Food must be found; books must be read. I headed out to Haggarty’s a Brit-Indie take-away joint that has notoriously long wait times for a place that is take-out only. I managed to read 33 pages while waiting for my chicken jalfrezi. I’m a big fan of Gita Mehta, and her wry sense of humor regarding Indian culture and the influx of western people living there.
“They were the Port Out gentry, who struggled for one hundred years to impress upon us that the most noble muscle in the human body is the sphincter, which must be kept tightly clenched at all times. By the time they returned Starboard Home, a whole sleepy continent had been trussed up in the great Victorian Straightjacket.”
This book focuses on the giant industry that has arisen around ‘Gurus’ and people traveling to India to find enlightenment of some kind. I haven’t traveled to India, but I did live outside of Kathmandu, Nepal for a while, and many of the foreign folks I met there said they would come to Nepal to get away from the hustle and crush of India. Pages read: 203 Page in current book: 35 Update: I fell asleep quite a few time while reading this, and also had to pack up a few things as I have a giant move impending next weekend. Page 95 Pages read: 298
There is a lovely woman close to my house who makes me quesadillas and tacos many times a week. She has a little stand in the road in front of her house, and several local regulars collect in the mornings for her superb cooking and amazing guacamole.
Today, I was enjoying my quesadilla when out of nowhere and an old man walks by and says, “Just let me get some juice, I’ll be right back.” in extremely clear English. Since I was obviously the only person around who understood what he said, I assumed this was aimed at me. I’ve never seen him before. He came back with a half gallon of orange juice, sat down at the table, and we proceeded to chat.
After the niceties of where-are-you-from and how-long-will-you-be-in-Mexico, he revealed that he spent 45 years as a professional singer and toured extensively around the US. After seven wives, 15 states, and tours of the Caribbean and Central America, he’s settled happily with his three dogs in Tlaquepaque.
He brought out an old photo album full of 50 year old shots of marquee boards in NYC and Los Angeles with his name as well as other traveling latin performers. My favorite was of esposa numero cinco:
In Mexico, people “invite” you to do things. “I invite you for a sopa” means I am being treated, or given something. A sopa here is a really thick tortilla with a huge pat of butter (or in this case chemical smelling margarine) cooked until the butter melts and the sopa is a little crunchy on the bottom, then salsa and frijoles are sprinkled on top.
After inviting me for a sopa, the sly old man slipped me his phone number stating that if I ever had an emergency or needed help to not hesitate to call. We chatted for a while and he helped translate some of the questions that the locals had been trying to ask me that I didn’t understand. He also said that he sees a Mexican marriage for me in my future, but that I should show him the man first so that he can tell me if he is good or not. This from a man with seven ex-wives. But maybe it takes that kind of man to recognize that kind of man. Then he sang a couple of lines from Love is a Many Splendid Thing.
As I left the taco stand, one of the childhood adages that most American kids learn was presented, “Don’t be shy, mi casa es su casa.”
It is a good thing there is a gym on the corner of my block. It costs less than $20/month, has free in house personal trainers at all times, and is full of buff, sweaty Latin men. I go everyday.
Which is a necessity since I can’t stop eating! Taco stands, tostadas, tortas, empanadas, sorbet, chorizo, fresh fruit by the kilo con creama. Which is actually a real thing. It wasn’t a mistake that I was eating fruit with creama, it is sometimes eaten with fruit. And it is good.
I can only eat rice so many times a week. But tortillas. Tortillas I think I could eat everyday. I’m not even close to being sick of tacos yet.
Some people come to the plaza for Jesus and the cathedrals. I come for the food.
With no concrete plans for a weekend in the fist time in ages, I set out to do what ruby does best. Pick a subway stop or two and explore. On Saturday, I barely made it out of the front door before the first adventure began. There is a particularly seedy looking building in our neighborhood that, although it appears to have a Buddhist temple on top, I was a little hesitant to explore. The building itself is one of the more ranshackle in our area. There is a billiards hall on the second floor, and on my walk home from work, it’s one of the places that always has particularly drunk men loitering around outside.
But since I was in exploring mode, camera in hand, daring wits about me, I decided to brave it past the filthy stairwell to see what it really is.
On the third floor is a beautiful shrine room. Even though part of the reason I came to back to Asia was to re-immerse myself in Buddhist culture, it doesn’t feel like part of everyday life here. Consumerism and an extreme materialism to the point of being disgusting has taken over, leaving the less than a third of the population that still even considers itself Buddhist on a shelf somewhere behind last years’ cellphones. There are still some great cultural holidays, and the occasional monk on the subway, but it doesn’t “feel” like a Buddhist country the way other places I’ve travelled do.
With no one around I did a few prostrations and sat for a few minutes, and then nosed around trying to find the rooftop shrine that I was pretty sure existed. On my way through the door to the rooftop I literally ran into a monk. He was at first shocked, and then pretty happy to see me. He even gave me a zucchini from their rooftop garden. I speak almost no Korean, and he speaks almost no English, but I did glean that he was in the Korean war from pictures he showed me and was quite happy to meet a young American.
We had tea together and a gorgeous little girl full of smiles came in. As far as I could tell, she said the monk is her uncle, and it seems like she almost lives at the temple. I got to thinking how different my life in Korea would be if I had become involved with these people earlier in the year.
The rest of my subway hopping weekend paled in comparison to hanging out with the monk and his niece. Even with such promising names as Imhak, Beagun, and Dong Incheon, it’s a little bit of a disappointment to get off at any subway station and just see more of the same. I know this is going to happen already, but still, there’s usually one little gem that was worth finding. The Mexican restaurant in Songnea for example, or the acupuncturist I want to try again when they are open in Imhak.
After a second day of rambling and going to the grocery store, I was on the final stretch home carrying a bag full of exotic cheeses from Home Plus, when a little tiny hand grabbed my arm. It was the girl from the temple. It appears what I’ve been looking for in Korea has been on my street all along.
So, I ran out of the amazing coffee beans I had from home. New Mexico Pinyon coffee that a true friend sent in a care package, and the Atlantic Roast by Coffee By Design, the micro roasters next to my mom’s house in Maine. I have a morning ritual, that unfortunately doesn’t involve anything good for me or constructive like meditation, exercise, or reading the New York Times. Just hand ground, french-pressed coffee and the distraction of the internet and a book balanced on my lap.
I wasn’t having any luck finding good coffee beans in the Bupyeong area. There are some really clever coffee shops – Grace’s behind Woori bank, and a really cute, rustic hole-in-the-wall place down a side street adjacent to that, but neither of them sell their beans. Why would they when they charge $4,000-7,000 won per cup?
I thoroughly enjoyed Roboseyo’s post on this coffee shop in the Hongdea area and the Kopi Luwak coffee he and a friend purchased there. That would be the coffee beans passed through the digestive system of a Civet, for your enjoyment. The Kaldi Coffee Club was exactly what I needed. A huge selection of beans, ground or whole, a nice atmosphere, and even better, a great Tapas restaurant around the corner where I had an amazing mushroom pasta with a mug of mulled wine.
For anyone who cares, I went with the charcoal roasted Bally peaberry. It’s mild enough to drink black. It gives me an excuse to go back to the shop because this is a better afternoon coffee. I’m going to try to find something more robust for the morning hours.
Filed under: Good Food, Korea, Travel, War | Tags: ajammas, Chomchi Jigea, kim jung il, pancreatic cancer
We get out of work around 11pm, which leaves the dinner selection quite limited. By the time I finished grading papers tonight, all the other teachers were gone without even saying goodbye. I guess it was a rough one for everyone. I think the humidity before the rain broke kept the energy level for students and teachers alike pretty low.
There is a great 24 hour restaurant right next to the school that we frequent. The night staff is two Ajammas who are always chatting away with each other when we walk in. The waitress Ajamma and the cook Ajamma. Sipping tea, gossiping I assume, and ready to whip up typical, really cheap Korean food at anytime of the night. I’ve learned more Korean from these two ladies than from anyone else in Korea. Endlessly patient, and used to all the foriegn staff at our school, they’ve taught each of us individually how to order, what to order, and how to figure out how much it costs at the end. They are amazing teachers. I stopped in by myself tonight and had a hot tuna and kimchi soup with rice on the side (Chomchi Jigea). Pretty tasty, and really spicy.
Aeri’s Kitchen – Blog with pics and how to make chomchi jigea.
When I left the restaurant it had started pouring rain. I keep forgetting that this is the monsoon season, and one should keep a compact umbrella stuffed in their purse at all times. The Ajammas were so worried about me going out in the rain, they insisted I take an umbrella from their stash with me. I fell so loved. Fed and kept dry, what more could you ask for.
On a completely different note….
It appears that Kim Jong Il has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
I saw it first on Air America Radio, which I enjoy but don’t always believe. A quick search around the internet, and it appears to be true. It seems he was diagnosed with cancer after a stroke last summer, but managed to keep it quiet.
The Korea Herald
The biggest fear I have heard, is that people are worried about his son being a much worse despot than “the dear leader.”
Unlike Nepal, and similar to Thailand, one of the joys of living in Korea is that there is a seemingly endless variety of food. There are lots of mom and pop restaurants that have a speciality dish that the menu revolves around: pick your meat, pick how spicy, noodles or rice… and there you have it, an often veggie loaded, fairly healthy, tasty meal – usually for well under $10.
But even with all the variety, sometimes I get a craving for something that can only be found elsewhere. Say last week when we stumbled across a “western” bar in our neighborhood. Complete with topless statuettes of German beermaids, old Texas and Tennessee license plates, and plenty of plaques displaying humorous slogans regarding beer in English. There was something on the menu that to me looked like cheese covered bowtie pasta with red sauce. Cheese! Pasta! I’m not a huge fan of red sauce, but, cheese and pasta! We also got some fried shrimp and a beer. All set.
The shrimp came out first, and they were amazing. Large, tasty, great breading: the works. Feeling satisfied and triumphant, I was excited about my first glimpse of pasta since being here. Out came the next dish, a giant plate, covered with cheese. We dive in, not looking too closely, and everyone realizes at the same time that what we are mashing between our teeth is really way to chewy to be pasta. Chew, chew, chew, chew. It’s not really going anywhere. Taking a closer look, it was yellowish/white with little nobbies all over it. My first thought was Octopus? I can live with that. I’ve eaten octopus at Japanese restaurants before. But this doesn’t taste like octopus, and why would you put cheese on such a thing?
Next theory – well, they do eat a lot of intestine and such over here, maybe that’s it. Poking around the dish some more, I find our culprit. A very distinct, nobbly, skin textured piece that very clearly shows that it is indeed part of a foot. A chicken foot to be exact. We are eating sauce and cheese smothered chicken feet. Which explains the smell when it was brought to the table.
If it had been delicious, I’m sure we would have eaten it, declawed or otherwise, but, alas, it was not. It was tasteless rubber with an odd odor. When the waitress noticed we weren’t eating it, she took it away and brought us a plate of french fries. Something the whities always like.
The funniest thing about the whole experience was how convinced my brain was that it was pasta, that I was able to convince everyone else that’s what was in the picture. Looks can be deceiving.
Video from Gourmet magazine on Korean food. I highly recommend this for people who are interested in what we are really eating over here. Really entertaining and informative video. The North Korean grandma making mung bean pancakes was so adorable. Thanks to ZenKimchi for pointing the video out.