Posts Tagged ‘soup’

Last night during a night out on the town for Andre’s birthday, we came across a new Korean dish: Pig Backbone Stew. Wanting some food, we had two rules: it needed to still be busy at 12:30AM (we didn’t want to walk in somewhere that was about to close) and it could not have chicken feet on the menu. What we ended up finding was an interesting new stew that we may or may not go back for.

Photo by Anna Waigand

It came as a stew and was everything a stew should be: hearty, heavy and hot. It seemed a popular choice among the young, late-night Korean crowd seeing as almost all of the tables were full by the time we left. Drunk 20-somethings kept stumbling in, eating and drinking until their red faces stumbled back out into the cold again.

We were uncertain about what we were eating until a Korean with very good English (he studied in Australia for eight months, apparently) told us that it was pig back bone meat. With that mystery solved, we dug into the fragrant stew that was bubbling on our table. We combed through the spinal bones to find the meat that was still ever so loosely hanging on. It was the most perfectly cooked spinal meat that I have ever had (although I suppose that isn’t saying much). We jabbed it off the spine easily with our chopsticks and it arrived at our mouths juicy and tender. To help it go down, the hearty broth provided a vibrant Korean style taste (think: Korean chili powder with some garlic and green onions) with a miniscule kick at the end. Vegetables swam through the stew providing some extra flavor and a slippery texture.

Photo by Anna Waigand

The problem that we found was the amount of meat that actually came in the stew. As one might imagine, spinal meat is not very plentiful. The size and shape of the bones were much more impressive than the meat volume of the stew. So, it was a delicious meal perfect for a cold late-night on the town, but not something I would want to eat on a regular basis.

If you live in Seoul and would like to check it out, the restaurant was off of the Sinchon subway stop, exit 2. Take a left after the big red tube, then your first right, then your first left. It’s across from the chicken feet restaurant (you’ll know which is the chicken feet restaurant because it has a big picture of a man with chicken feet and it says “Chicken Feet Restaurant”). If you check it out, be sure to let us know what you thought!


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Lunar New Year’s must have given us good luck because Incheon was just the escape from Seoul and city-life that we were yearning. The first thing that you notice upon arriving at the beach is the swarms of ajummas crowding the street (there is one main drag by the beach) yelling, waving their arms, knocking on passing cars all in an effort to get anyone and everyone into their restaurant. It may sound annoying but it’s really quite friendly. One ajumma even suggested another restaurant when she realized her restaurant didn’t have what we were looking for.

Ajumma ushering in hopeful customers

A hopeful ajumma inviting some passerbys to her restaurant.

At the first restaurant we ate, we picked out a plump red fish about the size of a football. We tried to tell our servers we wanted it cooked, but the roar of the language barrier was just too loud. We were shown our caught fish flopping around in a bucket before they brought it to the kitchen, sliced it up, and brought it back on a heaping mound of glass noodles. As most Korean raw fish seems to be, it was stringy but this one was full of flavor and as fresh as one can get.

Our banchan were, well, almost dead. Half of the banchan were either cooked, like the shrimp, or didn’t need to be, like the mayonnaise with apples and nuts. The other half were barely dead (if dead at all) sliding around and pulsating on the plates, filling our table. We had squirming, skinny red tubes that were chopped up into 1/4 inch pieces. There were bright red and orange sea squirts with a gelatinous film covering them. Sea cucumbers moved almost imperceptibly, but a chopstick shove proved they were, in fact, still kicking. And of course to top it all off, we had octopus tentacles soaked in sesame oil flopping around on the plate like a rave dancer in molasses. They moved around, suctioning onto anything they could. We were wary to try it but the restaurant owner gave them to us as “service”, which is what Koreans say when they are giving you something special for free (it’s a great perk to being a foreigner). Plus, our servers were constantly walking by telling us to eat it. So, peer pressure at work, we bit in.

Live octopus soaking in sesame oil

The boys dipped the tentacles in hot sauce, which seemed to make them very angry. When I took the leap, my little octo-friend decided to latch onto my tongue. It’s a very odd sensation having your food rebel inside your mouth. But after about a minute of chewing and being sure that it would not cling to my throat on the way down, I swallowed. The taste was fine, mostly overpowered by the taste of the oil, but nothing I have craved since. The experience of it was all I needed.

Clam kalguksu

The next day we treked over to a neighboring snow-covered beach. We wandered into a small restaurant directly on the beach with a central fire and most patrons still wearing their jackets for warmth. We ordered a soup that I can only describe as crave-inducing. It was a simple soup: a bowl half the size of the table filled with broth, noodles, clams, and a sprinkling of zucchini and green onions. The clams gave just the right amount of saltiness to the simple broth. The zucchini and green onions amplified the flavor of the soup and it was all satisfyingly weighed down by the thick, slippery noodles.

Clams grilling over an open fire

That night, Lunar New Year’s night, we decided to treat ourselves to something special: a big, juicy, meaty, fresh king crab. I do think we have never made a decision quite as good as that one in our whole lives. The first course was what we lovingly called a “clam bake” although it was actually more of a clam barbeque. Heaps of fresh clams still hiding in their shells were thrown on the grill in the middle of our table. The real gem of this course is the miniature, disposable aluminum foil pie tin filled with an unidentified, non-spicy red sauce, rice cakes, and, get this, mozzarella cheese. Yes, you heard that right, cheese. This was placed on the grill and, as the clams were bubbling over and being cracked open, the juices were poured into the cheese bake. The result was a straight-forward tin of melted cheesy-goodness. My mouth is watering just from typing about it. Mmmm….

Cheesy, cheesy goodness

Heaven in a little aluminum pan.

Alright, now that I have taken a moment to reminisce with my taste buds, I can continue. The next course was our beautiful king crab. The glorious creature practically covered our whole table. Each leg housed thick, lengthy chunks of crab meat. Each time someone pulled out a slab of meat I was shocked at the size. Greg, who worked at Red Lobster for a few years, could not stop commenting on the enormous amount of meat and the low price of it all. It was truly a glorious occasion.

The King Crab

The head of the crab was hollowed and filled with a cloudy liquid. I later found out from my 6th grade student that we were supposed to mix this with our rice. Apparently, it’s delicious. We missed out on that part because we were unaware of the appropriate way to eat it at the time, but this only gives us one more reason to go back again.

Later that night, we befriended a Korean family. On a snow-covered beach. By a bonfire. With sparklers. And tried roasted octopus.

All in all, I’d say, it was one delicious adventure that I will never forget.

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Photo by Anna Waigand

So there I was, passing through the produce section of my Home Plus when this bizarre vegetable caught me eye. It was a mass of little cones of green spirals that rose up to form a pyramid, and it was named after a famous journalism blogger so I took a closer look. Turns out it was romanesco, a relative of broccoli and cauliflower. For math geeks, romanesco is an especially cool vegetable because it’s made up of fractal buds in a logarithmic spiral. The pyramid of ever larger spirals plus my love for broccoli made it impossible to pass up. I’ve been craving broccoli soup so I decided to make a version of it with romanesco.

Romanesco Soup
Photo by Anna Waigand

It’s a warm, hearty soup for a cold rainy day and a great way to use a really interesting vegetable. The fresh tomatoes on top provide a great contrast to the soup so add more if you like it. I didn’t keep meticulous notes while cooking, so I suggest adapting this to what you think seems right. My version came out too salty, so make sure to taste as you go and adjust accordingly. Some added milk and pepper masked the salt taste a little.

Photo by Anna Waigand

Makes 4 servings
1 medium sized romanesco (they were all the same size where I bought mine)
1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
1/2 carrot, finely chopped
3 thick cut slices of home cured bacon
1 cup low fat milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
6 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
3 cups water

1. Wash the romanesco. Break off one of the better looking spirals for each bowl you will be serving. Set aside. Cut off any leaves and the base. Cut and break off the spirals into large chunks and discard the center.
2. Boil three cups water in a pot and add the romanesco chunks. Sprinkle with salt. Boil for 4 minutes or until easily penetrated by a fork.
3. Place a stainer in a large bowl. Pour the romanesco and water into the strainer, saving the water.
4. Here is where I would have blended the romanesco if I had a blender. So if you’re kitchen isn’t also your bedroom and you have room for appliances I recommend blending them. Otherwise you should finely chop the romanesco like I did.
5. In a seperate pan cook the bacon. Then pat dry with a towel and chop into small pieces. Depending on whether you used dry cured or wet cured bacon (like most brands you buy in stores) you will get vastly different amounts of liquid and fat out of the bacon. If you use dry cured bacon, you can probably use all of the fat rendered from the bacon. If not, put about 1 tablespoon of the drippings into your soup pot.
6. Add the onions and carrots to the soup pot with the bacon drippings. Saute until the onions are translucent.
7. Add the chopped romanesco, milk, salt, pepper and 3 cups of the water used to boil the romanesco. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes.
8. Ladle into bowls. Top with a piece of raw romanesco and three cherry tomato halves.

I also tried plain steamed romanesco, which tasted closer to cauliflower than broccoli, but I found it a little more complex and interesting than cauliflower. The look of it also makes it a really interesting ingredient to work with. I think I’ll buy more while it’s in season.

As a side note, this should be a pretty healthy soup despite the bacon. Romanesco is full of vitamin C, fiber, and carotenoids. I used low fat milk and there is no oil, butter or cream like many soups. And it is sure way healthier than this califlower bacon soup recipe I found while looking for inspiration. Not only does the recipe call for a cup of heavy cream, but it says to cook the bacon in a 1/2 stick of melted butter. As if bacon needs any more oil when you cook it. Then another half stick of butter is used later. Wow.

For more wonderful photos from Anna check out romanesco on Flickr.

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One pot prawn head soup

Prawn Head Soup
Photo by Anna Waigand

Buying whole seafood at the fish market is great, but it leaves you with a lot of strange odds and ends that as a beginning chef I’m tempted to just throw out. But whenever I’ve asked anyone or searched online for what to do with the leftovers the answer is always the same: make soup. So soup it is.

This recipe is for an easy, one-pot soup that you can make a couple days after you made that fancy grilled prawn meal on Friday night, and I think it is a great base for some other creative recipes. The soup is warm, rich and spicy, but you won’t need a glass of milk at your side. It’s a deep red color and looks great while it bubbles away. The antennae seem to grow as they poke up and out of the water and the eyes bulge like big peppercorns.

Prawn Heads Marinating
Photo by Andre Francisco. Editing by Anna Waigand.

Most prawn soup recipes call for the heads, tails and shells to be used. Unless you have a method to make sure you get all those inedible bits out before serving I would suggest just going with the heads. They are easy to grab with tongs or a slotted spoon, and even though I just used the heads I still got a couple bits of shell and antennae in the final product.

Prawn Head Vegetable Ingredients
Photo by Andre Francisco

Serves 2-3
11 prawn heads (use the actual prawns and shells for something else)
1 large tomato, diced
1 medium onion, cut into long strips
1 in ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp Sunchang Doenjang (soy bean paste)
1 tsp Sunchang Gochujang (red pepper paste)
1 tsp mild Korean chili powder
1 tsp fish sauce
4 cups water
salt and pepper
seasoned, dried seaweed (optional)

1. In a hot soup pot add the oil and onions. Saute until translucent.
2. Add the tomatoes, garlic and ginger and saute 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the prawn heads, bean paste, red pepper paste, chili powder, water, fish sauce, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes.
4. When you are ready to eat, remove the heads with tongs or a slotted spoon and serve.
5. As an optional garnish, cut strips of dried seaweed over the soup immediately before serving. They will add a little bit of salty and nutty flavor.

Anna and I ate the soup like this but we think it could become a great meal over rice or with shredded chicken or fish simmered in. I also experimented with a little bit of the soup in a cup by adding some citrus flavors after being inspired by a recipe from by Phil Vickery from the BBC show “From Ready Steady Cook” that was posted on the BBC website.

His recipe called for orange wedges as a garnish and lime juice in the soup. I tried to find oranges at our local grocery store, but came up short until Anna suggested I just buy some orange juice. I know Minute Maid isn’t a great substitute for fresh oranges, but I thought it was pretty genius. I tried lime juice, orange juice, and the two mixed together. Just a small amount of each really changed the whole flavor and character of the soup. It smoothed out the spiciness but didn’t replace it with an acidic bite. I thought it was an interesting combination, and I plan on experimenting more with it later. If any of you perfect it, I’d love to hear it.

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Soup or sauce?
Photo by Anna Waigand

The two bowls arrived together with two large spoons. Large enough that I would call them soup spoons, but this is where Anna would begin to disagree.

We were at a Chinese restaurant on the top floor of an all electronics mall near the famous Yongson Electronics Market. We’d spent the day blowing off invitations of “camera!”, “lens!”, “Xbox!” from men at glaringly bright displays of electronics that all seemed a little to similar. The Korean food court had confused us (more on that in a latter post) and the Chinese place had a few cheap items.

I’d assumed the Chinese restaurant would have been pretty authentic considering its heritage was a straight shot across the sea. I hadn’t assumed that the Chinese food would have been Koreanized like the US has Americanized Chinese food into Chop Suey. But I guess that is like assuming you are going to get authentic Mexican food in US when you walk into a Chi-Chi’s simply because we are neighbors.

Like most traditional Korean restaurants, you get a lot more than what you order. We picked an order of steamed dumplings, (turned out to be mandu, not the Chinese dumplings I was used to) and an order of crab fried rice. We were served the standard Korean side dish of blazing yellow pickled radish with raw chopped onions we didn’t know how to eat and a dollop of black bean sauce.

And then the bowls came out. They were served with the fried rice. They were medium sized bowls each filled with maybe a cup and a half of liquid. The first bowl had a clear, warm broth with shredded cabbage and green rings of spring onions floating on the top. Clearly soup.

The second bowl looked like it had been filled with a thick black sludge saturated with pea-sized chunks of…we weren’t sure. We tasted both with the tips of our spoons. We enjoyed the mellow taste of the clear broth and were surprised by the deep and rich flavor of the sludge that was present on such a small taste. The sludge was similar in color and consistency to the black bean sauce, though with more chunks, so initially we both spooned it onto our fried rice plate mixed a little with a spoonful of rice before eating it. That was until I spooned a glob of the delicious sludge onto my plate and a larger that usual orange chuck stuck up as the black liquid slowly spread into a thin layer across the plate. I poked and prodded and then tasted. It was a chewy nugget of ham like the ones you find in good baked beans.

This is when I began to think that maybe we had been given two bowls of soup, not a bowl of soup and a giant bowl of sauce. Anna disagreed. She argued the black liquid was thick, very rich, and went great with the fried rice. All true. But then I started investigating the bowl more with my spoon and found more orange carrot and ham chunks.

I started eating the black liquid by the spoonful like a soup, which Anna thought was gross.

“It’s like you’re spooning ketchup into your mouth.”

“It’s like you’re spooning chili onto your plate and mixing it with fried rice.”

I continued to eat it like a soup, and she continued to eat it like a sauce, and we still haven’t resolved our dispute.

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Soup bubbling away

This is going to be the start of a new series on Seoulful Adventures. Traveling to any country involves learning the customs of the culture, and invariably many of those customs will revolve around food. Koreans have many customs and traditions when it comes to food and drink, and we are slowly learning them. Some customs are essential to learn to avoid embarrassment, but for us many are essential just to eat your food. So this series will be full of our polite apologies to waitresses and our breakthroughs about how to order and cook traditional Korean foods. Some will be short revelations and some will be lessons learned from lots of trial and error. First up – The Soup Place.

A couple blocks from our apartment is a restaurant we call The Soup Place. The front window advertises, in English, “fresh vegetables and meat,” which is always a good sign for a restaurant. All of the tables have a large hot plate in the center and small control panel. We pointed to the cheapest thing on the menu, which looked like a plate of raw vegetables and a plate of thin slices of beef. What we got was that and and half a dozen other plates of things we recognized, but didn’t know what to do with.


We received kimchi (of course), a bucket with scissors, tongs and a ladle, a plate of frozen orange noodles and two pieces of mandu, cole slaw, some pickles and cabbage in broth, hot sauce, a small bowl of bibmbap-like veggies with rice, and a bowl with a raw egg. The waitress placed a large metal bowl half full with broth on the hot plate and set it boiling. She motioned for us to cut up the vegetables and put them in the broth and then hurried off, there was only one other waitress in the restaurant.

We followed instructions and cut up the onion and leafy greens and plopped them into the bubbling, yellow liquid. We watched the leaves wilt and turn dark green as the onions faded to translucent, but then our waitress returned with a reserved scowl. I’m still not sure if we were just going to slow or doing it wrong all together, but for the rest of the meal she came over and did all the cook-at-your-table stuff for us.


Our typical restaurant strategy is to steal enough glances at how other tables of Koreans are doing it for it just be just a little awkward. The high booths and mostly empty restaurant didn’t let us do that at The Soup Place. I think the waitresses might have been doing some of the cooking for the other tables, but she seemed to be unhappy at us and didn’t trust us at all, even after we figured out the system: make things smaller with scissors, put in broth, eat.

The soup was delicious, and we figured out that the paper thin beef slices needn’t be much more than immersed in the boiling broth before they were done. We also explored the small gelatinous rice cakes in the broth that were shaped like pieces of penne pasta without the hollow center (rather chewy, maybe they helped with the soup consistency?). The bright orange noodles and mandu made for a round two of soup after the beef and greens. We’d been tossing more things in the broth and periodically glancing at the raw egg and bowl of chopped vegetables and wondering aloud what they could be for.


After we’d finished off both soups our waitress returned and turned up the heat to send the shallow pool of broth bubbling furiously again. She then performed a table side magic act that I’m sure some smart restaurateur will soon import to the US. She ladled the rice, bibimbap vegetables, and raw egg into the remaining broth which she then transformed with a series of quick swipes with her ladle into a rich and creamy kind of Korean risotto. The egg has been essentially whisked onto each grain of rich, not clumped like in fried rice. The product was rich, warm and so smooth that we ate it off the end of our spoons like it was a thick chocolate pudding we’d ordered for dessert. The broth had been infused with the flavors of each set of ingredients and then it had all disappeared into a final rice dish. A neat finish to such a get-your-hands-dirty meal.

If an Italian restaurant doesn’t start serving risotto at your table out of the last drops of a rustic bean soup, I just might have to start writing menus instead of blog posts.

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