Bibimbap

Snap, Crackle, K-Pop

South Korea: stamps | Passport stamps, Stamp, Getting a passport

Korea

I’m going to go ahead and spoil it, there wasn’t any K-pop playing when I drug the old Culinary-Passport to Seoul Korean Kitchen but the snap & crackle showed up later. The restaurant is kind of odd because they took over another restaurant and that other restaurant’s branding is all over the place still. In spite of that, the employees I interacted with and the décor that was deployed throughout was enough to give a Korean vibe. .

They weren’t too busy when I got there, however there was a short wait while some tables were cleaned and sanitized. While the menu isn’t extensive it does have a good sampling of Korean dishes and I found myself going back and forth between bulgogi and bibimbap. Bibimbap was what I was planning to get when I left the apartment but the lure of the bulgogi made me as wishy washy as a politician checking poll numbers. Fortunately the nice lady taking my order steered me toward the bibimbap. Hot pot version please.

My sides came first.

I love these but I’m not sure why we’re calling them sides instead of included appetizers. Without exception everyone (everyone I saw anyway) who got these ate them before the main dish arrived. I guess it really doesn’t matter, the important thing is they were tasty. The cucumber had some sweet chili oil (or something like it) on them, the broccoli were steamed tender and had a touch of sesame oil on them, yum. The potatoes were ok, the kimchi had just a hint of spiciness and would do for a wide range of palates, I even used my chop stick skills, such as they are, to eat these. I abandoned those when the star of the lunch arrived.

The bibimbap arrived in a very hot stone bowl sitting on a plastic tray thingy that made it possible for the wait staff to handle. This was where snap & crackle came in. The rice under all these other ingredients was frying and creating a crunchy little base at the bottom. As I was getting that auditory show the colorful spinach, carrots, sprouts, beef and nori covered mushrooms provided a nice visual complement. Oh and the sunny side up egg in the center didn’t hurt either. Once I added the sauce and stirred it up it wasn’t quite as eye catching but it was pretty delicious.

As mentioned I didn’t even pretend like the chop sticks were going to be sufficient to the task and dove in fork first. The flavors and textures, including the crunchy rice on the bottom, just blended so nicely together I’m not even sure what more to say other than if you haven’t ever tried bibimbap you need to and Seoul Korean Kitchen can help you out.

If you aren’t tired of Korean stuff check out the recipe, music and random fact on the Tell Me More page.

Murgh-nificent

India

In a rare weekday lunch for the Culinary-Passport I picked up my buddy Swain and we headed out for Korean. But wait, you say, the heading says India and you are correct. For reasons we had to pivot from Korean and landed at the Curry Hut. As landings go it was a pretty successful one.

From the outside the Curry Hut is not at all impressive. The building looks aged and you know they are not the first restaurant to occupy this space. The inside is better and the menu was downright expensive looking in this day and age of laminated or paper one sheeters.

We had two folks waiting on us, one a very experienced veteran of the Curry Hut and one that was a rookie and she let us know she was. So after spending quite a bit of time trying to make up our minds from the extensive menu I went with Badami Murgh (almond chicken) plus a side of garlic naan and Swain got Chicken Hyderabadi with pappadum. We had some discussion about spiciness with the more experienced of the wait staff and both got the spicy versions of our dishes.

You might have noticed the elegant serving dishes and plates. I will admit to a negative reaction. When it came time to leave however, I appreciated the leftover badami murgh already being in a to go container.

The badami murgh is very tasty. Kind of sweet with plenty of heat. The dish tasted like it might have had some coconut milk as well as the almond & cashew nuts. The curry was aromatic, creamy, nutty, and the spiciness was a definite taste on its own. It wasn’t like a specific type of pepper flavor but a sharp hot flavor. In fact the heat was just at the top end of my enjoyability spectrum of spiciness. Overall it was very nice with plenty to take home. Check them out for yourself.

If you want a quick hit of more India related content check out the Tell Me More page.

Tea Time pt 1

I teased (see what I did there) this on the FB page last month after the family had our post-Christmas Christmas gathering. My niece and her husband got me this bag of teas from around the world.

Outer bag

Selection of countries

Twelve countries and twelve teas. The packaging is utilitarian rather than fancy but that’s ok with me if it helps deliver value. I’ve tried half of the teas to this point and while I’m researching suitable restaurants in the Augusta area I thought this would be a good item to keep my blog momentum going and it certainly is in the spirit of the blog.

A quick note about my preparation that will likely appall any tea aficionados among you. I use filtered water that I microwave to boiling and then steep the tea according to the package recommendation or 5 minutes if there isn’t a recommendation. I take mine with sweetener only.

My first random pull from the bag was the tea from Israel, Wissotzky Tea.

This was a black tea in a double chamber bag with string like the majority of the teas we see here in the US. My tea palate is not refined to distinguish subtle variations within the tea types so my main gauge is strength of flavor. I found this to be a nice black tea but somewhat mild, definitely drinkable and I graded it 3 out of 5 tea bags.

Next was the Azerbaijani tea.

Another black tea, the Azercay Buket was packaged in the double chamber with string format. It was a bit stronger than the Israeli tea which suited me fine. While I said my taste buds weren’t that refined there was something a bit different with this one in addition to the strength that I liked and earned it 4 out of 5 tea bags.

Nepal was the next contestant out of the bag.

The KTE Black with Chai Spices was the first tea with additions and they were nice additions. There was no overpackage to the bag and it was a single chamber style. I like spiced tea and this one came with a very pleasant aroma and taste. I’m not sure what all spices were used but I could taste the cinnamon and cardamom complimenting the mild black tea. As I mentioned I prefer strong teas and like flavors that punch you in the face however I found this enjoyable enough to give it 4 tea bags.

Number four in the tea parade was the Russian entry.

Not a lot to say about the Maisky other than it was a moderately strong black tea with a good tannic mouthfeel. The bag was double chambered with string and no outer package. A 4 bagger on the rating scale.

England represented with a Twinings tea.

The 1706 Strong Breakfast Tea is my favorite of the lot so far. I don’t love this bag style but the tea within was as advertised. This was strong, astringent tea that was taking no prisoners. One of these for breakfast and you’d have to be dead for it not to get you going. If I was the type to add milk to my tea this would be the only one I’d consider because even diluted the tea would still be the dominant flavor. This one gets a 5 out of 5 from me.

The last one for this edition is the Indonesian entry.

The Sosro Heritage Green Tea was the first non-black out of the bag. Green tea is not my favorite as they tend to be subtle but I do enjoy one every now and then as a change of pace. This one was very pleasant. In spite of the label saying there was no roasting the tea presented with a faint smoky aroma that carried over to the flavor. I found the overall taste to be kind of grassy and mild and while that doesn’t sound great the flavor built up as I drank it. It earned a 3 out of 5 tea bags.

That’ll do it for part I. I’ll do part II once I finish the other 6 teas and I’m hoping for at least one more “punch me in the taste buds” like the Twinings in that batch. If you’ve had any of these teas let me know what you thought.

Turkish Delights

Well since there aren’t really any new restaurants opening, ethnic or otherwise, I’m still having to have my global flavor fix delivered. I found a very reasonable snack box on Amazon from Turkish Munchies and ordered up their Midi box.

The neat little pamphlet on top was something I appreciated. It has a list of possible snacks you could receive and each one has a thumbnail picture, a bit about the item and a couple of other nice touches. One being a group of icons showing major allergens that might be present as well as beverage pairing icons (non-alcoholic). There are also Stars you can use to rate the snacks and they encourage you to share on social media, because who doesn’t like free advertising. Here is a layout of the contents of my box.

I didn’t take photos of the individual snacks out of the package except the Kagit Helva wafer cookie on the bottom right.

I only did that to show the scale of the thing. Unfortunately that was the only impressive thing about it. It had the taste and texture of one of those cheap ice cream cones you get in the super market, one step above sweetened Styrofoam. There were some really nice ones though. The chocolate cupcake that was supposed to have cherry filling was really tasty. The cherry filling had just been absorbed by the cupcake so it was actually just a moist center but the flavor melded in a lip-smacking way.

The Bidolu wafer cookie’s filling of chocolate with nuts and crisp cookie was a standout along with the herb coated Krispi snack sticks. The banana wafer cookies and the coconut / chocolate ones were both more than acceptable versions of their type. The Cubuk Kraker pretzel sticks were nothing special but they had the advantage of being the most plentiful snack in the box.

I wasn’t in love with the sour bubble gum or what was supposed to be popping candy (there was no popping). The weird strawberry cupcake with sprinkles was in my bottom four as well. It wasn’t so much bad as it just wasn’t my deal.

I would definitely recommend this little slice of Turkish snackdom for the price, quality and taste. They offer other options too but I think for under $15 you can’t beat this for an intro.

SpiceBreeze part 2

As mentioned in the SpiceBreeze review I decided to make at least one of the recipes included with the spice blends from each of the three envelopes I received. Each of them turned out pretty well and the spice blends played key roles in every case.

The first one was using the “Tacos al pastor” seasoning mix.

This recipe called for creating a thick, onion heavy marinade that included the spices, some oil and tomato paste then coating the pork with it and letting it marinate for a while. It also called for frying up some pineapple rings to go along with the meat. The recipe called for the pork to be cooked then cut into strips and then fried again. I had some salsa in the fridge and threw that on as well to get the end result you see below.

They were terribly tasty tacos that had a smoky flavor imparted by the spice blend. Was worth my efforts.

The next one was a spice blend for and Indian dish, Summer Aloo Gobi Matar.

This hearty dish is a stew of potatoes, cauliflower, and peas that also included garlic, onion, tomato and ginger. In my case I exercised one of the suggested options and included a bit of chicken. Served with the suggested Basmati rice and naan this was filling and had some nice color. The spices in the blend played well together and it was savory and satisfying as well. For the curious the spices were; fennel, cumin, turmeric, coriander and cardamom. As an aside there was another pack in the envelope of whole cardamom seeds with a Mango Lassi recipe that also got used. I love mango lassi.

The last one was a Kabob Koobideh spice blend. This is a ground meat grilled kabob popular in Persian communities, as well as with others who just like good food.

Now I’ll admit up front these aren’t as visually appealing as they could have been and bear a striking resemblance to something you might not want to eat but trust me they tasted better than they looked. The restaurant versions of this dish I’ve had were a little thinner and were formed such that there were little ridges along the length almost like delimiters for bite sized chunks.

The recipe called for lamb, beef or chicken and had the store had lamb I’d have gone that way but instead I settled for lean ground beef. The recipe is fairly basic other than grating an onion and squeezing out all the juice, which isn’t difficult just something I’d never done to an onion before. Next up was adding some garlic, egg, spices and then the meat. Then you knead it for a while to incorporate everything and give it texture. In this case the spice blend consisted of sumac, turmeric, black pepper & parsley. The recipe called for just shaping the meat into long patties and frying but I was having none of that and decided they’d be shaped on skewers and grilled like they should be. The end result, when paired with the marinated cabbage (also included in the recipe) and some rice, was very good and bonus there were plenty of left-overs.

I have to give the SpiceBreeze team props for some fairly simple recipes that were delicious and did a good job showing off the spice packs they sent. So while it wasn’t something I wanted to continue I could certainly recommend it to others who might want to try their hands and discovering new cuisines.

Thailand Yums 2

I really wanted to title this “Thai 2, the Eclectic Bugaloo” but it didn’t look quite right on preview.

Since the Yum boxes were in repeats and I canceled the subscription after the current one runs out I had pretty much decided to stop reviewing them. Indeed, the UK box was thoroughly un-photoed and un-remarked on but the Thailand box flipped that script after I tried the first 2 items. The first one had me nibbling the hook and the second one set it.

The first one I grabbed was the bag of Tasto Devil potato chips. They were supposed to be spicy with flames on the bag and blah blah blah. Everything that has ever been “spicy” was medium at best in all the months I’ve been trying these. Imagine my surprise when I reached in and grabbed a couple of chips, tossed them in my mouth and before I could finish the second crunch I was feeling the heat. Wow these did have Thai chili flavor going on. I was impressed as I felt my scalp beginning to tingle. Then I discovered they didn’t just have powdered chili coating the chips they included a goodly amount of dried chilis in with the chips. I found this out when I started chewing on one that infiltrated my mouth by hiding between two of the chips. It was hot. My eyes wanted to help my mouth by providing liquid but since crying wouldn’t really help I vetoed that idea. OK they weren’t quite that hot but they were no joke and I did break a sweat.

The next contestant from the Thai Yum box was the bag of sea salt & caramel coconut chips. These were simply great. Strips of crunchy dried coconut, lightly salted and boldly caramelled (I’m sure that should be a valid word). The caramel was not like chewy gooey caramel but only the flavor so if I hadn’t read it on the package it would have been a total surprise and even knowing it I was impressed with the execution.

Because the folks from Thailand apparently love their salt there were also some salt and lime gummy’s too. Another hit snack. They were about 1/4″ wide (6.4mm) and 2 1/2 – 3″ long (64-76mm) gummy strips lightly covered in a fine powder of salt and sugar and a nice lime taste. I would actually have liked to have someone who drinks tequila eat one of these after a shot just to get their thoughts. Sadly I didn’t save any for my tequila drinking friends.

I didn’t bother taking a photo of what I considered the weirdest of the snacks but it is worth mentioning as a cautionary tail if nothing else. It was a corn flavored chew from the Yum bag. I’ll give them this, it was definitely corn flavored but it was also like chewing wax that started morphing into plastic and I’m sure if I’d swallowed it that thing would have rattled my digestive system for quite a while.

The last one I’ll mention was one I saved for last because I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to care for it and wanted to put off confirmation until there was no other choice.

The name of this is Z Roll Farm Fried Shrimp & Salad Cream. A seaweed wrapped potato stick with fried shrimp and mayonnaise flavors. With that name and description you might understand why I approached this with trepidation. I like the individual elements here but as a combo and based on experience with seaweed and seafood snacks I cringed opening the pack. I had a bit of hope when it didn’t reek like a week old dead fish in a tidal pool. Alas, the first bite confirmed my suspicions that this would not be a snack for me. The unusual texture combination of the semi-pliable seaweed and the powdery crunch of the potato stick followed by the respective tastes was, shall we say, off putting to me. I’m sure if I’d grown up with this as a snack option I’d have a different opinion but as it was this was a big ole “NOPE”.

If the next month is a repeat I hope they deliver as well as the Thai box did. Even the crappy ones were worth talking about.

SpiceBreeze “Box”

After I decided to stop the Universal Yum snack box description I searched for some other subscription box that would have an international flavor, literally, and be suitable for adding content to the blog. I was also considering the price / value as well. I decided to take a chance on SpiceBreeze. They call themselves a subscription box but it’s really a subscription envelope.

The plan I got came with 2 spice packets with recipe cards and 1 additional item like the cardamom seeds with the instructions to make a mango lassi on the label. For $7.99 I don’t feel cheated but I did feel disappointment when I got my first envelope.

They delivered everything they said they would on the website and the quality of the contents was decent but the presentation and packaging says “shoestring” to me. The first envelope had taco al pastor spice blend and furikake blend with recipe cards and I honestly forgot what the other packet was but it was a Mexican spice blend that I mixed into some refried beans to make a dip and air fried some small flour tortillas to make chips from. I’ll cover some of the recipes in a follow up entry but for now I’m just reviewing the subscription.

The recipes are definitely interesting but aside from the spice blends you have to provide everything else. None of the 6 recipes I saw over the 3 months I received had anything too exotic or difficult to obtain under normal circumstances but with the pandemic your mileage may vary. There is enough of the spice to make 1 instance of the recipe that generally feeds 2 or more. The recipe cards offer variants and on the back some additional detail on the blend and or the country it’s from.

Overall I’d say this was an ok subscription worth a solid 3 stars out of 5, maybe 3.5 but I just wasn’t feeling it enough to continue beyond the initial 3 month subscription.

Philippines Yum 2

The May Universal Yum box was another repeat country and while none of the snacks were a repeat exactly I decided it was time to move on from the Yum boxes. The subscription has a few months left so I’ll have a some more entries but now I’m searching for something new.

In the meantime let’s look at what this box offered.

There were a couple of nice treats but they were outnumbered by the sub-par snacks. My favorite was the ChocoMucho bar.

Not a pretty bar but quite tasty. The chocolate outer coating was a decent quality dark over crispy rice. That crispy rice covered a chocolate cookie with a caramel blanket. I could have eaten a whole box of these. Thankfully, for my weight, that wasn’t an option. Number two on my list was a bit more numerous and was enjoyed over several snackings.

Soft cookies with mango bits. I’m a mango fan so I loved these. They were kind of soft and doughy and each one was individually wrapped in a foil pack to keep them soft.  The mango bits tasted fresh and had an excellent flavor.   The cookies also had a bit of granular sugar that gave the occasional satisfying crunch.  Now let’s look at the weird and worst.

This Hulk colored sponge mess was supposed to have a cream filling but if there was any it had long since degraded into some goo that was absorbed by the cake around it. This was supposed to be flavored with Macapuno coconut which is, and I quote the booklet, “filled with a soft, jelly-like flesh.” It was as appetizing as that sounds. Not a winner.

Sticking with the offputting colors let’s move onto the Cupp Keyk Coco Ube.

If it had been the bright color of the package it would have at least had that going for it. Instead it was the grey purple that was more akin to the skin color of a floater fished from the river on a crime procedural. The taste wasn’t quite as bad as it looked but again it was not something I’d ever want to have again unless the option was a macapuno sponge cake, then it would be a coin toss.

Now there were some additional snacks that were serviceable like the cheese puffs, a cookies & cream ChocoMucho bar, some adobo corn nuts and a couple of hard candies. But the Farmer John BBQ sausage chips were just loaded with artificial and chemical tastes that were almost enough to edge past the mutant sponge and cup cakes.

Overall the box was average at best and made the decision to not renew the subscription pretty easy. Next post should be either a new spice or a restaurant visit.

Togarashi Testing

This week’s entry in quarantine cuisine takes me from the Mediterranean across Asia to the islands of Japan. I came across a small packet of togarashi spice blend and decided that would serve nicely as the next entry.

There are different versions of togarashi but some elements are pretty much consistent which are; red chili peppers, orange peel, sesame seeds, nori (seaweed), ginger, and white pepper. Other items are added depending on who’s making it and what profile they’re going for. The blend I have uses hot and sweet paprika, black and white sesame seeds, orange peel, poppy seeds and powdered nori but no ginger or white pepper so I added both to the mixture myself.

Typical uses are adding it to soups, noodle dishes or rice dishes. In my case I decided to make a simple soup using thin sliced beef, dashi broth (thanks Lynn), shitake mushrooms, green onions and udon noodles and add the togarashi.

I marinated the beef in a mix of soy and teriyaki sauces then browned the bite sized bits just a tad before adding to the dashi broth with the other ingredients. So I never took a snap of the beef at any stage and even in the finished product below it is hiding beneath the other ingredients but trust me it was tender and tasty.

This turned out to be very tasty and quite filling. The togarashi spice added a little bit of heat and some nice color to the dashi broth. The pepper flavor was there and melded well with the marinated beef and green onions, which also added a color element. I really liked the finished product and there were left overs so I’m expecting one of those “better the next day” experiences.

I’ve used this spice blend as a rub before and also sprinkled on roasted vegetables. Both good but for some reason this blend smoked at any highish heat. I’d definitely recommend trying it if you never have.

Holiday Yums

Well after several weeks of laziness I decided to drop the December Holiday Yums box entry.

The 2019 Holiday box had 13 snacks from 13 different countries; Spain, Uruguay, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Philippines, France, Jordan, Austria, Croatia, Belgium, Japan, and Poland. There were a couple of repeats from previous boxes but mostly it was new stuff. My favorite was a repeat.

The Jabri Mixed Baklava was my favorite from last year’s Holiday box as well. The regular is great but the birds nest version with pistachios is just a special treat. It did have some competition this year in the form of a Belgian treat.

If I haven’t said it before I’ll say it now, white chocolate is not my jam but add some cinnamon cookie bits and I’m inviting you to the party. It was like an uber-sweet snickerdoodle. A little went a long way sort of like the most unusual paring of the box.

The Spanish weighed in again with a twisted chip flavor because someone thought, “you know what this chip needs? Raspberries!” It really didn’t. It was better than I expected but I had the bar pretty low going in. The raspberry flavor was reasonably muted so it was more like a distraction from a quality chip that an enhancement. The French, not to be left out of the chip wars said “hold mon bier”.

Roasted chicken chips? I had high expectations in spite of past experience with most “meat” flavored chips. First chip had me impressed and thinking “by golly these do have a roast chicken flavor” by about the 4th chip though I was over it.  It was just too much of the roast chicken flavor, which is something I never imagined saying. I could’t even finish the bag. Croatia managed to come in with powerful entry though that I did finish.

As soon as the package was opened the garlic smell ventured forth like it was planning to conquer the world or at least the room.  The pretzel sticks were good and crunchy even with the hollow core that was loaded with garlic.  I do mean loaded.  It was so garlicky I had to go brush my teeth and gargle just so I could move on with my day. 

Most interesting taste sensation goes to the Polish gingerbread.

This was actually the first thing I had from the box. Gingerbread snacks have been hit or miss but this entry with black currant icing was tasty and light with a hard glaze icing.  For the interesting taste sensation. As I was biting it I got a strong hint of black currant that was like a combination of scent and taste but it hadn’t yet hit the tongue. This certainly has happened with other foods but this was probably the most remarkable because the black currant taste on eating it was very subtle until I was finished and then it lingered. Good start, good finish.

The other snacks were mostly good with a couple of so so but the grade for the Holiday box was an A-.

The next blog entry will have me out and about again for a lunch at one of a couple of new (to me) restaurants I’ve found.