Tuesday, November 10, 2009

청국장 (Cheunggukjang)

What is it? Well, let's just say that I've avoided eating at my boarding house for the past few days because at mealtime, a pungent odor of sweaty socks mixed with mildewed dishrag wafted up the stairs from the kitchen. Korean Wikipedia describes it as a Korean traditional food made with soybeans similar to Japanese natto. Today I foolishly went downstairs for dinner, thinking I would be safe, but BAM! There it was, slapping me in the face. It was too late to go back upstairs, and besides, it is getting cold out so I didn't want to eat an apple with peanut butter for dinner again, so I grabbed a bowl of rice and tried not to inhale through my nose.
Maybe I've just been unconsciously inhaling the smell so I've gotten used to it, but the soup tasted surprisingly normal. It was a bit of a shock, like, how could something that smells so terrible be palatable? I guess it sits on the opposite side of the smell/taste spectrum as salted fish fried rice (tastes just as bad as it smells.)

So here is how I've been avoiding falling into a food rut:
First, it helps to have two fun dining companions who look cute wearing the restaurant-issued aprons.
A big pile of spicy chicken and vegetables doesn't hurt either. But it gets better...
Oh my god, cheese, how I've missed you...
Yes, that's right, the cheese goes on top. With some peppers, onions, and olives, you get pizza chicken kalbi. How's that for fusion food? It was absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, the waiter is supposed to keep an eye out for you (or at least, it seems like it, since any time you try to stir the meat yourself he or she hurries over to do it for you) but ours was so engrossed in some sort of TV show that he completely neglected us, then refused to make us fried rice because we had eaten most of the meat. I was all for having him just fry up the rice and spicy sauce, screw the meat, but he said it wouldn't taste good. Interesting, because in the US they would have just been like "fine, as long as we make money do whatever you want!" but that doesn't seem to be the case here.
Isn't that the cutest ice cream sandwich you've ever seen? From Baskin Robbins. They also have this crazy chocolate fondue dessert complete with fruit, bits of cake, and the cutest little ice cream balls in little waffle cones.
It was 70 degrees yesterday, hence the ice cream sandwich. Today it was 60 but felt colder because of the wind. So a nice hot bowl of ramen seemed in order. This was another place that had an ordering machine. It was a little more stressful because there were more options and I had no idea what anything was, so I just pressed the button next to a picture of what looked like a bowl of ramen and hoped for the best. The slice of pork was grilled over charcoal and the soup was really filling and almost nutty/smoky-flavored. I'm not sure how they achieved that, but I sure hope it wasn't through pork fat...between eating whatever I want and neglecting my running shoes (I'm not even sure where they are right now) I might have to be rolled off the plane when I land in San Francisco...

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