Sunday, February 27, 2011

43 Thailand #5: Mieng Kham

 Mieng Kham kits for sale in the Warorot market in Chiang Mai
10 baht (approx 30 cents) each
Getting back to my 43 stories from Thailand and Malaysia...

I first encountered this vibrant little snack at a temple market on my first trip to Thailand over eight years ago. Mieng means "many" and kham means "one bite."  It's a little betel leaf packet containing bits of dried shrimp, fresh lime, roasted peanuts, a teeny cube of ginger, toasted coconut, and shallot, with a spicy tangy sauce. Sweet, salty, sour, savory, crunchy - all the elements combine to create something bright and vibrant, greater than the sum of its parts, and really refreshing. It was a bit hard for me to find places to get it once I got back to the U.S., so I'd only had it once (at my dad's friend's restaurant) and it was on my must-eats list on my December trip.

While browsing Chiang Mai's Warorot market with my friend A., I found a stall selling mieng kham kits. We bought a few of these packets to take to A.'s aunt's house, where we sat next to her fish pond (getting bit by not a few mosquitoes in the process) and drank bright blue butterfly pea tea. The taste was just as I remembered, and M. really enjoyed them, too. If you're curious and want to try making them at home, here's a recipe.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Seoul Cooking: Salteñas Cakes

I created this recipe a few hours ago, and it turned out so well I had to post about it.

This came about because I wanted to make something nice for Sunday brunch at home without having to go to the store first. We've been eating out a decent amount recently so there wasn't much to build on. M. reminded me about a bag of sweet potatoes that we needed to use. With that, I decided to make a kind of potato cake using twigim flour. While I was cooking the cakes I thought about what to pair them with, since we didn't have any sour cream or plain yogurt, my usual potato cake accompaniment. We had all kinds of hot sauce to shower them with, but that alone seemed kind of boring. Suddenly, I remembered the two hard boiled eggs we had sitting in the fridge. Combined with raisins and chopped green olives, it became a salteñas-inspired topping for the sweet potato cakes, an homage to Julia's. Eating them was a bit like eating a deconstructed empanada.

Hard boiled eggs, olives, raisins - somehow, it works
Salteñas Cakes
Serves 2 for a hearty brunch

For the salteñas topping:
 *2 hard boiled eggs, chopped into bite-sized pieces
*10-12 green olives, chopped
*a small handful of raisins
*dash of freshly ground black pepper

For the cakes:
*3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and shredded
*Half a thinly sliced onion
*Twigim flour (seasoned flour for deep frying; substitute all-purpose flour with a bit of garlic powder and salt)
*1 teaspoon chili powder

Whisk the flour and chili powder with water until you get a thin batter (I didn't measure; pancake batter consistency or maybe a bit thinner). When the batter is smooth and lump-free, mix in the sweet potatoes and onion.

Beautifully browned cakes
Meanwhile, heat up a large skillet over medium heat. Add a bit of oil (or butter for something more decadent) to the pan; when the oil's hot, add dollops of the sweet potato mixture and spread them out thin, pressing them out (a measuring cup with a flat bottom works great for this). Cook the cakes on one side until they start to brown a bit, then flip and cook the other side, pressing to thin them out evenly. Continue flipping, cooking, and pressing until they are thin and crispy and the sweet potato and onion are cooked through. Remove to a serving plate and continue until you've used up the rest of the mixture. To serve, spoon a bit of salteñas topping onto the center of one cake,  add a bit of hot sauce, fold in half and enjoy. If you have some, yogurt or sour cream would be great with these too.

The Mystery of 'Mandu'

Note: This is an expanded and revised version of a post from January 2010.

I am a big fan of dumplings and other foods that come in small packages. Whether they're called pierogies, pelmeni, or potstickers, manti or empanadas, I can't imagine a more satisfying snack. Savory, sweet, served with or without sauce, deep fried, steamed, baked or boiled – I love them all. At home I enjoy making my own homemade potstickers and ravioli, and when I travel, I seek out the local varieties in street stalls and snack shops. While traveling and living in various parts of East Asia, I've enjoyed discovering dumplings in all their glorious incarnations.

Steamers at Gui Il Mandu in Sinchon
At many dumpling stalls and restaurants across the region you can see the dumplings displayed out front (usually steaming in towers of stacked baskets) and thus have an idea of what you will be ordering. That is not always the case, however, and there are many different varieties, all called by different names. When I lived in China, I became accustomed to how dumplings and their brethren were classified. Basically, there were two types of dumpling-esque foods: those made with a thin wrapper of water and flour, which I will refer to as 'thin wrapper type' and those made with a yeast-risen dough similar to bread, henceforth known as 'bread type.' If I encountered a menu item with the character jiao (餃),  I knew to expect a thin wrapper type dumpling crimped into a half-moon shape. On the other hand, if I saw a street vendor uncovering a basket crowded with round steamed breadlike buns containing a sweet  or savory filling, I knew to order baozi(飽子)and when they did not contain a filling, mantou(饅頭).

Chinese dumplings are also distinguishable by cooking method. Ordering shui jiao (水餃) produced something that was exactly as their Chinese characters predicted: “water” (水)+ “dumpling” (餃 )= boiled dumplings. If I saw guotie (鍋貼) on the menu, I knew to expect a steam-fried dumpling, crisp and golden on the pot side, pale and slightly chewy on the reverse, what we call a “potsticker” in English. Furthermore, anything labeled baozi would be either steamed or baked.

With so many different fillings to choose from, I never got bored. They ranged from the sweet: red or yellow bean paste, or my favorite, black sesame paste; to the savory: anything from Chinese chives and egg, to thin sweet potato noodles with spiced eggplant, to ground pork and cabbage, to the “three freshnesses” (sanxian 三鮮) of shrimp, egg, and pork. If I ordered dumplings in a restaurant, the filling would be included in the name on the menu, but  on the street I typically had to ask what a particular item contained.  Although the exact nature of many Chinese dishes were obscured by poetic names (once, judging from the name of the dish, what I thought to be bamboo shoots turned out to be a plate of steamed intestines), dumplings were one thing I could count on to be transparently named.

I later encountered a similar situation while traveling in Japan. There, I found gyoza, thin wrapper type dumplings, and manju, bread type buns. Furthermore, they were named differently according to the cooking method. If I ordered yaki gyoza (焼き餃子) I got steam-fried dumplings, lined belly-up displaying a golden layer of fried dough where they stuck to the pan. Asking for sui gyoza (水餃子) produced boiled crescent-shaped dumplings, whereas nikuman (肉まん) got me meat-filled steamed buns reminiscent of Chinese baozi.

After moving to Korea in 2009, armed with the knowledge that mandu (만두) meant "dumpling," I anticipated that soon the Korean classification of dumplings would become clear.

Oops, never mind...

Many tasty mandu meals and snacks later, and having added to my glossary of specific mandu types, I am still puzzled about how one can predict the type of mandu one will get. Mandu came to Korea via China centuries ago, during the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty, and at that time there seems to have been a connection between mandu, a Sino-Korean word, and the Chinese word mantou, where mantou might have originally meant a jiaozi-type dumpling. However, the uses of the words in both countries have since diverged: While mandu now refers to a variety of dumplings in Korean, mantou simply refers to plain steamed bread in Chinese. On a recent trip to Hyundai department store's food hall, I discovered three different items, all called mandu. One was a flat panfried crescent similar to gyoza, another resembled a steamed jiaozi, and the third looked like a large baozi.

While I will eagerly eat any mandu offered to me, a lack of a clear classification system makes it difficult to discuss mandu matters, and sometimes leads to disappointment when ordering. Here's my attempt to sort through the chaos: by examining the factors of wrapper type, cooking method, shape, and filling.

Wrapper type
Out of all the factors, this seems the murkiest. Here in Seoul at least, simply listing mandu on a menu might refer to either a thin wrapper type or bread type dumpling. Two examples from the area around Sinchon station exit 6 will illustrate this point. Gui Il Mandu (귀일만두) offers kimchi mandu that are the thin wrapper type. However, the petite, round kimchi mandu at Rotary Bunsik (로타리분식) are bread type. So far, I have found only one exception to this confusion: the poja (포자, baozi) offered at Hyundai department store's food hall, which delivers on what it promises, a steamed bread bun with filling.

Cooking method
Gun mandu
It would be really helpful if Korean mandu were consistently labeled by their cooking method, like in China and Japan. This happens sometimes, but more often than not simply mandu is used. However, it's useful to know these words for when they do turn up on menus. Jin (진) means “steamed,” so jin mandu (진만두) indicates a steamed dumpling (whether it will be a thin wrapper type or bread type is a different story). There are many different terms that can be used for fried mandu: some places use gun (군), “fried,” while others mix Japanese and Korean, calling them yaki mandu (야끼만두) or use another Korean word for fried,  twigim mandu (튀김만두).  Additionally, there's mul mandu (물만두), “water” mandu, boiled dumplings.

This said, what I've found is that if you encounter the simple term mandu on a menu it tends to be steamed (if the stacked metal or bamboo baskets outside didn't already tell you that). Furthermore, there is one item in my experience that is always predictable – jjinppang (찐빵) always refers to the steamed bread type, like Chinese baozi or mantou or Japanese manju, and either contains a filling or is plain.

Homemade gochu mandu
Mandu also come in different shapes: in half-moons (flat or bulgy), in balls with pinched tops, or folded like tortellini, with a round of filling in the middle and a seal on one end. The half-moon shape tends to be the most common, at least here in Seoul, but there are plenty of round ones too, usually with pinched tops, like the gochu (고추 hot green pepper) mandu at Myongin Mandu (명인만두), a chain with branches around the city. These cute baby mandu (which, incidentally, are steamed thin wrapper type) look a bit like little pointed hats.

There are also mandu of different sizes. While Myongin Mandu's gochu mandu are bite-sized, and an order of 12 or so serves nicely as a light snack, you can easily make a meal out of several wang mandu (왕만두, literally “king” mandu), about two inches in diameter each.

kimchi mandu
In spite of all the confusion, one factor has been most reliable: the filling. For example, kimchi mandu (김치만두) contains kimchi mixed with ground pork, kalbi mandu (갈비만두), a specialty of Mapo Mandu (마포만두),  contains kalbi, and the aforementioned gochu mandu features spicy green peppers (like the kimchi mandu, mixed with ground pork). However, this does not solve the problem of transparency: ordering kimchi mandu from a menu, you have an equal chance of receiving either a thin wrapper type or a bread type dumpling.

Since I find them all equally delicious, the ambiguity of the term mandu hasn't been a problem per se. Actually, encountering inconsistencies can be fun and interesting, and I've come to accept it as the slightly mysterious but always fun process of ordering and consuming mandu.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hooray for fizzy funky fetid food!

I'm really looking forward to attending this event: Seoul's apparently first (annual?) fete of all things fermented, appropriately titled "Fermentation Celebration."

Apparently there's going to be a lot of different types of kombucha on offer! I hadn't really thought about that stuff since my dad was making it in the late 90's. Although I thought the name referred to the Japanese word for a type of seaweed, apparently (according to the Wikipedia article) the Japanese name is actually kocha kinoko 紅茶キノコ or "black tea mushroom" (although the character 紅 means "red" it is used to refer to what we call black tea in English) and the tea itself is derived from yeast, not seaweed (though there is actually a Japanese seaweed tea called kombucha).

From the Facebook page for the event, I found out that one vendor will be bringing two types of kombucha: ginger and rosemary, as well as...kombucha makgeolli, which should be interesting.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Day in the Life

People have been asking, so thought I'd share: a typical day at 천장사 Cheonjangsa, my life for two weeks. As anyone who's experienced a one-night temple stay here in Korea can see, this isn't really your typical temple stay regimen. For me, it felt like just the right balance of free time and structure.

3:00am ~ Wake up; sometimes the cook would do a bit of breakfast prep (떡국ddeok guk or 죽juk)
3:10-3:20am ~ 예불 (yebul) Morning service
3:30-4:00 am ~ Meditation (my choice; others would spend this time bowing and praying)
4:00-6:00am ~ Nap (usually, sometimes I'd stay up and help prepare breakfast
6am ~ 스님 (Sunim)'s breakfast followed by cleanup
6:30am ~ Our breakfast
7:00-9:00am ~ Free time - usually I'd take a hike, or if I hadn't napped earlier, nap, or sometimes study Korean. I met with the head monk and some of the laypeople once or twice to drink tea and have a chat about meditation
9:00-11:00am ~ Lunch prep: Making banchan and rice and the main dish of the day, helping with other tasks as needed
Hitting the moktak, which we used as a dinner bell
10:20am ~ Prepare and bring the 마지 maji (rice offering) to the 법당 boptang (a task usually reserved for the apprentice monks but allocated to me while there)
11:00am ~ 스님 (Sunim)'s lunch
11:30am ~ Our lunch, or if we had laypeople here for the morning service, they would eat first and then we'd eat
11:30am-12:30pm ~ Eating and cleanup (lots of dishes)
12:30-4:00pm ~ Free time. I'd study Korean for a couple of hours, or go hiking if I hadn't gone in the morning, or go to the market with the head monk and some of the other laypeople. We went to the spa twice while I was there (once a week is just about right for me)
4:00-5:00pm ~ Dinner prep (usually lighter than lunch prep since we'd serve some of the same banchan and sometimes the same main dish)
 5:00pm ~ 스님 (Sunim)'s dinner
5:20pm or so ~ Our dinner
5:30-7:00pm ~ Free time - we might chat after dinner or maybe have tea together
7:00pm~ 예불 (yebul) Evening service
7:30-8:00pm ~ Meditation
8:00-9:00pm ~ Free time; we'd usually watch a drama or two (웃어라동해야), or I'd read or something
9:00-9:30pm ~ Bedtime

A Plum Alternative

I became a bit of a beer snob while living in Seattle. It was hard not to. Microbreweries in abundance with all kinds of innovative, delicious brews on tap, beer that actually made you feel buzzed and satisfied after one instead of bloated and still sober after three or four. Then in D.C. we could get Dogfish Head. Here in Korea we basically have the Hydra of Max, Cass, Hite, and occasionally O.B. - all heads of the same boring snake (M thinks Hite is the best but I honestly can't tell the difference).

It says "tea" but it's actually more like a concentrate
However, the other night we made an incredible discovery. I had had M go to the store to look for "meshil" (basically, plum syrup/concentrate) for a seaweed banchan I was making that I learned at Cheonjangsa. Although it took a bit of work, (not as straightforward as I thought it would be), he came back with a can of 梅丹("medan" or "Plum tea" in English) which worked just fine for my purposes.

Since I only needed a bit for the banchan, we had discussed using the rest for a drink mixer - mixing the rest it with soju, which seemed natural, but then during dinner he was inspired to splash a bit of it in his cup of Hite - shades of what we used to get at Domku - and the resulting concoction transformed watery mass market beer into a slightly tart, fruity, refreshing libation. After trying that, I don't see any reason to go back to drinking plain beer here anymore.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Seoul Cooking: Moo Mu Jorim

Okay, so maybe the title of this recipe is a bit too clever. It's a crosslinguistic description of the main ingredients in this dish: pork (using the Thai word) and Korean radish (which is like a chubby Japanese daikon). While it might evoke blousy Hawaiian beachware, it's intended to reflect the main inspirations for this dish: a meatball recipe from a popular Korean blogger, a Chinese-Thai dish that my friend A. taught me how to make in Chiang Mai this past December called "puh-loh,"  and a soy-simmered Korean pickle of cucumbers, hot peppers and the aforementioned radish that I watched the early stages of making but unfortunately was unable to sample at Cheonjangsa and still need to research, called, simply, "지" (ji) (some of the monks had never heard of it).

I intended this as a banchan that you eat with rice and other side dishes. It's pretty strongly flavored. The meatballs were extra delicious with the addition of some tangerine gochujang that I got from my host on Jeju. 

Moo Mo Jorim
Makes approximately 6-8 servings as a banchan

-Ground pork approx. 1/2 pound or 300 grams
-Gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) 1-2 teaspoons
-Soy sauce, generous splash
-1 clove garlic, minced

-One large mu, peeled and cut into 1" chunks

Seasoning (to your taste):
-1-2 Tablespoons Soy sauce
-1 teaspoon brown sugar
-Several splashes apple cider vinegar

1. Mix the meatball ingredients thoroughly. Roll the meatballs into approx. 1" balls. Steam for about 10 minutes or until cooked through.

2. Meanwhile, in a large wok pan or pot, heat up a bit of oil over medium heat. Add the radish pieces and stirfry for a few minutes, then add the soy sauce, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar, plus 1-2 cups of water (just enough to cook the radish and make a broth). Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the radish is cooked.

3. When the meatballs are finished steaming, add them to the pot containing the radishes, stirring carefully to coat them in sauce. Add water if needed, then cover again and simmer to incorporate the meatballs (as long as you want but just a few minutes is probably enough).

4. Serve with rice as part of a Korean-style meal with other side dishes. Cucumbers are nice.

The shape of my Korean

A while back, M's friend, who was tutoring him in Korean, asked why he possessed such an impressive food vocabulary but knew hardly any words for body parts. What can I say? It's a reflection of our life here (and probably our generally good health).

Up until I went on my solo adventures first to Jeju and then to Cheonjangsa, my exposure to Korean was basically limited to classrooms and restaurants, and my abilities reflected that (very limited and awkward exchanges with cashiers in supermarkets and various stores doesn't count for much, in my opinion). While I might have appeared perfectly comfortable ordering 순대국, I would have been at a loss to, say, describe my personality or my meditation practices. In my daily life as an English teacher with an American husband, there weren't really many opportunities for me to broaden my Korean.

One area of my Korean vocabulary that has particularly improved after my experiences is in the realm of washing various things - words that I initially learned in the classroom but that just weren't sticking. They certainly stick now!

There were other words that I knew but didn't really have a context to use them in. I now have a Korean extended family of sorts that includes an 언니 (eonni) (woman's older sister), an 이모 (imo) (auntie, mother's sister) from Daegu, and an 오빠 (oppa) (woman's older brother).

One caveat: when I'm in a so-called naturalistic situation, it helps that I've studied Chinese and that Korean still contains many compound words derived from Hanja (Chinese characters). While modern Korean doesn't use the characters themselves, the meaning in Chinese can still be accessed from the pronunciation. For example, I just guessed that the word for progress was "jinbo" based on the fact that the Mandarin pronunciation is "jinbu" - and it worked. This gives me a bit of an advantage over Korean language learners who have not studied Chinese or Japanese - kind of like Spanish speakers learning Italian.

I thought it would be interesting to compile a glossary of the words here that I found particularly useful or that I picked up during my adventures. While not comprehensive by any means, it is a good representation of what my life was like in each place, and very personal. Each word or phrase in this list carries a certain resonance with it - images, feelings, experiences - that is in a certain way more valuable than anything I ever learned in a classroom.

From Jeju WWOOFing:
메주 (meju) - soybean brick - the first stage of making dwaenjang
배달 (baedal) - delivery
텍배 (tekbae) - package
단지 (danji) - large earthenware crocks used for making and storing a variety of fermented foods such as dwaenjang, gochujang, ganjang (soysauce), and kimchi
내리오다 (naeri oda) - to take down
장갑 (janggab) - gloves
판매 (panmae) - to sell
곰팡이 (gompangi) - mold
싱겁다 (singeobda) - bland, tasteless
점 (jeom) - point(s) (used when playing GoStop)
오름 (oreum; jeju dialect) - small mountain
아이잰 (aijaen) - spikes attached to the bottom of your boots, used for hiking in snow (I think it's a borrowing from German)
무겁다 (mugeobda) -heavy

From two weeks at Cheonjangsa:
스님 (seunim) - monk
보살님 (bosalnim) - female layperson
거사님 (geosanim) - male layperson 
"됐어" ("dwaesseo") - finished (like for a dish)
아가씨 (agassi) - young woman/miss (no children)
부저 (bujeo) - apprentice (chef)
저리사 (jeorisa) - cafeteria chef
삼배 (sambae) - three bows
행자 (haengja) - apprentice monk or nun
마지 (maji) - offering
법당 (beopdang) - Buddhist worship hall
예불 (yebul) - Buddhist prayer service
넣다 (neoda) to put in
성격 (seonggyeok) - personality
경험 (gyeongheom) - experience
방법 (bangbeop) - method
명상 (myeongsang) - meditation
참선 (chamseon) Seon/Zen meditation
화두 (hwadu) - Seon/Zen Koan
접시 (jeopshi) - plate
그릇 (geureus) - bowl
목탁 (mogtak) - a "temple block" - the wooden percussion instrument that monks use for chanting, and that the temple cook used for a dinner bell
새벽 (saebyeok) - dawn
사슴 (saseum) - deer
까마귀 (kkamagui) - crow
다시마 (dasima) - "kombu" seaweed used for making stock 
더반 (deoban) - spiritual brother/sister
정 (jeong) - an emotional connection with another person; apparently there is no direct translation into English   
설거지 (seolgeoji) - washing dishes
세탁 (setak) - washing clothes
비누 (binu) - soap
껍질 (ggeobjil) peel (of an orange or potato, etc)
미끄러움 (mikgeureoum) - slippery
책임감 (chaegimgan) - sense of responsibility책임감
해바라기 (haebaragi) - sunflower
수행 (suhaeng) - training

Note: I have tried to use the standard Romanization system with the exception of kimchi (spelling it "gimchi" just looks weird to me).

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hmm, where to start?

Although usually I have no excuse for not updating this blog, I actually have a good one this time: I just finished up my solo vacation this past Sunday. My entire vacation consisted of one week of WWOOFing on Jeju island, followed by two weeks learning how to make Korean Buddhist dishes from the cook at a temple in in south Chungcheong province (충청남도). Both trips were transforming and revelatory in many ways, and there's much that I want to share on this blog (in addition to getting back to posting Thailand and Malaysia stories, that adds up to a lot...).

Working on my knife skills (no match for hers!)
However, it's M's birthday and I'm headed out to celebrate with him (Japanese style ramen; we're going to try a place near Sangsu station mentioned in this article), so I will have to stop here for now, but I promise to write more soon!

In the meantime, here are some highlights:

-Hiking snowy Hallasan
-Participating in the early stages of making dongdongju (hint: it involves lots of stomping)
-Watching the sunrise from the top of Yeonam mountain
-Meditating daily in a room where Kyeong Heo Sunim stayed for a time after attaining enlightenment


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