26 August 2004


Today, we're having budaejigae (부대찌개) for lunch. I believe there is a folklore or story to how this came to be, but I haven't got down to research this. It's called "military stew" or "soldier's stew" presumably because it must have been the staple for the guys in green out there in the warzone. If you guys know the story to this, please share them with us in the commentary section.

Corporate soldiers making a meal of their own.

Ahhh ... another satisfied soldier. The Olympic games playing on the telly. The kitchen in the background.

The budaejigae starts off by throwing placing all the ingredients into a shallow pan and then pouring some stock over it and let it boil.

In this particular budaejigae, you'll find sliced sausages, luncheon meat (spam), minced beef, korean glass noodles, chili paste, chili powder, cabbage kimchi, chinese cabbage, leek, spring onions, a slice of cheese(!), minced garlic, large onions, button mushrooms, tofu beancurd and dtok (flour cakes).

Some places serve their budaejigae with canned baked beans, mandu, ramyeon noodles or udon noodles etc. I guess there's no hard and fast rules when it comes to budaejigae. Anything goes but the sausages, luncheon meat, some form of noodles and chili paste are the common denominator.

Slowly slowly it boils. This is how it looks like about 6 minutes in.

A couple more minutes and you get this. The soup thickens and turns red-er, and a quick test-taste to confirm if it's done. Lower heat and let it simmer as you begin your journey to budaejigae-land.

This is one person's portion. KRW7,000. I returned the kimchi and some other side dishes that came with it. Waste not want not.

I love the purple rice that's common here in Korea. I don't know if it's the grains themselves or just colouring. Anyone?

A sampling from the pot. Clockwise from 12 o'clock : sausages, leek, onion, canned luncheon meat (spam), beancurd (tofu), minced beef, button mushroom and korean noodles.

Let it simmer as you eat and you'll get to this stage where the stew's all thick and Yummy!

19 August 2004

KL Foodie 2 - Dim Sum

I'm interspersing the backlog posts from my trip to Malaysia with current posts from Korea. Sorry if it's causing you guys jet-lag. At the dismal rate I'm going, we should be all caught up by year's end(!!). So, we're back to Kuala Lumpur (affectionately known as "KL") again for this post.

Today, we're talking about dim sum, that perennial favourite Chinese breakfast. The last time I had dim sum was actually in Korea at Jackie Chan's restaurant. In that post, I had also explained a little bit about this thing called "touch the heart".

While in KL, I was introduced to this place in Sungai Buloh, an old industrial town in a somewhat remote area from KL. This place is really packed in and obviously very popular with the locals.

Here's the protocol - what you need to do is briefly scout around **insert Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell background music here** for a table that looks pretty much done and mark your territory by standing beside the customers as they finish their meal (see photo of recognisance scouts above). Any discomfort on your part as they choke hurriedly on their food as you stand there impatiently watching them eat is natural but excusable. The moment they stand up, it's your table baby! Oh ..... and we had to wait 15 minutes for our table.

A good sign to any dim sum place is the use of traditional bamboo steamers. You won't find any of them shiny stainless steel contraptions here. OK, I'm a traditionalist.

The use of bright red table cloth does not help this novice photographer. Colors in this series are a little off due to inexperience use of PaintShop. Manually adjust the image settings on-camera, I hear you say. Man if I knew how to do that, I wouldn't be in this jam now would I? I'm a point-and-shoot simpleton. OK back to the food.

Clockwise from top left : mushroom dumpling, "yee wat" (fish paste ball) and "siew mai" (pork dumpling). The mushroom dumpling is basically pork dumpling with the addition of slivers of black chinese mushrooms. The "yee wat" fish paste ball is different from the "yee tan" (fish ball) in that the former is coarser in texture and firm whereas the standard fish ball is super smooth and bouncy soft. I'm a big fan of "yee wat" and this one doesn't disappoint. It's firm and bouncy to the bite. The "siew mai" is always a popular choice at any dim sum meal. The filling is made from minced pork, finely diced water chestnuts, spring onions, chinese parsley and seasoned with soya sauce, sesame oil, chinese cooking wine and a dash of oyster sauce. I'm not sure if they've added any other "secret recipe" to their trademark dish. Anyway, it tastes darn good.

A plate of fried "chun keen" or dumpling roll. Same filling as that used in the pork dumpling except here it is rolled with a thin sheet of soybean skin and deep fried to golden brown. There's a mayonaise dipping sauce to go with this, but it's perfect as it is.

Clockwise from top left : braised chicken feet in black beans, fried dumplings in sour plum sauce and steamed porks ribs in black beans and sliced chilis. Interestingly, the glamourised name given to the chicken feet is "phoenix claws" so don't be mislead into thinking anything exotic when you're placing your order.

The chicken feet (nails clipped, of course!) is first marinated with thick soya sauce and sesame oil and then deep fried till brown. Only then is it steamed with the black bean sauce. So the chicken skin actually peels off easily and still a little crunchy despite soaking in the sauce. This is one of my favourites.

The pork ribs is another dim sum favourite. Little bits of pork ribs with bones intact are marinated with chinese preserved bean paste ("lam yee"), sesame oil, chinese cooking wine and light soya sauce for several hours. It is then steamed with sliced fresh chili and black beans. Nice.

A plate of fried fish paste fritters. Nothing spectacular here. Deep fried fish paste with bits of carrots, fresh chilis and spring onions mashed in for color and texture.

This is "lor mai kai" or steamed glutinuous rice with pieces of chicken, pork and black chinese mushroom. Seasoned with oyster sauce, soya sauce, sesame oil and Chinese cooking wine. Very nice.

This is "woo kok" or yam dumplings. Mashed yam with filling of chuncky diced pork, chinese mushrooms, shallots, garlic and seasoned with oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, thick and light soya sauce and Chinese cooking wine. When fried, the outer layer of the mashed yam turns golden brown and crispy on the outside yet soft inside. A definite favourite.

What dim sum meal wouldn't be complete without the compulsory order of "char siew pao" or steamed pork buns. The bread-like skin is warm, soft and fluffy and the sweetish "char siew" pork filling oozes out as you rip it apart. Perfect end to the meal.

Pricing wise, expect to pay between RM1.80 (USD0.50) to RM4.00 (USD1.05) per plate/serving, depending on the items you order. Typically you can expect about 30 - 40 varieties of dim sum (steamed and fried items) to be offered at your table. The waiters will bring them to your table on the large bamboo trays and you pick the ones you one and off the waiter goes to the next table. The pricing is determined by the shape and color of the plates, kinda like in a sushi bar. My only wish now is that they have decent dim sum at these prices in Korea. OK. End of moment. (Visa .....)

14 August 2004


In today's post, we're going ga-ga over 만두 (mandu), the ever-popular Korean dumpling. Mandus come in different shapes and sizes, and is used in numerous ways; it can be eaten on its own or used as fillers for stews (jiggae), soup (gook) and even rice dish (bibimbap).

Let's kick things off with 사골만두국 (sagol mandu gook), or mandu soup.

Yes you guessed it, delivery service.

Sauteed mushrooms with sesame oil, sesame seed, garlic and soya sauce.

This one is a little different. A sweet and very spicy blend of chili sauce mixed in with strips of odeng (fish cakes), large onions and potatoes. The potatoes are a nice touch. Me like.

This is the mandu gook, or mandu soup. You get 8 large dumplings swimming in a bowl of soup. Scrape the bottom of the bowl and you'll find chuncky bits of seaweed, garlic, spring onions and beaten egg swirled in. The soup's heavy in garlic overtone and the stock's probably prepared using granulated beef stock. It's OK for a quickie lunch.

Close-up of the mandu. It kinda resembles a bloated tortellini (Italian), yes?

The mandu stuffing is made from minced pork, garlic, onions, spring onions, leek, Korean glass noodles, sesame oil, soya sauce and heavy on the black pepper.

The skin of the Korean mandu is somewhat thicker and chewy than the Japanese gyoza or Chinese wonton. It's still smooth nonetheless. This meal costs KRW5,000.

Next up is 김치만두 (kimchi mandu) and 고기만두 (gogi mandu, or pork dumpling).

You will usually find the mandu steaming by the walkway, as in the photo above. The guys will be busy in the store doing finger gymnastics folding the mandus.

This is a tray of kimchi mandu steamed and ready for sale.

On another tray you'll find the gogi mandu.

An order of 10 dumplings usually costs between KRW2,500 to KRW3,000. They also do half and half, which is what I had.

Dissected, the gogi mandu on the left and kimchi mandu on the right.

The basic ingredients are the same for both - the filling is made of finely chopped radish, cabbage, onions, garlic, spring onions, sesame seed and minced pork. The only difference is the kimchi mandu uses radish kimchi with chili whereas the gogi mandu is plain radish cooked in soya sauce and sesame oil. I'm glad this one doesn't have the usual Korean glass noodles.

Next up is 황만두 (hwang mandu). I'm not sure what the "황" (hwang) here refers to. King? Emperor? Gold? For those in the know, would appreciate your help on this. For now, I'll just call it mandu buns, which in essence is what it is.

[ erratum : several readers had rightfully pointed out that the corrent name should read "왕" (wang) and not "황" (hwang) - so the correct name is "왕만두" (wang mandu) ]

Some of you would have recognise the similarity between the hwang mandu to the Chinese bao (steamed buns) served at dim sum sessions. The bread-like skin is identical to their Chinese counterpart. It's soft and light and best eaten hot off the steamer.

As you pretty much get the idea by now, the filling is made from minced pork, radish, cabbage, spring onions, leek, Korean glass noodles, garlic, onions and chopped bean sprouts.

And finally, let's talk about 군만두 (goon mandu) or fried mandu. You can pick these packs up at any supermarket. They sell them by the truckloads daily.

A large 1 kg pack like this costs about KRW5,000 per pack. It contains approx. 40-50 dumplings.

I usually add a little water and cook the water dry towards the end of the frying process to soften the skin.

The stuffing is pretty standard with minced pork (I hope!), Korean glass noodles, spring onions, garlic and leek. (sorry for the poor close-up shot)

Recently, demand for such prepacked mandu has declined significantly since the mandu scandal broke. But rest assured that mandu is here to stay - it's as Korean as it gets.


Reader Catherine of Las Vegas wrote me a long e-mail and I'm just happy she's enjoying the blog. She asked that I cover mandu as it's her favourite, so the above post goes out to you. Hope you enjoyed it.

07 August 2004

KL Foodie 1 - Banana Leaf Rice

Bangsar is an uptown suburb in Kuala Lumpur. It's a hip and happening neighbourhood and a popular nightly watering hole for the expat crowd, the haves and the wanna-haves. Fancy cars, fashionable yuppies, hot babes, singles bars, overpriced drinks, overpriced food, valet parking, oh and the handful of balding and/or overweight business tycoons ....... you get the idea.

So like fish out of water, I need to steer waaaaaay clear of this neighbourhood. I definitely don't belong here, but hey, one of my favourite Indian restaurants is tucked away in a quiet corner.

It's common for proprietors of food establishments to line the sidewalks and streets with tables and chairs to accomodate the usually overflowing customers that throng to their eatery. Sure it may violate a handful of traffic, building code and sanitation regulations. But then, it also makes dining al'fresco a more comfortable option in view of the heat and humidity even in the evenings and nights here.

View of the sparse but sterile inside dining area.

This is what we're here for - banana leaf rice. A mountain of steaming hot plain rice is positioned centrally on a banana leaf, which is then flooded with curry as the supporting army of vegetables, pickles and papadams surround the mountain for that final ambush. Controlling the warfare in the background is the well-seasoned but hot-tempered General Chicken and the fiesty Captain Mutton. Attack!!!

Originating from Southern India, eating off a banana leaf continues to be a daily affair for the Indian community here in Malaysia. Like their brothers and sisters in the motherland, most are vegetarians (or at least on certain days of prayers) and will partake in the offering of rice and vegetables sans meat. Thankfully for you guys, the FatMan ain't a vegan. And if you're still wondering, you eat with your hand. Sure you can ask them for a fork and spoon, but don't chicken out if you want the full experience. It's finger lickin' good, Col. Sanders.

What you get with your order is a continuous flow of rice, 3 to 4 varieties of vegetables-of-the-day, spoonfuls of Indian "acar" pickles, Indian "papadam" crackers and several varieties of curry gravy - dhall, chicken, fish, mutton etc. (gravy only). Yes, for RM4.50 (USD1.20) you get a free-flow of all these goodies, as much as that tummy of yours can take. That's the standard vegetarian meal, without of course the meat-derived curry gravy.

To this basic meal you can add your choice of well over 20 dishes - dry curry chicken, curry mutton, fish curry, fried chicken, barbequed chicken, dry mutton curry, fried fish roe, crab crabs, curry fish head etc. etc. etc. Prices range from RM3.00 (USD0.80) to RM8.00 (USD2.10).

Today, this is what we got. On the leaf, from left to right - papadam (crackers), fried and salted whole chilies, cold cucumber salad in yoghurt with some pineapples and large onions, deep-fried breaded "pawakal" (bitter gourd) and a mushy potato + turnip + "dhall" (chickpeas) + mustard seed concoction. Rice is flooded with sourish fish curry gravy, my favourite. That's the vegetarian set with unlimited refills.

A close-up of the fried strips of bitter gourd and the "dalcha".

We had the deep-fried sliced "tenggiri" fish (mackerel) which was spiced with turmeric and curry powder. Fried to order so you can be assured it will arrive at your table piping-hot. RM3.00 (USD0.80) per slice.

This is the chicken "varuval". A dry curry heavily spiced with ginger, cinnamon sticks, star anise, aniseed, chili, coriander, fennel seed, cumin and pepper corn. Absolute heaven. RM3.50 (USD0.95) per plate.

They were out of mutton today, my favourite. So we ordered another chicken dish instead. This is the chicken "masala". A thick curry made with onion, chili, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, tamarind juice and light coconut milk. Absolutely yummy. RM3.50 (USD0.95) per plate.

Southern Indian cuisine is spicier and more grassroot/barebone than their Northern Indian counterpart where dishes are typically milder (less spicy), richer and creamier with ample use of yoghurt, cream and home-made cheese (cultured milk) and in place of plain white rice you'll find "naan" (pita-like bread baked in clay tandoori ovens) or the richer "briyani" rice (superior basmathi rice).

No meal of this nature in Malaysia can be complete without a glass of the national drink, "teh tarik". In the Malay language, "teh" means tea and "tarik" means pull, so teh tarik would translate to be pulled tea - the action of tossing tea from one cup to another, the end result is an aerated glass of tea that froths at the top. This is how NOT to do it.

If you're more a traditionalist, you should end the meal with a cup of "rassam", or Indian sour soup, to rid that bloaty feeling after your sumptious meal. If it's done sour enough, it'll make your toenails curl.

And finally, some tips. You're suppose to use your right hand to eat, and never your left even if you're a leftie. In local culture, the left hand is stigmatised and associated with not-so-pleasant bodily duties. Also, at the end of the meal, you should be careful how you fold your banana leaf in half to indicate that you have completed your meal. Folding the leaf towards you (in the direction of 12 to 6 o'clock) indicates that you are satisfied and happy with the meal and folding it the other way around indicates the opposite. I doubt modern society interpretes these in any strict manner but just my 2 cents of worthless trivia nonetheless.

04 August 2004

Ipoh Food

Ipoh is another hotspot for foodies in Malaysia. Located approximately 200km north of capital Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh was once a bustling hub of colonial Malaya, thanks largely to its central location in this tin mining region.

These days, it attracts foodies who converge onto Ipoh for that oh-so-famous beansprouts, "hor fun" (flat noodles) and "pak cham kai" (boiled whole chicken, then cut and served in soya sauce). Sadly, I'm unable to bring to you any of these. Perhaps next time. Instead, let's try some of the other goodies.

This is a typically "coffee shop", a colloquail term for an eatery with numerous stalls selling a variety of hawker fares. This is the scene at breakfast time, circa 7.30 a.m.

This coffee shop is famous for several items, which we will explore soon enough.

This is the area where the drinks are made. Ipoh, and this coffee shop in particular, is famous for its "white coffee" and the 70+ year old man behind the counter (partly hidden) has been dishing this out since, well .... a long time.

We start breakfast off with a cuppa. This is the white coffee, a frothy cup of caffeine heaven, chipped cup and all. An excellent blend of fresh local coffee ground (secret family recipe), sugar and sweetened condensed milk. RM1.50 (USD0.40).

After drinking this, you can forget all about Starbucks and the rest of the gang of overpriced coffee-mongers. This one beats them all.

After that excellent caffeine fix, next up are some "pie tee" (top) and deep-fried "popiah" (springroll, bottom). The fillings for both are identical and made from finely shredded trio of yam beans or "sengkuang", "cloud's ear" fungi mushroom and carrots, and topped with fried shallots.

The difference is that the springrolls are wrapped in a thin flour skin and deep fried till golden brown while the pie-tee are spooned into a prepared deep-fried flour shell. Dip in chili sauce for added kick. Yummy. RM1.50 for each springroll and RM4.00 for half a dozen pie-tees.

Another popular item at this coffee shop is the Ipoh "kari mee" or curry noodles. You get a bowl of noodles in curry soup, and topped with cuts of chicken, prawns and sliced "char siew" (red-coloured barbeque pork), beansprouts and finally garnish with fresh mint leaves. RM3.00 (USD0.80) per bowl.

You can choose from a variety of noodles, and I opted for the "hor fun", an Ipoh speciality. This silky-smooth noodles are a real treat. Thumbs all the way up! (I'm getting hungry even as I type this!)

In another part of Ipoh, I stumbled upon this rather unusual variation on the perennial Malaysian favourite, "nasi lemak". Strictly, the Malay words "nasi lemak" means rice enriched with coconut milk. Nasi lemak however generically also refers to that fragrant rice + accompanying sambal (spicy chili blended with shrimp paste), curry, egg, cucumber, peanuts and various other add-ons. It varies to no end, but the common denominator is that rich fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk.

What is different with the above is the absence of the nasi lemak, which has been substituted with "nasi pandan" instead! What they have done here is to cook the rice with screw pine leaves (in Malay called, you guessed it, "pandan"). The result is this fragrant green-coloured rice you see above. Served with (clockwise from top) mutton curry and potatoes, sliced cucumber, stir-fried cabbage, "acar pickle" (vinegared and spiced sticks of carrots, cucumber, cabbage and crushed peanuts and topped with sesame seeds) and fried egg. RM4.50 (USD1.20).

Pictured above is another of my favourite. Although not known to most outsiders, it is very popular with the Ipoh folks and it's hard to find any just as good elsewhere in Malaysia. This is deep-fried mantis prawns or as the local Cantonese would call it, "lai liew har". Photos and info on mantis prawns here and here if you're interested.

The prawns are de-shelled, minced, coated with flour and deep-fried. The prawns offer a unique flavour not found in typical prawns. Absolutely delicious. RM8.00 (USD2.10) per plate.