20 (Fri) January 2012
Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bowl
from Fog City International Café
-Oksu, Seongdong, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
with W and DJ
Sourdough is the bread of choice in the San Francisco Bay Area. Unlike leavened breads made with yeast, the lactobacilli involved in leavening sourdough produces lactic acid that imparts a distinctly sour taste. I mostly ate Wonder Bread while growing up in the South Bay, but I came to love sourdough while I was an undergrad at Berkeley, when sandwiches constituted a large portion of my diet. The bright acidity of the bread, as well as its chew, works especially well with meaty sandwiches. Whenever guests came to town, a default stop on the tour was Fisherman’s Wharf, where restaurants serve clam chowder in hollowed out sourdough rounds (“bowls”), the zesty bread providing a perfect counterbalance to the creamy soup, and the dense texture being optimally engineered to absorb the liquid without succumbing to sogginess. Alas, yeast-based breads represent the norm throughout most of the world, including Korea, where sourdough is virtually non-existent.
A few days ago, in response to an earlier post on baguettes (see 2.315 Smoked Salmon with Romaine and Capers on Baguette Slices), a reader informed me that he had “great bread” for sale by delivery from his restaurant/bakery in Incheon called Fog City International Cafe (Facebook page). Sourdough is listed as the first item on the website’s delivery menu. The menu also includes clam chowder, as well as a suggestion to eat the chowder with the sourdough in reference to the tradition of Fisherman’s Wharf. I couldn’t resist.
After several email exchanges, which confirmed our mutual connection to the Bay Area, we agreed on an order for 4 sourdough bread bowls at 10,000 won and 2 orders of clam chowder at 5,000 won each. In addition to the agreed upon (i) 4 sourdough bread bowls and (ii) 2 orders of clam chowder, he delivered (iii) 2 additional large rounds (each the size of 2 bread bowls), (iv) 1 bottle of proprietary salad dressing made with blue cheese imported from the Cowgirl Creamery in Marin County, and (v) 1 bottle of chardonnay from the Napa Valley winery Cartlidge & Brown: all so that I could enjoy a thoroughly Northern California dining experience, as his note in the box explained. “The perks of being a power blogger,” I said, beaming. “But you’re not a power blogger,” she said. Bazinga. Anyway, in terms of volume, it was undoubtedly the greatest food value that I’ve ever purchased, even if I hadn’t bargained specifically for it.
Without the freebies, a single loaf of the bread alone would’ve made the transaction worthwhile. Although a straight-up comparison to the aforementioned Paris Croissant baguette would be unfair, the latter being a yeast-leavened bread and therefore at an inherent disadvantage as far as I’m concerned, the Fog City sourdough now ranks as the best bread that I’ve ever had in Korea. Prior to tasting it, the tactile sensations – the powdery flour lightly dusted on the outside, the rough surface of the crust, the rigidity that gave ever-so-slightly when squeezed -all suggested that something special lay within. It crackled when torn apart. Inside, the coarsely yellowish bread was uneven and ugly, like a beautiful handmade bread should be. At first bite, the exquisite tang immediately made my mouth water as the sense memories came flooding back; it’s hard to believe that nearly a decade had passed since I last had sourdough. I finished an entire round just standing there over the box. Awesome. The only slight drawback is that, personally, I would’ve preferred it a bit tangier; I’m wondering if some of the zip had dissipated, the way that sour does over time, in the 24 hours that it had sat around before I got to it (we were away on the day of delivery). Now that I plan to be a life-long customer, I can taste it fresh the next time.
The clam chowder was also excellent. Compared to the canned stuff, or even the mass produced stuff found in certain chain restaurants, Fog City’s clam chowder was chock full of fresh clams that burst with actual clam flavor upon every bite. The only slight drawback is that, personally, I would’ve liked it a bit thicker; I’m wondering if it had been bottled somewhat loose to compensate for thickening upon reheating, which it did. And of course, as per the plan, the chowder paired perfectly with the sourdough.
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