Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dining in Korea: Bok Chung at Myeong-dong

with office colleagues

Christmas lightup at Myeong-dong area in downtown Seoul. Individual buildings, especially the high end department stores were brilliantly and beautifully lighted up for Christmas.

Seoul in recent years have been becoming a popular location for Singaporean vacationers to visit, especially during winter. The soap operas from Korea are increasingly popular, and many are interested to try out adventures like skiing, tasting new and exotic foods. I have been coming to Seoul, fairly regularly as part of my work, for the last 10 years or so. And in the beginning, I found the food to be different...the tastes were strange, and practices equally unusual. In those early years, I stuck to galbi (beef ribs, barbecued on the table in-situ) and bulbogi (marinated beef, stir fried or barbecued) and could not fathom the tastes of kimchi, octopus and others. The culture of barbecued beef with copious amounts of alcohol (sohju or beer), a table full of side dishes, and then some carbs in the form of cold noodles, or sticky rice drowned in soup seemed a bit different to me.

But in recent years, I have become more used to Korean cuisine...and even liking it. Kimchi now tastes quite delicious. Cold, springy noodles are fine. The beef remained as wonderful as ever. Bilimbab - where you mix in ingredients with bean paste, chilli, vegetables, meat in a hot stone pot is now a treasured delicacy to me. Octopus...when grilled is good...haven't worked up the guts to try live, whole octopus yet. And the beef remained superb.

Beautifully marbled, cooked to medium rare on a stainless steel pan over a gas flame...it was superb. Not quite as tender or melt in your mouth as a similar grade wagyu...I guess its the preferential treatment the Japanese pamper over their cattle showing the difference. But still excellent, excellent beef.

The restaurant also had some exotic dishes...first up, Korean fugu...

Fugu, or pufferfish is a great delicacy in Japan. I did try it once in Tokyo at a rather famous fugu restaurant...the sashimi was sliced from fresh fugu, expertly sliced so that it is paper thin...almost transparent, transluscent quality to the meat. And beautifully displayed on a plate. The taste was very mild...almost tasteless, but the texture was a bit tough, springy, crunchy. The puffer soup in Seoul was simliar. The soup itself was quite potent...it had a strong fish flavour, but not fishy...if you know what I mean...it smelled like fresh fish, concentrated flavours. The meat had a tough, springy, crunchy consistency, and was rather mild in taste. Interesting.

We next sampled a taboo dish...known in Korean as "all seasons meat"

A special breed of canine, only bred as food is used. The meat was reportly from the belly, and looked rather fat. The taste was very mild...reminiscent of pork, but the dark meat looked more like beef. Eaten with condiments of ground sesame, ginger, vinegar and sesame oil:

Koreans believe this to be a tonic for men, and although the law prohibits its sale, it is openly sold, and forms a part of Korean tradition. Interesting to sample, but for me, its just for a taste, to experience.

Bok Chung Korean Restaurant
#2-9, Myeongdong - 2ka, Chung - ku, Seoul, Korea.
Telephone : +82 2 774 6226
URL : www.bokchung.co.kr

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