Paula and I spent a whirlwind less-than-72 hours in Seoul last month, hanging out with friends, recovering from jet lag, and doing all of the eating that we possibly could.
So instead of a recipe today, I’m sharing some of the food photos from our trip (Japan photos coming soon!).
I thought the coolest edible experience of this trip was our visit to a toshirak (lunch box) market. In the photo above, you can see kimchijeon (kimchi pancakes), lots of steamed mandu (dumplings), and a jar of coins, which are not actual South Korean currency — instead they’re just little tokens that you pay for, along with an empty bento-style container; then you use them to “buy” items to put in your lunch box along the market street.
Paula and I are back from our Seoul + Japan adventure!
Although from my perspective, it wasn’t so much an adventure as a nostalgia-fueled eating tour + a chance to introduce Paula to friends who hadn’t been able to travel all the way to California for our wedding.
Paula had never been to S. Korea or Japan before, so for her the trip had all of the elements of a good adventure: new countries, new languages, new cultures, new foods…
And some experiences were new to both of us, including going to a toshirak (lunchbox) market in Seoul, where you buy an empty bento-style container and get coins to trade in for street food along an alley. That and making the mistake of riding the Tokyo subway during morning rush hour (with luggage… oops!). And at the opposite end of the country, on a little island out west, enjoying freshly caught squid, dipped in ponzu, and miso soup made from a friend’s homemade miso paste!
Am I the only weirdo who can try a new dish once and fall so in love with it that I spend years thinking about it afterwards and/or trying to re-create it? I assume not, but I do think it takes a certain type of personality – a memory that’s often more sharply tuned to food than to certain books or conversations or other experiences (which I wish I could remember better) – to be nostalgic even for one-time edible experiences.
Actually, maybe that’s the underlying issue here: too much (food) nostalgia.
At any rate, it’s happened to me with more than one dish, and more than one ingredient, so that all of these experiences added up together have vastly expanded my food knowledge and cooking repertoire, or at least the cooking repertoire I hope to someday have.
And these random encounters with ingredients or dishes that take me by surprise and spark my devotion have really been what has driven me to get into the kitchen and try making something new – probably more than flipping through all of the cookbooks in my cookbook collection could ever do.
This exposure to newness is just one reason I appreciate the importance of traveling, of visiting new restaurants, of trying different items from the menu.
So it turns out I couldn’t go more than four blog posts before before putting garlic and kale together again. Apparently I have very strong feelings about this (excellent) flavor combination.
(Same thing goes for kale + citrus!)
A few years ago, this dish started out as a barely-changed riff on a smitten kitchen recipe: pasta with garlicky broccoli rabe. All I used to do was swap de-stemmed, torn curly kale leaves for the broccoli rabe and toss them into the boiling pasta water to be drained alongside the pasta. (Then it all gets transferred to a bowl and tossed with garlicky olive oil.) And I used to do this a LOT.
While that remains one of my all-time favorite weeknight dinners, this version is simpler (one fewer bowl to wash!) and — dare I say it — more delicious, thanks to two secret ingredients: artichokes and anchovies.
Cilantro and cheese always had a close rivalry, each vying for the position of my Most Missed Ingredient when I was living in Japan.
Now that I’m in California, the number one ingredient I miss from Japan is not really something I ever used in my cooking, but it’s a flavor that I love, and that I took for granted: yuzu (citron).
Yuzu, or perhaps artificial yuzu flavoring, is everywhere in Japan: yuzu chuhai (shōchū cocktails), yuzu juice, yuzu candy, yuzu gum, yuzu ponzu sauce, yuzukoshō (chili paste), and yuzu sorbet. The best of all possible yuzu incarnations, though, is yuzu-cha (yuzu tea), which is probably even more commonplace in Korea — where it’s called yuja-cha — than it is in Japan.
Remember back when I dedicated an entire blog post to my (unofficial) dissertation acknowledgments? That list summed up a lot of what my life was like during the 7 years I spent in graduate school. Laptopping, caffeinating, internetting, and procrasti-cooking.
Now that I finally have my PhD, it’s been odd adjusting to life as a non-student. My first few months of unstructured
(un-)(self-)employment as a freelance editor felt remarkably similar to the years when I was working on my dissertation, except suddenly I wasn’t stressed about both school and money anymore! (Just money!)
Since the beginning of this month, though, I’ve needed to start adjusting to my non-studentness even faster: I got a new job!