Cheese in the Far East

cheese in asia

Even though I’ve been home from Japan and Korea for about a month, I’m still seeing different friends for the first time and telling travel stories. I’m often asked what my favorite meal was or what country’s food I liked better or what was the craziest thing I ate. Often I mention the one instance 80 and I tasted cheese in the Far East as one of our best dishes.

We were shopping and strolling in the area near Seoul Women’s University. It was drizzling. Kinda chilly. Comfort was in need. It became our ritual to walk in, sit down and then leave restaurants if we couldn’t maneuver the menu or waitstaff. Because sometimes even hand gestures get lost in translation.

My co-worker Sherry told me about her sister’s views on Korean food while she lived in the country. The sister wasn’t fond of Korean food but enjoyed the country’s take on Italian food. 80 and I really did, for the most part, dine on each country’s cuisine. But at this moment, with seventy-five percent of our trip past, we needed something a tinge familiar. We needed cheese.

We walked into an Italian restaurant but then quickly left. We couldn’t communicate and weren’t up for the long batter of guesses. We snuck out. And instead we found college grub. Fusion college grub.

This place would fucking kill in the US. Huge bowls of hot rice, options of kimchi, veggies, chicken, whatever, then topped with melted mozzarella. Stir together with metal chopsticks. Awesomeness. Spicy, gooey, stomach-coating. Perfect drunk or hungover food. Plus, this place serves a side cup of broth to start. God I miss broth at every meal.

(PS–I hated Korean chopsticks: metal and thin. Hard to hold, become slippery easily. )

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Fishing for a Good Title

Just a taste of what was available at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.  Gansie and I actually missed a lot of the good stuff, as they were shutting down when we arrived at 10:30 am.  Gansie blamed us for being late, but they don’t let tourists in for the good stuff anymore until after 9 am…so I blame other annoying tourists.  After the market, we ate at one of Tokyo’s hard to find, yes, hard to find sushi joints.  Best sushi (fine, nagiri) ever.  No pics of that however, sorry.

Asia Trip and Wedding 1 (500 x 332)

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Stalling On the Way to the Kitchen

miso paste

In case you haven’t noticed, 80 and I took a two week vacation to Japan and Korea. In those glorious days of no work I didn’t cook a damn thing. In fact, it shocked me how much I didn’t miss the kitchen.

But now we’re back. I spend my days tapping on slate colored keys, knowing exactly what I’m doing and where I’ll be. I no longer need Lonely Planet guiding my days. Outlook dominates my hours once again.

Because I must get back into, well, being back, I bought something that would force me into the kitchen, but also force me to experiment with the flavors I found so delicious. I bought a big tub of miso paste. (Actually, it’s the only thing in my fridge at the moment.)

I’ve never played with miso paste before, but I have a feeling I’ll be able to find a billion uses for it. At this point, though, I’m very unclear on what those uses are.

Before we left for vacation, 80’s mom sent me Japanese Food and Cooking by Emi Kazuko and Yasuko Fukuoka, to prepare me for the craziness ahead. I’ve spied a few recipes I’m excited to mess around with—Fried Aubergine with Miso Sauce, Pot-Cooked Udon in Miso Soup (with a broth-poached egg!), Broccoli (stem only) and Cucumber Pickled in Miso—but I also want to try a clean miso soup.  If anyone knows where I can find: dried wakame, second dashi stock, shichimi togarashi or sansho – let me know!

And if you have other, less terrifying miso included recipes, comment here please.

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There Are Eyes in My Miso


There are fucking fish everywhere. At my last meal in Japan at the Narita airport I knew that I had to ask if the vegetable udon soup was vegetarian, because there’d be a good chance it wasn’t. It could easily contain slices of pork, but this soup instead was based in a fish stock. That just wouldn’t happen in the United States. A menu reads vegetable soup, it’s made with vegetable stock.

I still was shocked, however, to see these dark, circular eyes peering out from my miso soup. It’s not that I overlook miso in the US, I just don’t think much of it.

Broth is always rewarding, so warm and comforting. But when I’m on a sushi bender, I’m concentrating on the raw fish, not the accompaniment (although sometimes tempura battered vegetables steal some of my attention0n.) In Japan, though, broth is the first thought. So even while I’m letting tuna melt on my tongue, the salty liquid is on my mind. Not because I don’t want to choke on prawn’s head, but because of the dimensions of this not so simple side soup.

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Patrons Shouldn’t Have This Much Power

server bell

Tiring of kimchi, the fiery fermented cabbage side dish that is served at every single meal in Korea, we decided to try another cuisine on one of our last nights in Seoul.  We thought Thai would be a good choice: how does one Asian country create another Asian country’s food?

Dilemma ensued. When trying something familiar in a new setting, does one (a) choose something they’ve never had before, something one cannot get in her country of dwelling or (b) choose a favorite dish to see how it differs? I choose (a) and 80 choose (b).

At Pattaya I didn’t love my super spicy (did they sneak kimchi in there!) vegetable-packed noodle dish (the fettuccine looking noodles were flavorless, which is an uncommon occurrence compared to the rest of my meals in Japan and Korea), but 80’s red curry was creamy with an appropriate amount of heat. I should have went with my fav, Pad See Ew!

Because we took such a long time deciding, the waitress dropped off our drinks (Soju!) and then never came back for the rest of the order. It was late and all of the other tables had eaten, which we found to be the case most nights. We didn’t find a place for dinner until after 8:30 or later and I think every night we were the last to order. Guess they haven’t been to Barcelona.

Anyway, we were waiting and waiting and then I see this granite looking block on our table. It’s not a salt shaker. It has Korean writing on it and then says the word “Mic” over a button.

Are we mic-ed? Can they hear our conversation about the slow service? Should we push the button?

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Real Convenience at a Convenience Store

Before our train ride from Tokyo to Osaka, 80 and I went to am pm (convenience store) to stock up on some snacks. I bought this, thinking it was a hard boiled egg, but also slightly hoping it was gushy in the middle, a la the picture.


So after I ate my little rice triangle thing (also bought at am pm), which is sticky rice, formed into a triangle, topped with a cooked piece of salmon and tied together with seaweed, I pulled out my egg. It was rock hard and I was scared. I didn’t want raw egg to get everywhere so I placed it back into its package, waiting to explore it in a safer environment.

It made sense that it was a raw egg. Lots of places in Japan serve hot rice dishes with a raw egg on the side. The customer cracks it into the rice and the heat from the grains melts the egg, leaving a moist coating over the egg and its toppings (usually thinly sliced beef.)

I was pisted I didn’t buy the accompanying rice bowl to properly use the egg.

The egg stayed in our mini-fridge until our train ride back to Tokyo station, to connect to the train to the airport, to connect to the flight to Seoul. Right before we left I brought the egg to the bathroom sink.

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