea (or LA) is a bit challenging. So I did the next best thing - made my own!

Honestly, they make it seem so easy... throw in a little chicken, some cabbage and any other extras you want, add a little chili paste and voila - chicken heaven! However, I've definitely learned that the secret's in the sauce. I tweaked a recipe from My Korean Kitchen and basically ended up with something like this (for about a pound of chicken):
  • 6 T gochujang
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 2 T gochugaru
  • 3 or 4 T of garlic (what can I say, I love garlic)
  • 3 1/2 T brown sugar (to taste)
  • A bit of rice wine vinegar
Unfortunately, I couldn't actually TASTE what I was cooking, as I was recovering from a bad case of food poisoning, so my sister volunteered to test the sauce.

After frying it up in a wok (with cabbage, ddeok, onions, and sesame leaves)... it turned out like this...

Overall, it wasn't bad, but the sauce reminded me of the ddeok bokki they sell off the street... (I tasted the leftovers the next day). My sister's never tried dak kalbi but agreed there was something missing. Oh well... try again next time!

PS. This was MY dinner that night. ㅠㅠ

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Jin Sho - a taste of Nobu on the Peninsula?

I've quickly become a fan of one of Onni's recent sushi finds in Palo Alto. I think she's becoming a regular and I understand why. Jin Sho, opened just under a year ago by two Nobu alums, occupies a modest space while serving up fresh, quality fish. Check out Sushi Monster's review on Chowhound if you're curious for details. Otherwise, just enjoy the pictures and salivate. ^^

Onni (w/Sake Nigiri, Sawara Nigiri, and Hamachi Sashimi)

Corn Tempura with Matcha Salt

White Fish Marinated w/Yuzu Soy, Topped w/Hot Oil

White Tuna and Sake Sashimi

Spicy Tuna Roll

A taste of Hawaii in Massachusetts

Say you're about two hours west of Boston and looking for some good ol' Hawaii regional cuisine. Where do you go? Quite a paradox, I know. But thank goodness Western Mass has Onyx Fusion Bar & Restaurant (and thanks to MC for taking me!) This restaurant's got its flaws (e.g. the poke was watered down from the daikon "juice," the mahi was a little boring, the bread pudding was rock hard, and they were out of malasadas!) but the executive chef's a Maui boy with Roy's and Blue Ginger experience under his belt so the menu's definitely got a nice, familiar ring for us Hawaii folks... I mean, Kona Kanpachi in Springfield? How awesome is that?

Hawaiian Style Ahi Poke (w/Marinated Bean Sprouts, Avocado, Tobiko)

The Onyx Roll (Misoyaki Butterfish, Cucumber, Kaiware and Sizzling Ginger Vinaigrette)

Sweet and Savory Bacon Kula Creamed Corn

Pacific Mahi Mahi Hazelnut "Encrusté" (w/Maine Lobster & Tarragon-Fingerling Potato Hash)

Bread Pudding

The "I'm Sorry the Bread Pudding Was Hard and We're Out of Malasadas but We Had a Wine Tasting Today and Were Really Busy so I Whipped Up Something Real Quick" Dessert (not on the original menu)

We got married...!

One of my favorite indulgences is 우리 결혼했어요 ("We Got Married"), a reality show that pairs Korean celebs with each other, allowing them to get a taste of the drama and adventure that "married" life brings. A few months ago, I forwarded snapshots of the wedding photoshoot episode to my wonderful friend Grace (then a bride-to-be). She, of course, was breathtakingly beautiful, and as I looked through some of the photos, I couldn't help but smile... I love you guys! ^^

Where NOT to go for soondubu: Tofu House in Palo Alto, CA

Don't believe the Yelpers! True, my soondubu standards have been raised since moving to Seoul, but there's just no excuse for going to So Gong Dong Tofu House (소공동 순두부) in Palo Alto, CA unless you're really desperate, i.e. starving Cast Away style, meaning you've been stuck on an island for weeks having nearly eaten a volleyball named Wilson. I can't believe it got FOUR stars on Yelp. I must have went on a bad night? A really bad night where the cooks forgot to come to work? Let's see shall we.

Unless you're a fan of eating glue, I suggest you not order the haemuljeon. They've yet to perfect the egg-flour-water ratio.

The banchan selection? Cheap and bland. I'll let the japchae photo speak for itself.

And in a restaurant named after its supposed specialty, well, you'd think they'd try a bit harder than overboiling last night's leftover veggies in hot water.

Needless to say, we were really hungry after dinner, and thankfully, Red Mango saved the day.

Although I like Korea's version of the yogurt better, you can't beat FRESH California fruit.