January 30, 2005

Making Mochi: A photo montage

Today, I asked my mother to make mochi. She seemed rather surprised that I asked her to make anything since I never really ask. I just eat whatever is there in her house and there's always plenty. Isn't that what parents are for, anyway? She was very obliging as she always is with any culinary requests and took out the rice cake maker. She asked me if I wanted to take the rice cake maker that my grandmother (my father's mother) used to use before she passed away two years ago. My grandfather, currently in the process of moving, gave it away and my mother already has one. I am taking it, of course.

Here's the rice cake maker. My grandmother was very fond of making rice cakes with brown rice. It's a Japanese model and my parents are very thankful for this clever invention. First, you have to soak sweet rice in water for several hours to loosen it up. When the sweet rice is bloated, you put it in the machine and let it do the work.

While we were waiting for the machine to do the work, my father came in with wheat bread from Great Harvest Bread Company which opened up last year in the neighborhood. He ate it with garlic olive oil and balsamic vinegar dipping sauce. M and I were familiar with the Great Harvest bread from our days in Michigan and we were really happy when they opened a store here. The bread tends to be a bit soft but who doesn't love soft bread? We also had shrimp that my parents had brought back from their recent trip to San Felipe, Mexico. The shrimp had been frozen at its most fresh stage so it retained its fresh flavor. My mother steamed them and we sprinkled a bit of lemon before we peeled the skin off.

The machine beeps when it is ready to knead the rice. The rice becomes a doughy clump and gets spinned around in the machine. Kids, including my niece, just love looking at this process. The movement is fast and jerky yet sensuous. Kids have no idea. I hope.

Anko from a can. To make it from scrach, you'd have to bloat and boil red bean and add sugar. For a very, very long time. I like anko with whole red beans instead of smooth paste but everybody's different.

Form a little ball with anko inside. The dough is very sticky so we use potato starch to cover the ball. It helps to have small but firm hands. These belong to my niece, who insists on being part of the assembly line cooking adventures at my mother's table.

Et voila!

The Original Pancake House

Dutch Baby!

M and I went to the Original Pancake House in Redondo Beach for lunch on Saturday. We went for lunch because there's usually a long line for brunch on weekends. There's nothing like a long, generous brunch/lunch on a weekend and this place has a large selection. M and I don't usually go out for brunch/lunch but we treated ourselves. This monstrous baby is the size of like Texas and I loved every moment of it. Just kidding. I ate about half of it and as good as it was, I couldn't bite anymore.

Years ago, I went to the Original Pancake House around Chicago and had a dutch baby there and I don't remember it being so thick. This was really thick in a custard like way. It was buttery, creamy and sweet. Even so, I felt nostalgic for thin French crepes with Nutella.

January 26, 2005

Thank God for children (who are not your own)

A world of make-believes and childhood games.

Last Sunday, we were all at my parents' house and enjoying a very lazy day when my nieces and nephew decided to have a "party in the fancy family room." Now, my parents don't have a fancy family room. They have a room where they have ornate Italian furniture that I find hideous and they probably regret buying many years ago as it doesn't fit with the rest of the home decor. Actually it's not too bad as far as baroque furniture pieces go (and if you're Korean, you know the kind of furniture I'm talking about), but I'm more of a minimalist. To kids, this kind of furniture must seem "fancy" and hence their name for the room.

Anyway, for an hour or so, the adults were forbidden to go into this room as they scurried from here to there trying to set up their party. When I was finally let in the room, I first had to sign my name in their little guestbook. The spread, as you can see above, consisted of several different kinds of crackers and chocolate snacks and was complemented with fruit juice. I especially liked the shrimp crackers. When the snacks were gone, we were encouraged to leave a tip indicating that they are already savy business folks.

Afterwards, we drove to the Leo Carillo State Park where the kids could play in the sand. I never liked the beach as much as these kids do when I was young but it seems that I may have missed out on something. The kids were ready to leave only when the sun was a distant memory.

January 23, 2005

Toebang in Chapman Plaza

We ended up at Chapman plaza on 6th and Alexandria, which is a quaint shopping plaza with interesting spanish architecture, a rarity in this part of town. It's a happening place for pre and after clubbing on weekends but on this relatively early afternoon, it was quiet and cozy with some older clientele. We went into the restaurant Toebang which has an outdoor terrace to accommodate the large smoking clientele in this part of town. The afternoon sun filtering through the blinds and the rustic feel of the log-like terrace fixtures created a warm and bright ambience and the owner was busy filling promotional baloons from a soju (Korean spirit similar to vodka) company with helium, in preparation for the evening crowd, no doubt. The menu is geared toward those having alcohol, that is, lots of meat dishes and comfort foods, and it seemed to fit the craving of the late afternoon. M ordered bibimbap (mixed rice) and I ordered jaiyukbokum (fried pork with kimchee). The water arrived in an old fashioned bronze teapot - keeping with the whole rustic feel. The bibimbap was a little bland but my fried pork was yummy. It's a comfort food that's a good accompaniment to alcohol as well, although I never had this dish when I used to go clubbing around there, which was a long time ago. Anyway, it's a really eay dish to prepare if you want some spicy pork.

To make jai-yuk-bok-um, basically you just need some pork (bacon will do) and kimchee. In a large saute pan, start frying some pork over medium heat. You can add onions and carrots, if you want. Don't cook the meat completely yet. As the meat begins to cook, add kimchee to the pan. Keep cooking over low heat for few minutes. You can add a spoonful of sesame oil for extra flavor. Cook long enough so the kimchee is cooked. Don't overcook as it can get dry. Eat with rice. Very simple and yummy!

Toebang, 3465 W. 6th St., #110, LA 90020. 213.387.4905

(Edit: On reflection, I think the dish tastes a lot better if the meat is marinated. For a spicy marinade, combine gochujang (hot pepper paste), minced garlic, scallions, ground onions, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, touch of salt and pepper.)

January 20, 2005

Do you want a Filipino?

Sometimes, you just gotta have a Filipino!!

At my work, it's become somewhat of a custom to bring back sweets whenever someone goes out of town, either on business or vacation. This little treat was brought back from Spain by a very nice colleague of mine who spent a couple of weeks there over the holidays. I know, we felt really sorry for her. As she is of Phillipino descent herself, she thought it hilarious that there was a little gateau named "Filipino"!

And did you know, Filipinos taste better after one hour in the fridge!

January 19, 2005

How to eat a Korean Chinese meal

Caution: The carb-conscious eaters need not read further.

Although there is much sophistication when it comes to Chinese cuisine and its myriad regional varieties and specialties, it is always puzzling to me that there seems to be so little knowledge about the fabulous phenomena that is the Korean Chinese food. This is as distinct from authentic Chinese food as Chop Suey, which I'm sure I've never had, or fortune cookies. It is likely, however, that at least some of the Chinese restaurants you've visited in the U.S. do serve some Korean Chinese specialties but you just didn't know it. And if you can't distinguish real Chinese food from American Chinese food, you have a long, long way to go. No offense, but it's true.

Taking its base from the Mandarin Chinese cuisine, the Korean Chinese cuisine was probably developed by Chinese restaurateurs in North Korea. North Korea because of the prevalence of noddle dishes and you know those North Koreans and their noodles. In fact, the most common staples of the Korean Chinese cuisine are the various versions of noodle dishes, such as the ubiquitous jjajangmyun and jjamppong or the less commonly orderd gismyun or oolmyun.

A note: I will use the common romanization of these terms but they don't really tell you how they sound. It's an archaic system created by a French priest who probably didn't speak Korean well to begin with. Anyway, jja-jang-myun sounds more like tza-jang-myun and myun means noodles.

My earliest memories of the Chinese Korean food are from my childhood in Korea in the 70s. My parents would occasionally take me and my siblings out to Chinese restaurants where our father would call out for a "boy" to take our orders. It was so wrong but we thought it was very funny at that time. We always heard Chinese being spoken at these restaurants and we thought that was funny too.

At other times when we wanted jjajangmyun, we would order delivery: Yes, they had Chinese take out delivery even back then, even in Korea. Since my brothers are twins and twins were pretty rare at the time in Korea, our house was known as the "twin house" and my sister would call to order some jjajangmyun to be delivered to the "twin house." And they always knew exactly where we were. These delivery boys had, and probably still do, a special delivery container for Chinese food - it is a big box-like tin structure with shelves to hold multiple dishes - and most often they'd ride a bike to make their deliveries (they probably ride a motorbike these days or drive a car). It was a good time.

As a side note, the Chinese living in Korea are called "hwagyo."

So when my family goes out to eat Chinese, it is understood that we are going to eat Korean Chinese. There is a peculiar order to eating Korean Chinese and it is definitely not for the faint bellied.

We normally wet our appetites with jasmine tea which, I always hope, will wash down some of the oil we are about to consume. Then we get our appetizers, most commonly, fried dumplings, Shanghai-style. Shanghai-style dumplings are huge and have thick skins and you can get them steamed or fried. Then we have our "main course." Depending on the number of people at the table, we order 3-4 main dishes that we call "yori." "Yori" doesn't mean main dish. It just means prepared dish or fancy meal. Last Sunday, we ordered kanpoonggi (spicy fried chicken with bones), tangsooyook (sweet and sour beef), orange chicken (for my sister-in-law who only eats chicken, American style), and fried rice (for the American-palated children at the table). Other dishes we commonly order are nansajansa (which are like meat patties in hoisin sauce that my brother-in-law likes and the rest of my family looks down upon) or ryusansa (cut veggies with cuttlefish gelatin in mustard sauce).

You might think the meal is over by now, but wait, there's more and it's even more substantial. To wash down the "yori," as my parents would say, we order the noodle dishes, Jjajangmyun (noodles with black bean sauce) or jjamppong (which means hodge-podge or mishmash - noodles in spicy seafood broth). If you're like my father, you order a jumbo size of the noodle dish.

The jjajang or the black bean sauce, can be made in several different ways and you can ask for it on the side of the noodles instead of on top. That's a version called "Samsun" jjajang with seafood, and there's also the one that is made from jjajang powder but I forget the name. The black bean sauce is made with pork, onions and zucchini and topped with thinly sliced cucumbers to give it a zolt of coolness.

Of course, the mark of a good noodle dish is the noodles and few places can boast of making their own noodles and by hand. If you've ever seen people draw noodles by hand, it's pretty amazing. How they are able to separate a clump of dough into spectacularly long and individual noodle strings is wildly beyond me.

Somehow, almost miraculously, after all the "yori" we've consumed, there's always room for the noodles. My mother, for whom nobody can eat enough, always says, "It's only noodles. It'll go down very quickly." Obviously, she wouldn't be a good candidate for Atkins. What do French say? L'appetit vient en mangeant?

One saving grace about this experience is that there isn't a rich dessert that follows the noodles. Unless you go to a pastry shop elsewhere. Most often, we are served small amounts of sliced oranges or caramelized sweet potatoes as a sweet aftermath to the carnage of the massive meal that lay in front of us.

If you're hungry, there's nothing better and if you like noodles, there's nothing better either. If you are by yourself or someone with small stomach, I'd go easy on the "yori" and share the noodles with your companion. Or, there's always the takeout box.

In Koreatown, you can get good jjajangmyun at YongGung on Vermont, 1 block north of Olympic, or Great Wall on Olympic (food can be a little greasy) or Jinhunggak in Koreatown Plaza on Western and 9th. In San Fernando Valley, we go to Cafe Mandarin on 20425 Sherman Way in Canoga Park.

January 16, 2005

Our dinners this week

Sunday: Soup made with 2 cornish hen; dessert - Asian pear; afterdinner snack - popcorn. It was rainy and dark that day. One of the hen was really dark.

Monday: Angel hair pasta with meatballs in tomato sauce; dessert-Asian pear. I didn't have spaghetti and I made my own meatballs.

Tuesday: Curry with beef, kimchee; dessert-mango. I cheat with curry because I use the Japanese cube kind, not the real spices of Indian or Thai. I prefer Indian curry,however. One of these days, I'll try proper curry cuisine.

Wednesday: Pan fried sole, steamed broccoli, (micro)ovenbaked potatoes and wild rice; dessert-vanilla ice cream. Sole was on sale at Whole Foods and wild rice turned out to be more brown rice than wild. I don't really like brown rice.

Thursday: Donkatsu and perilla tempura (which I wrote about); dessert-vanilla ice cream.
Friday: Jambalaya at CAAM (which I also wrote about)

Anything eaten twice in one week deserves a photo, no?

January 14, 2005

Searching for intellegent life in universe

On most Fridays, I have the luxury of working from home. It is a luxury because, otherwise, I would be spending two hours on the road just to get home. Instead, I can take a leisurely stroll on the beach in the morning before hitting the computer and the phone. I haven't done that recently until today, what with all the rain and cold weather here. Well, cold by Southern California standards. Today, the air was fresh, sun shining and waves extremely calm. It's times like this that makes me glad that I live here, as you can imagine.

Usually, on Friday mornings, the beach is enjoyed mostly by the elderly and stay-at-home women who take brisk walks with their equally stay-at-home friends. I remember, when I first started working at home on Fridays, how surprised I was at the large number of people who seemed not to work at all. If the surf was good today, I'd have seen quite a few more people who apparently don't go to work either. Go figure.

As I was walking toward the pier, I noticed a man who began to take his top off. I thought it odd since it was kinda chilly (I mean, it's January in the northern hemisphere, for heaven's sake) and saw him walk into the water. At first, I thought he was just putting his toes in the water to see how cold it was. The next second, he was floating in water like a fat seal. I stood there with my mouth open because I had noticed earlier the ominous sign posted every 20 feet or so along the beach.

Yeah, this sign. No Nadar. What was this guy thinking? A brave soul or an act of stupidity? I'll imagine that he's a kindhearted soul who was so taken with the beauty of the ocean that he had to experience it, become intimate with it. As I was coming back from the pier, I saw him again. This time, he was a little closer and less poetic.

Later, when I talked to M about this guy, M said that there are two reasons not to swim in the ocean in the winter here. First, water's cold. Second, it rains here in the winter which means that bad things get washed into the ocean. Or, at the least, check beach conditions here or here before touching the water. Words from a fisherman. I'd listen to him.

Deep-frying etiquette of forward looking housewives!

As I was driving home yesterday, M called to say that he was having few drinks with his work colleagues. I didn't want to join them so I came home directly. I looked in the fridge to see what I could have for dinner and found some pork cutlets and Korean perilla leaves. Since M wasn't going to be home for a while, I decided to get my hands dirty with deep-frying. I rarely deep-fry because it can be messy, at least when I do it. And the sound of deep frying can be really loud and I always think about people having to listen to this hissing sound, so I prefer to deep fry when I am alone. That way, nobody can say, hey, it sounds like you're blowing up the kitchen, or something like that. If you think about it, however, it's not that hard to deep fry and when done right, not greasy at all.

In my family, making donkatsu (deep-fried port cutlets, which Koreans pronounce dong-kat-sss) is under the domain of my brother-in-law, who spent some time in Japan as a student and is quite knowledgeable about Japanese food. This is the only thing he'd ever get his hands dirty in the kitchen for but he's quite proud of his skills as a donkatsu provider. Which is to say that I'm not a skilled donkatsu provider but have some sense of what is a good donkatsu. And then there's my mother who is a great tempura provider.

Anyway, perilla leaves are similar to Japanese shiso leaves and some people describe them as having minty flavor. I love perilla leaves. I eat them raw, seasoned with soy sauce and red pepper, steamed, etc. They are pretty easy to grow in the summer if you have a garden. I guess they have some minty flavor but not too overpowering and just a hint of bitterness. They also have a wonderful texture.

My donkatsu and perilla tempura were respectable. Crisp, relatively light and flavorful. I wasn't too thrilled with the Korean brand frying powder I used, however, since it could have been lighter. But it was certainly better than fish and chips you get at most restaurants. Something did take my fancy and it was on the back of the pouch the frying powder came in.
In addition to the regular instructions accompanied by visuals, there was an addendum, in red ink. Here's my translation.

* Etiquette for Forward Looking Housewives!
When a droplet of the frying mix is dropped in the oil and it falls to the bottom of the fying pan and takes 2 seconds to come up to the top, the oil is about 150°C. If it comes up to the top before it drops to the bottom of the frying pan, the the oil is about 180°C.
*Use a lot of frying mix and you can enjoy a sophisticated frying cuisine.

Other instructions in the top section said that it is best to fry vegetables at 150°C and fish at 180°C. Also, that the tempura can be more crisp if the batter is made with ice water. All good and helpful hints, but it made me laugh. Is it just me, or do the words have the feel of a Soviet era collective farm or a developing country on a 5 year economic recovery plan? Everyone can contribute, including the housewives! Just look forward and imagine the future!

Yeah, it's just one of those things that are pretty strange to someone who hasn't been in Korea for a long time. Hmmm. I wonder what else the forward looking housewives know.

January 12, 2005


Dried Persimmon: No, it's not a prehistoric beast.

When I was very young, long before I was allowed to have tea or coffee, I was given a cup of Sujonggwa (Soo-jung-gwa). It was probably winter or fall, as this is usually made during cold months in Korea. It was probably outside of my home too since, now that I think about it, my family prefers to eat dried persimmons on their own. When dried, persimmon flesh becomes chewy and even more sweet with a tinge of earthy scent. If you've ever tried to dry them yourself, you know that they naturally get a snow white, powdery coat of sugar which can be quite a sight. Good dried persimmons are hard to get by and I don't think that my family, who knows a good thing when they see it, would have sacrificed a perfectly good dried persimmon to make cinnamon-ginger tea. To make sujonggwa, you put together cinnamon stick, ginger and sugar and boil in water. Then you pour the liquid over the dried persimmon, let it soak in liquid and chill. It's just short of barbaric if you like dried persimmon.

To me at the time, however, it was the closest I could get to a civilized drink. The delicate aroma of cinnamon and not-too-overpowering taste of ginger in the tea, not to mention the soft persimmon flesh and the few pine nuts that floated on top of the tea, made me feel like a grown up enjoying a very posh drink. I might pretend to take Sujonggwa as my aperitif and go read in the conservatory, thank you very much. Needless to say, we didn't have a conservatory and we never had any aperitifs in the house because someone in the house was perpetually off the wagon. Perhaps it was the rarity with which I was given this tea, precisely for the reason I stated above, that made it special to have it. These days, when I am served this drink after a meal at a Korean restaurant, I hesitate to take a sip because, in general, it's not more than sugar water with cinnamon flavor.

So when I saw these dried persimmons in my parents' fridge the other day, I had to wonder. Hmmm. Could I take some to make sujonggwa? I thought about it but when I saw my sister gingerly taking one out and putting it on a plate to eat by itself, I couldn't do it. Afterwards, I learned that they were specially brought back from Korea on my parents' recent trip there (after 20 years!). Quality Korean goods, you know. I guess I'll have to settle for my Hediard fruit blend tea.

To make sujonggwa, you'll need cinnamon stick, ginger, sugar, dried persimmons and water. Go easy on the ginger as it can overwhelm other flavors. I'd use about 1-2 cinnamon stick and a thumb sized, sliced ginger with 1/2 c. - 1/c of sugar to about 4-5 cups of water. Boil together and let it cool. Pour liquid over dried persimmons and chill overnight. Strain liquid since, obviously, you don't eat cinnamon stick or the ginger. Sprinkle few pine nuts in tea.

January 8, 2005

Juicy Juicy Asian Pears

Asian pears, one of my favorite fruits in the whole world, are now in season. Nothing compares to the experience of biting into one of these cruncy, crisp, sweet and juicy pears on a cold, wintery evening after a hot, steamy dish. Their translucent white flesh has a grainy texture but how deliciously surprising that such roughness -if you can call it that - is accompanied by a sweet, delicate aroma, not to mention the powerfully sweet taste. Expect to slurp the juice that will run all over your fingers as you peel the skin off with a knife. Once you bite into this juiciness, you can't go back to any other kind of pear.

But don't expect to find good quality ones in your Albertsons, Safeways or Krogers. Even those high end, pricey and organic produce markets such as Whole Foods don't carry Asian pears that would tempt me to buy them. Compare those measly looking pears that people mistake for a cross between an apple and a pear, as if!, to the monster Asian pears that you can buy at a Korean grocery stores in town. Through much cross-breeding and experimentation, I'm sure, these pears do not resemble anything like what I remember eating back in Korea when I was young. No, these are Asian pears gone wild, offsprings of multiple genetic re-combinations by a mad horticulturalist. Or an agricultural corporation. Not necessarily a bad thing, as far as Asian pears are concerned, I suppose. I mean, it's not like those genetically engineered seeds that corporations make farmers buy every year, is it?

Galette des Rois

I don't have a cute story about eating Galette des rois or playing cute French games on Epiphany. Unless you are 5 years old, I find anyone playing these illogical games either stupid or pretentious. But it is January and reading repetitive francophilic stories about the galette did make me think of the buttery pastry and the almond cream filling. Food is just about the only thing that makes me nostalgic about my time in France. So last Thursday, I called a few "French" bakeries in town and asked if they made the Galette. Most of them had no idea what I was talking about. Fine. But, one of them was extremely rude for no reason that I decided to prolong his frustration. I took on a fake French accent and asked the same question about 5 times, "Do you make Galette des rois?" "You mean, you don't make Galette des rois?" And then, another 5 times, "Oh, but it's Epiphanie." "You know, Epiphanie." And then, I hung up on him. Suits him for pretending to have a french bakery. After about 4 calls, I found a bakery that would make it for Friday. And it was a Chinese French bakery. Go figure.

The bakery was pretty nondescript. Nothing fancy about it. The owner was really friendly. I made a mental note to come back another time. The galette came with a gold paper crown. The cake was still warm as she handed it to me. As expected, the cake was very buttery, light and flaky. The almond cream filling was smooth and the almond taste was not too overwhelming, just as I like. The bottom layer of the pastry was heavier than I'd have liked, but it wasn't bad. The only thing is, there was no surprise in the cake. M and I did find 2 almonds, though. I guess they are put there as a substitute for an inedible surprise. How disappointing.

And no one to play the queen.

January 6, 2005

Be afraid, be very afraid...

... of a man who loves fly fishing. I can't say nobody warned me but I married my hubby anyway. For some number of years, M. has been participating in a fly-swap with his fly fishing buddies on the internet and has decided to do so again this year. (Yes, I said internet and don't ask.) A fly-swap is similar to a cookie exchange: each person ties a set number of one fly design, but different from someone else's, and exchanges them with other people's flies so that each person gets a number of different flies at the end. This is an efficient way to get more flies as well as a way to improve technique as it is only through repetition that one improves his/her technique of tying these little monsters. Now, if you are asking yourself, "What in the world is she talking about?" then you are exactly where I was several years ago.

I had grown up, of course, with fishing all around me. Some members of my family loved to go fishing very, very much. There were many weekends spent driving to obscure lakes and dams so that they could throw their lines out and wait for the fish to bite, while the rest of us - mainly women - cooked and baked in the sun. Not that anyone, except me, complained. And, of course, there was that particular year of fanatical excursions to Lompoc, about 2 hours north of Santa Barbara, to catch perch.

But through all these events, our fishing involved the use of artificial lures or live worms and waiting and more waiting. Never had I been exposed to the idea of casting, flies, or beautiful locations à la A River Runs Through It. And, never, ever had my family been exposed to the idea of catch-and-release: For us, fishing meant catch-and-eat. So it came as a pleasant surprise for me to learn that there was this sphere of recreational fishing that was so different from the world I used to know and I must thank M. for introducing me to it. I think M. learned to fish in Maryland and in West Virginia when he was young but it was in Connecticut during his undergraduate years that this occasional interest of his became a full-fledged devotion in his life. I can't say that I share this devotion, just yet, but I do find his interest interesting and look upon it with mild affection. Oops, I meant loving. Really.

So it was that we spent a good part of last Sunday to drive to Bob Marriott's Fly Fishing Store, "the single largest source of fly fishing tackle and equipment in the world," to buy items M. needed to tie more flies. It's one of the cruel ironies in life that this store is located in Southern California. And in Fullerton, no less. Uh, where you gonna fish, the LA river? If you've ever been there, you'll know what I mean. But that doesn't seem to bother the customers. A man walking into that store is like Imelda walking into a giant shoe store. Their eyes get wider and wider as they try to acclimate to heaven as they know it. Try as they might, the only words that come out of their gaping mouths are "Wow" or "Man, it's big." There was no casting demonstration outside, unfortunately, but I'm sure I'll be back sometime soon to cach one. But while we were there, a girl with long blond hair and tight blue jeans came in and said, "I'm really interested in learning more about fly fishing. Can you help me find a pair of waders?" No kidding. It took all of 2 seconds for the nearest salesman to jump to her assistance. I found out a little later, however, that she wasn't really interested in waders and she was there with her boyfriend who wanted to check out the store. Hmm. Sounds familiar.

The flies shown above are from M's collection of flies. He tied them himself. No doubt he will be creating more with his new materials from Bob Marriott's.

Dungeness crab at Redondo Beach Pier

In yesterday's Cooking section of the LA Times, there was an article about the fabulous Dungeness crab. Of course, the clueless LA Times had to leave out the one great place you can get Dungeness crab in Southern California. But, then again, this place is ethnic - owned and frequented by a majority of non-white folks - so the LA Times wouldn't cover it unless they were focusing on ethnic restaurants. Even in those cases, the LA Times is so dismal at it that, way before anything is written up about the ethnic neighborhoods in LA in the LA Times, the NY Times would have had its writers on the scene. Moreover, the LA Times article had the feel of a stock story that they recycle season upon season to unsuspecting readers. So when M suggested that we go for crabs for dinner, I thought it an occasion to let people know of the fabulous crab experience at the Redondo Beach Pier.

Like so much of Southern California, the pier is ethnically segregated. In general, the white folks go to places like Old Tony's or Kincaid's and the rest of the folks go everywhere else. Within the latter, the Koreans have their crab places, Oceanside Seafood and Pacific Fish Center, and the Latinos have their own places on the other side of the pier for seafood and arcade games (lucky kids). And those who love women with curves go to Club Moxie. As M and I live rather closely to the pier, we often go for walks on it and we see that the ethnic segregation in the clientele is pretty solid. Of course there are many adventurers who brave into the new world of the restaurant next door but, for the main part, people tend to stick to their own kind (whatever that means). The Korean American presence on the pier is noticeable as they own most of the small ice cream joints on the main pier alongside the shops that cater to tourists. And without the foot traffic of the Koreans eating crabs on the pier, the pier may look pretty empty. The Koreans don't hang around the pier, though. They come, eat crab, (drink) and go. For Koreans, the pier exists for the sole purpose of meeting their appetite for crab. I say Koreans, because it seems that many, if not most, are Korean tourists from Korea. In fact, the crab-eating on Redondo Beach pier was even mentioned in a very popular Korean soap opera a while ago.

So here's the dish on the Pacific Fish Center. The other crab place, Oceanside Seafood, is really no different from the Pacific but I prefer Pacific's decor. Oceanside is reminiscent of a casual beachside joint but the Pacific has wooden tables with a somewhat cozier ambience. Some people swear by one or the other, mostly on the taste of the Korean hot fish stew served after the crab but on that score I find both fish stews pretty bad, except their spiciness is the only antidote to the cholesterol of the crab meat. The only reason to go to these places is to have crabs, live shrimps, and sashimi.

As it is winter, there were few people in the place. In warmer weather, there's usually a long line out the door. Before you are seated, you place your order at the counter but you can always add at your table. We ordered one steamed crab and a plate of steamed clams. We weren't that hungry. The service is fast and minimal by waitresses who look ready for a jog or a brisk walk at the least. And why wouldn't they: All throughout their shifts they run from table to table, from kitchen to table, filling orders. All orders come with a small quantity of Gochujang (hot pepper paste) and melted butter. I asked for Tabasco. Before, they used to give a small dish of seaweed salad and kimchee, but perhaps it was the season or the small amount we ordered, we didn't see any of those. A note here: if you have to have butter with seafood, then you don't qualify as a sophisticated gourmand. Not in my book.

The steamed crab comes ... steaming. The waiter(?) brings it to your table whole, takes the shell off and procedes to cut in quarters. I'm one of those people who actually like the inner lining of the large shell. I know people who wouldn't touch that stuff, such as M. More for me. In about 20 minutes, we had a mound of empty crab shells in front of us. It was just the right amount for two of us. We could have eaten more but the momentary euphoria of more crab meat would have led to a more permanent state of queasiness and bloating. Instead, M opted for an ice cream dip. If you go to the pier and get ice cream, go to the store directly in front of the Pacific. M's ice cream from another place tasted old. We took a short stroll around the pier before we hopped back in our car. There were few fishermen on the pier. Must not be bonita season yet.

Pacific Fish Center
131 Fisherman's Wharf
Redondo Beach, CA 90277

January 3, 2005

Mushrooms for Cough

Tis the season for coughs and sniffles, so I thought I'd share one of many obscure (to uninitiated, I mean) remedies that my parents swear by. In honesty, I was cleaning out my cupboard last week and found these Youngji mushroom packed in a small ziplock bag behind my beloved Hediard tea cans. I don't know what they're called in English but I'd love to know, if anyone -uh, the two people who are reading my entries - has any ideas.

These were given to my family by my parents' friends who, like so many other immigrants to the U.S., owned and operated a small store for many years and decided in their twilight years to pursue their dream of being closer to the soil. It was the husband who had studied agriculture in college and his wife, I must assume, went along with his dream. They sold off their business, bought a farm in Chino, way out there east of L.A., and began growing various agricultural products. I believe they raised goats too, at one point. Anyway, none of their endeavors yielded a great fortune but we'd receive small quantities of their efforts from time to time, such as these mushrooms.

As for my parents, they - like all Korean Americans of certain age who were raised in a Korea, formerly and certainly to some degree, still steeped in ancient rituals and ways of healing - espouse a certain amount of folksy wisdom when it comes to curing simple ailments of the body. The mind, well, that's another story. So it is that they know the Youngji mushroom is a great antidote to persistent coughs, the kind that won't go away even after your major cold/flu symtoms may have. And, my own experience tells me that there's some truth to this belief.
I have seen products that claim to contain Youngji mushroom extracts, often combined with ginseng extracts, as a kind of energy boost. I don't know anything about those and wouldn't take them as more than a pleasant diversion. And I'd stay clear away from anything that claims to have deer antler in any form - unless in Chinese medicine from a reputable Chinese medicine dr. - along with those claiming to be parts of a bear. So morally wrong.

The most effective method for bringing out the mushroom's potentcy is to make tea with it. Boil a big pot of water and add few Youngji mushrooms and cut-up pieces of ginger, another cold-fighting ingredient. You only need 4-5 mushroom pieces to a gallon of water. The result is a brown-colored liquid with earthy flavor and aroma. It can be slightly bitter but not unpleasant. You can add lemon or honey, if desired. If you have persistent cough but are without these magic mushrooms, I'd try making tea with ginger and lemon. That helps too.

January 1, 2005

Happy New Year!

My warm wishes to you and your family in the New Year!

We had our traditional Korean New Year's dish, Duk-Gook. Duk means rice cake and gook is soup in Korean. I don't know the reasoning behind this being the New Year's dish, but perhaps it has to do with the chewy consistency of the rice cake: may your efforts stick and you become prosperous. Plus, the traditional rice cakes used in this soup are long tubes in appearance so they may signify long life.

I like chewing on these rice sticks by themselves. A thin coat of sugar makes it a sweet snack. To make Duk-gook, start with a beef stock. I prefer anchovy soub base, though. Put cut scallions, zucchini, onions and/or potatoes, salt and pepper into the soup and continue to boil. Add sliced rice cakes until they are tender. Beat eggs and drop them into the soup. Serve hot. Add dry seaweed for flavor, if desired. Happy New Year and go blue

I am not one for loud New Year's Eve events so yesterday was no exception. I did go to a 7 pm show of Les Misérables in Hollywood (I know, Hollywood) with M, Lauren and her mom (my sister). I was really excited to see the show with Lauren, who loves musicals and singing in general. I had seen the show more than 10 years ago in Boston and have very fond memorie of the experience, mostly stemming from my love of literature. After all, I did spend many years studying it. On the other hand, M, who had seen the show in New York at about the same time, didn't remember the experience fondly, but I suspect it had much to do with being dragged to the theater by his father than with the show itself. In any case, if Christmas and holiday season don't teach you about true love, redemption and charity, the story of Jean Valjean will.

Here my sister and Lauren, our French coquette. Not our cars, by the way.

There were short people, tall people, beautiful people, homely people, young people, old people and everything in between. Many women were dressed to the hilt, perhaps anticipating a fabulous New Year's Eve party. Lots of people of color, including Asian Americans. Glad we get out to enjoy things like this. When Eponine came out to sing, African American women sitting behind us wondered aloud, "Why are they calling her 'Ebony'?" No doubt, they would have their particular explanations for that. By the end of the show, Chinese American women also sitting behind us were practically sobbing.

After all, we're in Hollywood.