Malaysian food

All about malaysian food (also international food) from a malaysian point of view. A Petaling Jaya (PJ) boy myself, most of my favorites are in PJ area. You name it, from snacks to gourmet food to hawker to fine dining, I'll try to cover. Even drinks eg. beer, wine, liquor, soft drinks, etc.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

2006 - Seoul food

An overview

After a month of feasting, here's my summary about korean food .... it's all about the atmosphere and the act/process of eating. I always wonder why they have their own unique palette which doesn't seem to open up to other asian food eg. malaysian or hong kong or thai. Their tastes are somehow afixed on beans/curds and spiced/cured sauces... to me, they all taste like kimchi (vinegar or garlic tastes). But to them, it's the very detail within their narrow taste spectrum. They can really tell the difference between one kimchi to the other... or one beanpaste soup to the other. I guess if you are exposed to one taste spectrum for a long time, soon enough you can tell the difference. I guess I will always be looking at the broad taste spectrum ie. big flavors.... rice will taste like rice, tofu will taste like tofu. Hence, garlic and beanpaste taste like garlic and beanpaste.

Even the chinese food is totally different.. and stereotyped on thick dark sauce noodles and maybe spicy seafood noodles, instead of rice! This, I'm personally negative against. Chinese food is not about noodles and pan-fried mandu (looks more like japanese gyoza instead of wanton)... be it high-class or street restaurant.

Soon enough, I kinda gathered that they are more fond of the process/act of eating instead of the taste. They use a lot of clay/stone pots, sizzling plates and stoves.... each having in common the process of cooking while eating. And of course the BBQ, cooking while eating... wrapping this and that.... while continuously picking from different bowls and side dishes. It's like a game of mahjong... constant movement... busy busy. Food are so hot, their mouths are always moving... slurping and at same time sucking air to cool the hot food while chewing.... hence, they eat hot/spicy food real fast.. I can never catch up... I take too long cooling the food before putting into my mouth. Some dishes consist of different phases or steps. Example, with a pot of soup and rice... they will pick the meat from the soup, then either pour soup into their rice or the other way round (more common method) or splitting this and that in a separate plate.... the styles vary... but for sure in constant movement. As a malaysian, we have a main in front of us (usually the rice) and we take from the middle/sides. But to them, its indistinguishible which is the main. There are many occasions where a hotpot is in the middle, with bubbling stew... while they pick from it to go with their rice or noodles. After finishing most contents, they start to add noodles.... like soup noodles... then they will use remaining soup to fry rice (additional rice or their remaining uneaten rice!)..... and on and on. All these and sitting on the floor (why I can never figure out why... ouch ouch) adds up to the whole dining experience. Even the japanese restaurants have progressed to have sunken floors where one sit on floor but have leg dangling room under the table. Some claimed that they can sit crosslegged for hours on end, but to me, few minutes of stretching my head forward while cross-legged, to eat at table is enough to numb my groin and thighs. Healthy or not, I prefer tables and chairs anytime... at least my stomach will not be pressed against.

Sidenote :- In Malaysia, we have steamboats, BBQ, lok-lok vans and sizzling dishes, but only for occasions. Not sure about general malaysians, but for me, I tend to shy away from cooking foods in front of me, due to the smells that stick to my clothes and skin... urgh. Ventilation is never good enough to dispel the smells despite what they claim. Next time you have a steamboat dinner eg. in Coca, have a sniff at your clothes after exit... yep, boiling soups gives off smell.. lots of it. Right now, a LAT cartoon of Colliseum restaurant comes to mind, where the diners use tablecloth to shield themselves away from the sizzling steaks served in front of them.. hahaha. When dining, I always despise the next table who orders sizzling food. Foods are meant to be cooked in the kitchen, at the back.... nevermind those open kitchens or kitchen on display for diners to enjoy. You probably can guess my take on teppanyaki. Give me a boring plate of rice (no cooking or mixing required) but tastes great, I'm game enough.

For korean BBQ occasions, it's meat, wraps and side dishes and the ending will be rice (bibimbap or burnt congee) or cold noodles! Thru it all, it sounds fun. But in the end, I must say my palette is kinda deprived. Tastewise, it is not as wide range a palette. Koreans tend to be microscopic on their taste, able to enjoy the minute tastes in their food... natural taste. One very good example is the puffer fish soup to go with rice (look below for pics). That is the most bland of all I've tasted. Just a little herb soya sauce for dipping, that's it. But that dish (believe it or not) is amongst their favorite and claimed to be the cure or food for hangovers!!! No matter how many times I've tried (to-date 4 times), it's not something I will crave for on a weekly basis.

As for noodles, their breakaway food for once... the tastes are very pure... they are not used to strong tastes. They love vietnamese pho (which is very light) or dark sauce noodles (chinese jarjeangmion) which i think is not as powerful as our wantan or dry versions noodles thanks to pork lard... yum .... or spicy seafood noodles. The noodles I couldn't stand are the cold noodles... brrrr.... not only unfulfilling but almost bland. Well, thank goodness, for globalisation... the malls around me are filled with many cuisines eg. japan, western, italian, etc..... to fix my cravings.

Other asian foods they are open to, are Indian (surprisingly, considering the strong spice flavors). But upon looking at what they eat, it looks similar to korean style ... lots of sweet curry gravy on top of rice (similar to Japanese curry style) or curry pasta ... just wet stewy-like! Popular indian chain is Delhi averaging from 5000 to 10000 won per dish.

The story goes on...

The first meal ..... what caught my attention to this restaurant is the tv program poster. Chances are this restaurant was featured and acclaimed by local tv, should be good. Vegetarian noodles... tofu and vege. Very refreshing and healthy concept. As always, korean food are complimented with condiments/side dishes eg. kimchi (a must) and radishes... the 2 most common side dish.

Not to be missed of course, is the samgyeopsol (3 layer pork) BBQ... korean style. Smoky and messy... but delicious and fun. Best eaten when seated on the floor. Look at the side dishes .... great for different combinations of wraps flavours. A pot of bulgogi for a good mix. ...a bottle of ginseng wine.... I'm satisfied.

Indian food .... seems to be well received in most asian countries. Sigh... why can't malaysian food be that well accepted. Anyway, of course, the curries are toned down and have less spice .... almost the same as Japanese curry. Well... it's an option for days of non-korean flavors. This place is called DELHI... quite a few branches around.

Thumbs up to this restaurant at COEX Asem area. The lady owners (ajummas) are very helpful always and hospitable. But of course, english descriptions and menus are scarce... so a little adventure, sign language and annoying stares from tables are due. The reward is good... coupled with a bowl of traditional milky rice wine... yum... markoli.

And I thought there was only one kind of pot rice... bibimbap.... but this time, I was introduced to Al-bap.... lots of fish eggs/roe, seaweed, sesame seeds and vege.... oh... very aromatic and kicks bibimbap out of my list for sure. A favorite for the ladies is the Daenjangjigae.... spicy soybean stew/soup.

Jeyubokem - fried pork, great to go with other food. Was recommended by ajuma. Menu is on the walls but only in korean

A new twist. Sundae (pronounced as soon-day)... a weird looking sausage that is nasty once you know of its contents. Here's the detailed description (The small and large intestines of pigs are salted and stuffed with a mixture of pig's blood, rice, green onions, garlic, minced pork, and vermicelli before being steamed. The sausage is sliced when served and some steamed lung and liver slices usually accompany it. It is a very popular dish at street vendors. Use a toothpick or chopsticks to eat, dabbing each piece in salt to taste.) This together with other pork bones/ribs/meat in a peppery of sorts soup... kinda reminds me of Bak Kut Teh. Looking at the sign on the wall, there is a method to enhance the flavors.... and that is to add the various sauces/spices at the table.... 6 steps to follow.

And the spicy version soup, which i think is more tasty than the previous clear soup. This doesn't have the soondae (sausage), instead its more bone ribs. Its called BEODAGI.

Kraze burger... that's new. But looking at the daily queues, it got my curiousity. Sure enough, burgers and sides were delicious... not oily and disgusting.... but fresh and clean, with decent sauces. The kids burger was laid with jam... weird i know, but the taste actually yummy... kids will dig it for sure. Prices are on the high though...compared to McD... average of 7000 won.

As the days go by, with more stews/soups, side dishes and spicy foods... I begin to sink into mediocrity. Does everything taste the same after a while? Is it all beans and curds? Well time will tell.

Tidbits I've tried....

Left one is the popular noodle (like Mamee) snack.

Looks similar to malaysia's snack, but this tastes so much better, yum.

Left pic - a mediocre corn snack.
Right pic - This corn chips are really really tasty... no kidding. Very addictive thin curly strips.

Local beer to go with snacks. Packaged in plastic bottles, with twist tops... nice!

One of the many vitamin/mineral water sold in supermarkets.

Never go without Gim (seaweed)... easily available in supermarkets... and also tourist markets. Average of 3000 to 5000 won per big bag. Sometimes, there are sales where you can get 2 big bags for price of one, same goes for cookies/cakes.

This brand tastes better and is the favorite.

Biscuits/cookies are very popular here. These are made gifts more often as opposed to snacks.
A popular order of tidbits for beer... squid and peanuts! Man, that squid was tough... gets stuck in my teeth
Candies and noodle snacks. The grape gummy is the best... coming from the best tasting blueberry/grape found in Korea during winter. This ORION brand is the best compared with LOTTE or HI-CHEWs... and only found in Lotte-mart supermarket at 980 won for 3 sticks.

The actual grape/blueberry variant fruit, available at supermarkets at about 4000won per bunch.... fragrant sweet.

The butter Wing biscuit from ORION is very nice, buttery and full of flavor

Street food are aplenty... usually near subway exits or shopping area

Peanut butter cuttlefish... really yummy and aromatic. It's flatten and roasted, and when it's done, it comes thru the end and shredded. Customers will then pinch them into the provided bags.

Fried stuff are very popular especially on sticks. I'm actually a fried food person but after looking at the oil and the packed meat/potatos/crumbs on the stick, I feel full by looking. The girls here dig this kind of thing while walking the streets, i wonder how they watch their weight

This is a traditional biscuit burnt there and then, over a small fire and a metal cup. But it tastest burnt and sweet... not so good for 500won each.

Squid crackers and sweet potato crisp fries - average of 2000 won a bag

Rice/nut cakes - similar to malaysian, but in different color and shapes. A little bland though for me.

Egg muffin cake - my favorite. Very aromatic and with the egg... a great fulfilling snack. 1000 won each

BBQ squids/octopus and nuts - great for snacks. It may look scary seeing these lying in the open, but once BBQ and served, yummy

Red bean cake - similar to those found in Malaysia.

Another kind of sticky rice cakes, for tea

Boiled larvaes -uurrrgh... just the smell drives me away. Unless offered, I won't try.

Hottok - fried bean cake... very popular since years ago. Queues are still lining Insadong street. Oily and best eaten fresh.

For breakfast, gimbap rolls sold at corners (1500 won)

Chestnuts are roasted without shell, so its more convenient to eat. Aromatic.

Supermarkets are very interesting, filled with fresh made street food or BBQ marinades or fresh kimchi or seaweed. Even better than walking those tourist markets eg. Namdaemun. Check out the local supermarkets eg. Lotte Mart or E-mart.

Old tea shop in Insadong - a favorite since 4 years ago, this place is doing very well. From level 1 it has expanded itself by taking over the ground floor shop. But for nostalgic reasons, I still prefer the level 1.

The popular chicken restaurant ie. roast and ginseng stuffed chicken (samgyetang). I know of a branch in Apgujeong and Myeongdong. This is the takeaway. About 10,000 won per chicken (roast/ginseng)

Another popular chicken place... but fried ( Classic fried or with garlic sweet sauce (like Imperial sauce). Great for my takeaways home dinner.

In Hong Kong transit, always a good idea to visit the food court on the highest level (not sure which area) but you can't miss it once there. Its a whole floor filled with famous fastfood restaurant names eg. Cafe DeCoral, King's Palace, etc.. Wifey had the fishball noodles and ginger taufoofar .... after weeks of Korean food, one can immediately taste the big difference. And knowing Hong kong, food is a passion and the tastes are wow.... even for fishball noodles. Haven't been to Hong Kong for a while, didn't recall seeing the prices being so high... or was it the airport standard?

Spicy pork with tofu and cabbage.... very spicy... think its called 'Jeyu'

Another variation of spicy pork with tofu

Tak-kalguksu - Chicken stew with special sauce and then fried with rice. This is tasty and interesting to view/eat thru the process

Sandwich is very popular as snack and meals. Average of 1500 won, it comes with different fillings... usually egg and ham... with fried buttery bread

Street traditional sandwich is similar, but egg is like omelette (carrots and radish) and with pickles. More worth the 1500 won.

More sandwich stalls - with different fillings

Chinese sauce noodles (Jajangmyeon ) - this is the staple chinese food in korea. Go to any chinese restaurant, its being eaten at every table. It may be viewed as an insult to chinese cuisine in general or just to show the noodles craze culture in Korea eg. vietnamese pho (noodles), seafood noodles, cold soba, etc.. But (sigh)... none like malaysian noodles (assam/curry laksa, prawn noodles, pork noodles, java, wantan, pan mee, hokkien/cantonese/braised, etc..... yum).

Instant jajangmyeon, which is not too bad actually. One of the better tasting brands

Sweet sour pork in a COEX restaurant which tasted bleaaacchhhh!!!

The only decent chinese food is from Jackie's kitchen... owned by Jackie Chan (not sure) but it features his favorite chinese foods

Found out some local chinese dishes which are actually quite tasty.. KANPOONGI is like a sweet sour (little spicy) chicken fritter dish.

Traditional korean restaurant in Insadong....
Pajeon (pancake with seafood) - quite nice except ingredients were too much. I rather have the batter ... yum. Kimchi fried rice - simple and sourish spicy. Chicken stew which was quite nice (could this be similar to takkaguksu?).

Spicy stove of squid, octopus and kimchi to go with rice, of sorts..... really spicy (Nakjibokem)

More BBQ.... galbi steak... yum. After all the BBQ, ending is noodles or rice. For me, it's Al-bap... but not as good as the one I had in COEX Asem. Did you know local beef is more expensive (almost double) the price of imported ones eg. Australian? Well, they taste the same to me on BBQ.

Modenjan - Mixed fritters.... expensive (18000 won)... consist of cucumbers, fish, meat, vege, egg, potatos.... korean tempura.

A very popular small restaurant for cold soba (yes cold noodles with no meat in ice... believe it ... there are queues on peak hours). It's called Neng mo mil... usually eaten together with another order of Tongkatsu. Or the alternative noodles order is UDONG CHONGSIK, which seem to taste similar to the soba. Just off Rodeo street.

Food court food is actually quite good standards overall around Seoul's departmental stores eg. Hyundai or Shinsagae, averaging 8000 won each. Water is free everywhere in Seoul, so that's savings for you.... from dispensers. Food court system is order thru centralised cashiers, get receipt with queue numbers, then wait for your no. to pop up on screens situated around the court, numbers will appear next to stall no. for collection. It may be a little tricky with no english but with item numbering and stall numbers, should be easy.

And I thought puffer fish (yes, the poisonous one.. called BOK here) was popular in japan, but it's eaten here like the norm.... either in clear soup (bok jilin) or guess what... yes... spicy bean paste soup (bok thang... meh-oon thang means spicy soup). If blur, one would think it's chicken... the meat is tough and the bones are big unlike normal fish... there are huge rib bones too. I didn't enjoy this... soup was bland.. meat was tough.... some soya for dips... other than that, not fulfilling.

After few times of puffer fish offerings, this time I went for the spicy version.. slightly more taste but again the same.. bland except for the soya dipping. Believe it or not, puffer fish is korean's favorite food for hangovers. For me, it's the opposite... I crave strong tastes for hangovers eg. laksa or prawn noodles... since my tastebuds are pretty much numb after lots of alcohol.

I have no idea what seafood this is, but it was swimming next to the puffer fish.. could it be Sea squirt?

Japanese sets average about 6000 to 8000 won. Didn't noticed in past japanese sets, but the tempura here was nice... sweet potato, pumpkin and mint leaf.

Chinese takeouts from Jackie... just like the movies packaging. Quality is below average, but heck, when choices are thin, anything non-korean is a win win.

Takeout from chinese store near Hyundai at COEX... average of 18,000 per dish. Decent but still not up to mark... better than Jackies though. Ordered the common chicken dish called Kanpoongi (spicy chicken) similar to sweet sour.

Jade Garden in Kangnam, 4 course set meal for 29,900.. not great and not chinese for sure. A far cry from my favorite Jade Garden in Shanghai, this place has been labelled American chinese restaurant... urgh.

First decent sweet sour pork in Korea and it's called Szechuan Sweet sour pork (Sachon tangsooyeok). Takeout from chinese restaurant in Apgujeong.

Fried fish fillet with rice for lunch (with spicy sauce of course)

At Folk Village outdoor traditional food court, had the fritters (twigim) and noodles with dongdongju (i prefer makoli)

Mad for garlic - various pizzas takeaways (cheaper to do so 10,000 won instead of 15,000! That's 30% discount) eg. teriyaki chicken pizza (chicken pieces are very nice, reminds me of charsiew..hehehe), Gorgonzola pizza (eaten with honey, nice) and Margherita pizza. Overall, pizzas are very tasty, refreshing and light at same time.

These are what I've tried and are superb. Highly recommended restaurant, great cosy and romantic ambience. Located in Apgujeong and COEX area.

Local garlic chain - Mr Pizza. Tried the expensive favorite, Potato Gold (18,000). It was interesting to have potatos and pumpkin/sweet potato sauce. Very filling.


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