Drinking Makgeolli

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Makgeolli 

Makgeolli is at the top of my to-drink list when visiting Korea. And this being Korea, you cannot drink without eating. Although it is possible to sit outside any 7-11 and imbibe this Korean rice alcohol, it screams to be paired with better food than packaged dried squid. And because I’m classy, a trip to a makgeolli house or traditional pub ( 막걸리집 / 전통주점) is essential.

These are drinking places that serve a range of alcohol matched food items (anju, 안주). They’re often wood-panelled and reminiscent of the olden-days countryside, perhaps because makgeolli was traditionally the farmers drink of choice. Many are dusty and dark and decorated with replica vegetables and strings of fake leaves. Or, they may have interior walls covered in graffiti, with pens inviting customers to make their own mark. In other words, they’re fun.

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Popular places for modeum jeon in Hongdae

On every table you’ll spot a teapot or bowl full of alcohol, and small, wide-mouthed metal bowls instead of glasses. Makgeolli is an alcohol made from wheat and rice which has been fermented to a milky, slightly bubbly and sour-ish liquid. It’s sometimes called ‘rice beer’, has a complex flavours that are frustratingly difficult to describe and altogether too easy to drink.

On sitting in plastic bottles in the fridge, the sediment will sink to the bottom, leaving an unappealing pale yellow fluid atop white sludge. This sight, and the horror story hangovers, is probably why it took me months to first try makgeolli. That’s too long wasted. Sweetness levels and overall flavour vary between bottles and brands, so taste widely, if you have the opportunity. Rice, fruit and nut variations are on restaurant menus and in convenience stores throughout Korea, but due to a mixture of short shelf life and unawareness, it’s rarely seen internationally.

Dongdongju (동동주) is a kind of makgeolli that is not strained. It has a much higher alcohol content and is rarely fizzy. These features contribute to its unrefined reputation, which has caused dongdongju to previously be held in low esteem. It’s served in a bowl with a ladle, as opposed to a teapot, and sometimes in summer it’ll be icy, like a rice alcohol slushie. It’s only available in restaurants, and despite its low standing, dongdongju is my favourite.

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The menu at a traditional pub. I can read Korean, but have trouble with this script.

Just as every flavour of makgeolli is different, each makgeolli house has it’s own quirks and specialities. The string of joints behind Hongik University train station, with their streetside grills are popular for big plates of modeum jeon (모듬전, mixed pancakes) in similarly dank graffitied rooms. These are more like greasy fritters, tofu, green chillies, crab sticks and a range of vegetables are stuffed with a pork mixture, dipped in a runny batter and fried. Served with kimchi and plenty of dongdongju this dish marks the start of many a great night.

At other places each table will have a bubbling pot of spicy chicken stew, or plate-overhanging jeon (전, pancake) made with kimchi, or spring onions, or potatoes, or seafood. Or oily crunchy slabs of bindaetteok (빈대떡, mung bean pancake). Little plates loaded with boneless chicken feet slathered in dangerous crimson sauce, Golbaengi (snail) noodle salad, smokey grilled fish, and you get the picture. A lot of food.

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Makgeolli and kimchi jeon.

Makgeolli is growing popular again in Korea, and cocktails featuring the drink are becoming available across Seoul. This popularity has also,  and perhaps more desirably, spawned makgeolli and dongdongju making workshops and increased success among artisan brewers.

It’s tradition for Koreans to eat jeon on rainy days, because the sizzling pancake batter on the griddle sounds like the falling rain. And if the anju is jeon, the traditional drink will be makgeolli. But you don’t have to wait for a drizzly day. In fact, you shouldn’t.

 

Makgeolli previously featured at Mindeulle Cheoleom in Hyehwa, Seoul

Map location for Modeum Jeon places in Hongdae

Map location for a favourite Makgeolli house in Hongdae

Posted in Seoul, Seoult and Pepper | 2 Comments

Boat Noodle Alley, Bangkok

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I’d heard about an alley of restaurants in Bangkok serving mini-portions of noodles, and I was excited. But that’s really my default setting when it comes to eating in Thailand, so I was actually extra excited plus. The restaurants line a small canal not far from Victory Monument BTS station, which is handy for some bonus accidental sightseeing. And they serve boat noodles, amongst other things, so called as they used to be served from boats plying the canals. A few twists of noodle, a sprinkle of greenery (snipped up water spinach and herbs), some meat and a spiced broth enriched with pigs blood.

The noodles are available in small (10 baht ~$0.30AU) or large (35-40 baht), but go with the small, which provides freedom for the strong and pungent, in a way that can be overwhelming with large portions. Every diner has their own style,and some even order a couple of small bowls of the same dish and dump them all in the one bowl before seasoning and eating instead of opting for the large size. On my few visits here, I’ve managed to try four of the restaurants in this little strip, ordering widely from their picture menus.

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Here’s how it works. You pick a variety of noodle (wheat, egg, glass, thin or thick rice), then a method of preparation and a meat. These last two vary as you progress down the alley and each place has about 5 preparations, but all serve boat noodles, the one with the spiced blood soup, and florid pink fermented beancurd broth – yen ta fo. Most serve a dry spicy noodle, and some have a tom yum soup version. Also on the menu are crisped pigs skin and deep fried wonton wrappers. All tasty and so affordable it seems a shame not to try.

Tradition dictates a particular noodle for each preparation, but the lack of phonetic descriptions messes with my carefully prepared food phrases and I end up randomly picking and choosing. I don’t maths well, but five types of noodles, five preparations and a few meats (beef, pork, braised beef, a range of balls), means many potential combinations – certainly more than all but seasoned eating competition winners could down in one sitting.

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The first place you come to – Pranakorn Noodle Restaurant – served up this sad looking boat noodle. It tasted fine, pleasantly musty with dried spices and not at all bloody, but there is something to be said for presentation and extras. The big plus of this joint is a very fine, almost savoury steamed coconut and pandan custard. These little cups are sitting on the table, I dare you to stop at just one. Also, this is the only place where you can sit by the canal. Although it’s filthy, you might, as we did, spot a couple of enormous water monitors tussling.

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The other places have the benefit of air conditioning and generally friendlier service, tastier food (first two pictures), and larger menus. For me, the joy of eating here lies in the portion sizes. Small bites that are the antithesis of a hulking carb-heavy bowl of pho. Where a handful of servings adds up to just a light lunch and you can enjoy a cacophony of flavours and without being overburdened in the stomach or the wallet. Plus, it’s fun, even if you don’t spot the huge water lizards fighting.

 

Boat Noodle Alley
Google map location
Very easy to find. Exit Victory monument BTS station to the north (check the maps in the station). Follow the raised walkway. Continue following the walkway halfway around the Victory monument, take the easy right before the walkway crosses the main road. You’ll cross over a canal. Go down the stairs and chuck a u-turn. Take the next left, and you’ll see the alley and and the restaurants.

Open 11am – 9pm

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Coconut Ice Cream

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I’ve been travelling a bit recently and getting out of my loner comfort zone by talking to backpackers. It’s been an eye opening experience, especially when the conversation twists and whirls to Bangkok, as it invariable does. I fall more for this magnificent city each time I visit. They all gushed about the Khao San Road version of Bangkok, with barely a breath given to what may lie beyond. Sure, Khao San area has all a backpacker may need: fishermans pants, fake university degrees, cheap ‘cocktail’ buckets; but greater Bangkok has so much more to offer, especially when it comes to food.

Superlative noodles, blow-your-head-off somtam and chic fine-dining are just a few meals that I’ve recently enjoyed outside the backpacker ghetto. But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing great to eat in this area. This coconut ice-cream pictured was from Sukhumvit, but the roving sellers make appearances on the Khao San side of town as well. They crack a drained coconut open, scrape up the flesh with a special tool, and top with mini-scoops of creamy pandan-accented very-coconut ice-cream. A final flourish of evaporated milk seems gratuitous on this sizable dessert, but is welcome for its almost savoury counterpoint.

The flavour and textural combination simply embodies the concept of ‘balance’, everpresent in good Thai food, in an easily accessible and tasty package. Happily available even in backpacker town.

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Available from roving salespeople across Bangkok, 25 baht a pop (about $0.80AU).

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Mien Luon Tron

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Lunch in Hanoi has been getting boring for me recently. You’re probably looking at your soggy sambo with wilted lettuce, or oily foodcourt noodles and thinking I’m a spoilt cow, but when you get used to the exotic, it no longer is. So lunchtime for me lately has either been bun cha or rice from a range of com binh dan joints I’m testing out, but my bun cha habit is getting bad. So one recent morning, a Hanoi lunch starts just past 11am, I took a chance and sat at the only busy market stall around and ordered what the other customers were greedily digging in to: miến lươn trộn.

Mien noodles are quick-cooking, chewy and translucent. Made from mung bean, sweet potato or cassava, they are the basis for dishes from Korean japchae to spicy Thai salads, are eaten everywhere in between and have just as many different names. The word is that these Vietnam produced noodles differ from the rest as they’re made from the starch of the canna lily.

The luon (eel) here is sliced into long fingers that curl and tangle together when they’re deep fried crunchy. Off-putting perhaps, but these spiny lengths taste mild and are well and truly inanimate. But, if it’s all too much this dish can sometimes be ordered with stir fried beef instead.

Tron means dry, but this dish is anything but. It’s just served with the soup on the side.

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The still-hot mien noodles are joined in the bowl by blanched bean sprouts, the crisp twists of eel, roasted peanuts and deep-fried shallots with a handful of herbs freshly scissor snipped in. Glugs of this and ladle-fuls of that are added to loosen and flavour it sour and salty. Pickles, sometimes the regular pickled carrot and kohlrabi (củ su hào), other times an almost salad of marinated cucumber, can also be added. A big bowl of chilli sauce, furious red and topped with a layer of oil the same colour tempts, for extra flavour that’s not especially required, but I add it anyway. Mixing this dish turns it into a sparky noodle salad, bright and full of interest, with a portion size perfect to start an afternoon of grazing.

And it just happens to be lunch time now.

 

Miến lươn trộn.

Available around town.
This version which comes from my local market, Cho Yen Phu, is available from breakfast until early afternoon, and costs 25,000 dong (~$1.15 AU).

Posted in Vietnam, Vietnoms | 2 Comments

Bot Chien

Vietnamese cuisine changes with latitude, and the south is a wonderland of long-forgotten specialities and new tastes for this new Hanoian. But with only a fleeting moment in Ho Chi Minh City, this trip became an extended grazing session.

When I first moved to Hanoi a friend from Ho Chi Minh City gave me a list of things to eat if I were to ever visit her hometown. High on that list was Bot Chien, a popular after-school snack. When mid-afternoon hunger struck and with no destination pre-researched, I google maps searched ‘bot chien’ and headed to the closest location.

I’m often confused about how to eat a new meal, especially with language barriers and cultural misunderstanding. So on an initial visit, I take cues from other tables. Sometimes servers will intervene, showing their preferred way to mix a dipping sauce, or flavour a bowl of noodles. Other times, like with bot chien, it’s anything goes.

At Bot Chien Dat Thanh, the situation was confusing. There was a plate piled high with shredded green papaya and carrot. A soy based dipping sauce. Three little pots of chillies, raw, dark oily chilli sauce, and a smooth fluorescent red condiment. A plate of crisped rice-flour-cake fried with egg, steaming hot fresh from the skillet. A quick scan of the room, mostly single male eaters, showed myriad eating styles. Pile the salad on the rice cakes and drench the whole thing in sauce with added chilli. Or dip alternating mouthfuls of the bot chien and salad into your chilli spiked soy sauce. Or a mix of the two.

Whichever method you choose you’ll get a mix of crunchy rice cake edges and chewy centres, mild and steadfast, held together with unremarkable egg and just enough grease. The crunchy, fresh salad and rice cake are enlivened by a dip in the outstanding sauce. Mainly soy, with a touch of sour and sweet, unexpected in this land of fish sauce. Alternate mouthfuls of cool, salty, crunchy salad and hot, spicy, chewy rice cake were my eating choice. And it worked, we ordered another serve before the first was complete.

After this meal I started spotting bot chien stalls everywhere, and it turns out it’s a popular late night snack as well. With good reason. Next time I’m in Ho Chi Minh City, bot chien, whichever way you eat it, is on the list.

Bột chiên Đạt Thành
277 Võ Văn Tần- Quận 3

Bot Chien 18,000 dong (~82 AUCents)
Also, fresh spring rolls and papaya salad with dried beef.

Posted in Vietnam, Vietnoms | 1 Comment
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