Interesting TidBits Category

Peanut Butter & Squid

Ah, the classic peanut butter and dried squid snack. Where’s the Smucker’s grape jelly, you ask? Wonder Bread? BORING. What that classic combination really needs is a salty, briny, tough and stringy piece of jerky a la squid.

I can almost guarantee that in a Korean living room, bar, or “cafe,” where there is drinking of soju or beer (Hite or OB usually); then somewhere on that same table, there will be an unkempt scattering of fibers from strips of ojingo (dried squid) and peanuts (shelled or un-shelled) being eaten together. This is one of the most popular anju or snacks to eat while drinking for Koreans.

This combination is classic. There are even packaged snacks that deliver the strange combination in one cute little bite-size package.

I admit that peanut butter isn’t necessarily traditional. Typically, you’ll see whole peanuts being eaten with ojingo; some people like my Dad tear the ojingo into a thin strip, wrap it around a whole peanut, and then pop it all in their mouth at once. Others roast up the ojingo over a flame which softens it and intensifies the fishy flavor (don’t try this at home unless you’re an expert Korean person like my Mom. Seriously, it stinks up the whole house and the ojingo pieces usually catch on fire). And still others, especially children, like to take a strip and gnaw and suck on it until it literally looks like a wet ragged piece of cheesecloth at the end of an alien-like creature.

What’s nice about peanut butter is that you most likely have a half full jar in your fridge somewhere. It’s easy to dip into with a hard strip of ojingo. And what you lose in texture with peanut butter, you gain in indulgent sweetness.

Of course, don’t expect to be able to spread that peanut butter on much else, unless you like squid flavor on your sandwiches. And if you’re overzealous with your dipping, expect those skinny jeans to feel a little tighter.

Either way – whole or spoonable, dried or roasted – this combo is oddly wonderful.

Our Adventure in Kauai: Day 2

If only every morning would wake me with seaside breezes tickling my skin! Made all the difference in the world.

Today we freely explore and acclimatize ourselves to Kauai; that is, after a monster breakfast with a slew of skittering Mina birds and leaping koi keeping us company.

Our exploration started with a mini-hike along the sandstone cliffs overlooking Shipwreck Beach. Although we liked to imagine grand pirate ships crashed on the shore, littering their loot across the sand, it’s actually named for a small abandoned boat that made it’s home there for years until Hurricane Iwa took its badly decomposing shell back to the sea. Also just below the water’s surface are jagged volcanic rocks endemic to Kauai which makes for some killer body surfing. Notice that I decidedly use the word “killer” to describe surfing there.

Seeing those big waves whet our appetite to visit one of the best beaches for body surfing, Poipu Beach. We’re talking plump waves converging at odd angles to create ideal conditions for some heady surf!

After a sufficient beating, we indulged in a couples 80-minute sports massage and looked forward to what is considered the most romantic place for dinner in Kauai – The Beachhouse.

Starting off with soft floury ciabatta and plenty of butter, we dove into fresh local fish ceviche served in a coconut shell, tempura-fried Ahi maki stuffed with crab. Our main courses included locally caught Oni, black forbidden rice, a grilled coconut sauce, and fresh green papaya. Jordan had wasabi-crusted Mongchong or local butterfish with lillikoi beurre blanc. Lillikoi or passion fruit – all types of which flourish all over the island – is a beloved and ubiquitous staple on local and restaurant menus alike.

Although the Beachhouse isn’t going to win any Michelin stars, the ingredients were treated simply, allowing them to be delicious just on their own.

Stuffed and intoxicated on a luxury cocktail of sunset and seaside, we caught the finale of a luau, complete with impassioned fire twirling display, from our window and quickly drifted off to sleep.

There’s no place like a [Korean] home…

Just when I’m getting cabin fever and feeling homesick, my photo archive reveals a treasure trove of pictures from a visit back home to Pennsylvania where my parents still live. I know it’s trite to say, but memories do indeed fuel the wonder only dishes from home can bring to the soul; especially when you come from a Korean family that loves to eat!

First let’s talk about what to me is the quintessential Korean dish (besides kimchee, of course), bibimbap. Bibimbap literally translates to “mixed rice.” It’s become so mainstream, you find it on the menu in the most unlikely of places. Even just today I discovered that Chicago’s famous gastropub The Publican’s Sunday brunch menu features a pork belly bibimbap!

Bibimbap works for so many reasons, not least of which is that when it’s made at home it takes no prep whatsoever. It originated from literally taking whatever leftover rice and banchan you had (traditional small dishes to eat with rice), throwing it all in a big bowl, adding lots of gochujang (bright red, sweet and spicy fermented chili and soybean paste) and a sunny side up egg (if you had it), and mixing and incorporating everything together until your arm hurt. Then the fam would each grab a spoon (somehow it seems to taste better with a long stem metal Korean spoon), and communally dig in! Even clean up is easy!

And just as layers of flavor permeate bibimbap, so does this dish speak to the rich agricultural history and resourcefulness intrinsic not only to making Korean food, but also eating it. At its core, it’s a no frills, hearty kind of eating spiced up with fire from plenty of hot chiles.

These photos were taken from Christmas 2011. We had a bunch of tasty banchan from my Mom and during a visit to my aunt’s house, a bibim party ensued with gusto! It’s always a special treat when my Dad decides to be the “Bimbim Master,” as we kids like to call him.

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This is the kind of spread waiting for me when I visit home. Gawd. Moms should be recognized as the ninth wonders of the world. All of this was made from scratch, yo.

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We also had some other memorable dishes from the visit including homemade Duk Mandoo Guk (beef soup with beef dumplings and rice cakes) and Guksu jongol (spicy casserole with noodles). Had to throw these in too because they are absolute pure comfort food for any Korean!

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Pure comfort indeed.

An EDD-ter’s Tour of Italy: Venice

After desperately navigating a mega-riot of cars at the bus terminal in Venice, and saying a fond farewell to our trusty rental car, we met our guide Takayo who took us to our hotel.

Honestly, I have absolutely no idea how we would have ever done it without her. Venice was by far the hardest city to navigate without walking in circles, triangles and rectangles first. If it wasn’t for its supreme charm and romantic waterways, it could feel like trying to find your way out of an M.C. Escher drawing.

Make no mistake that Venice is a tourist town and the prices for everything from Carnival masks to fish charged by the kilogram make it one of the most expensive places to visit in Italy. But its fascinating history as a hub for trade and politics seep deep into its ancient walls, streets, and wood piles upon which this city stays afloat. And you feel it.

One of the highlights of my time in Venice was visiting the Rialto Fish Market – a place where it seems you’re walking underwater while swaths of sea colors dance around you.

Cuttlefish or squid ink pasta is one of the most famous dishes from Venice. Our very well-read guide Mr. Sabino tipped us off to a local joint called Rosticceria Gislon which supposedly had an excellent Spaghettini Nero and other tipico dishes without the ridiculous prices.

Downstairs was an open a la carte trattoria with hot and cold dishes (it was extremely difficult not to try each one!) and upstairs was their sit-down restaurant. We opted for the restaurant so we could rest a bit and get a little down time from the throngs of customers downstairs.

Feast your eyes!

Seafood was the star in every one of the dishes we tried. Even the mozzarella en carroza acciughe or fried cheese sandwich with anchovy delightfully punched you in the face with the incredible briny flavors swimming through the gooey crispiness of the cheese and bread.

Spaghettini Nero
The squid was as tender as braised abalone and the sauce had an intense seafood flavor that was also sweet, almost chocolatey. While eating this, I knew I’d never find its equal in the States.

Scampi
Simply boiled shrimp with lemon. Crisp meaty refreshing nibbles.

Spaghetti acciughe
Sweet soft onions, fruity olive oil, and anchovies offered well-rounded mouthful after mouthful of comfort with every bite.

Fritte di frutta di mare
Very lightly fried in extra virgin olive oil. This isn’t your Long John Silver’s fried fish platter. Those little fish and shrimp heads had so much incredible flavor!

Sure Venice is a tourist town with its tourist trappings.

But by nightfall, it was impossible not fall in love with its people, culture, history, and food. And hey, if you’ve got your honey to spend it with, it truly feels like you’re starring in your own romantic movie.

Awwww. 🙂