5 (Tue) January 2020
-Changgok, Sujeong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-
with the boys
We received a gift package of hanwoo from W’s colleague.
In a prior post, I noted my frustration with homonyms in Korean, especially words based on Chinese characters, which can result in contradictory/ironic double meanings (see 2.086 Pan-Seared Ribeye Steak in Garlic-Mushroom Gravy with Hasselback Potatoes). Here, “ansim (안심)” means “comforted/relaxed (an) + heart/mind/soul (sim) = worry-free/safe,” but could also mean “interior (an) + cut (sim) = tenderloin,” which is confusing (in principle) because the brand includes tenderloin and other cuts of meat.
Anyway, here, in terms of marketing, the “safe” is not really literal but intended to have a more elevated meaning, like “high-quality,” I think.
I hadn’t realized that the word “sim,” which refers to a cut of meat, derives from the Chinese character “心,” which more commonly is used to mean “heart/mind/soul.” The history of that connection bears furthers analysis someday.
The meat was okay. Whereas hanwoo is bred to taste bland (as per Korean preferences), and tenderloin is one of the most flavorless cuts (in any cow breed), the ansim here tasted clear but fell short in beefiness. At level 1 (third tier), the marbling was weak, leaving the meat kinda dry, though still tender. In any case, we enjoyed it, gratefully, along with the sirloin strip (better) and ribeye (best).
* * * *
A LOOK BACK AT CYCLE 11
Having transpired during a global pandemic, Cycle 11 was unlike any other year in GMTD history – in human history.
Out of 366 days, 241 meals were home-cooked (66%), 49 meals by delivery or takeout (13%) – a combined 290 meals at home (79%) – and just 76 meals eaten out, including on a plane (21%). meals took place in the Philippines (6 January to 30 May), in Korea (1 June to 5 January), and 1 meal in flight (the flight departing the Philippines to Korea) – not a single duty travel.
By contrast, out of 365 days in Cycle 10, 171 meals were home-cooked (47%), 23 meals by delivery or takeout (6%) – a combined 194 meals at home (53%) – and 171 meals eaten out, including on a plane (47%). 264 meals in the Philippines (72%), 14 meals in Korea (4%), 14 meals in flight (4%), 73 meals abroad (20%) – so many duty travels.
BEST LIFE LESSON LEARNED
For the 5 months that we spent in Manila at the start of 2020, my lasting memory will be the daily struggles to buy groceries and keep the fridge and pantry stocked with healthy and tasty foods, never quite sure whether the supply chain would break down, which it never did (see 11.062 Miyeok Guk Ramyeon; 11.076 Broccoli with Chogochujang) – I can’t remember a single thing that I did at work during those 5 months. Early on, at the top of February, I was still hoping that the situation would settle down by the end of the month (11.027 Doomsday Pork Belly). Admittedly, we never really struggled, but it did seem like a looming possibility.
I’m hoping the boys – who were stuck at home for 110 days, from the day their school in Manila shutdown to the day we were released from quarantine in Seoul – learned to appreciate the importance of food in times of crisis (see 11.090 Rice).
BEST DISHES BY ME (PHILIPPINES)
As a father and home cook, my proudest moment amidst the lockdown was baking a birthday cake for IZ – it was kinda lousy, but did include fresh strawberries – while also having the wherewithal to buy him gifts via Amazon (see 11.092 Super Moist Red Velvet Cake with Rich & Creamy Vanilla Frosting and Fresh Strawberries).
I was so very sad to leave the Philippines, a country that was gracious and generous to us for 6.5 years – I truly felt at home the entire time. I learned to cook one dish, which has since become a family favorite (see 11.143 Chicken Adobo).
BEST RESTAURANT DISH (PHILIPPINES)
If I had to rank my top 12 favorite restaurants in Manila – in consideration of the food and the memories – they would be:
- Li Li (see 6.046 Pan-Fried Egg Bean Curd, Scallop, Shrimp; see most recently 11.024 Yum Cha)
- Seafood Market & Restaurant (see 4.263 Parros Clams in Spicy Black-Bean Sauce with Sinangag; see most recently 10.276 Miso Soup with Parros Clams (No Ginger))
- Mamou (see 7.203 28-Day Dry-Aged USDA Prime Grade T-Bone Steak; see most recently 10.325 Pasta Andrada Bolognese)
- Tao Yuan (see 5.088 Chili Crab; see most recently 10.278 White Pepper Slipper Lobster)
- Casa Escondida (see 8.211 BBQ Pork + Garlic Prawns; see most recently 10.133 BBQ Chicken & Ribs)
- Casa Armas (see 6.036 Calamares a la Plancha con Alioli; see most recently 10.348 Chorizo Frito)
- Golden Fortune (see 5.356 Soya Cake with Three Kinds Mushrooms; see most recently 10.072 Sauteed Prawns with Egg Whites)
- La Cabrera (see 10.353 Entraña; see most recently 11.051 Cuadril)
- Purple Yam (see 8.226 Hipon Sinigang; see most recently 10.326 Squid Pipian)
- My Kitchen by Chef Chris (see 4.270 The Original – Verena; see most recently 10.285 Classic Angus Flank Steak)
- Seryna (see 10.030 Mako Karei Karaage; see most recently 10.270 Oyakodon)
- Jjambbong Janggun (see 10.271 Chadol Jjambbong; see most recently 11.138 Jjambbong Jeongol)
When I am back in the Philippines (perhaps 2022?), I will try to visit as many of these places as possible, assuming they’re still around by then.
I will also miss Yellow Cab, both the chicken wings (see most recently 11.123 Sweet Soy Wings) and the pizza (see most recently 11.114 New York Classic Pizza), especially the Dear Darla (see most recently 9.103 Dear Darla Pizza: Chicken Corona).
WORST RESTAURANT DISH (PHILIPPINES)
I will never miss Jollibee, especially the fried chicken (see most recently 11.037 1-Piece Chickenjoy Meal).
BEST MEALS (PHILIPPINES)
Most of all, I will miss three people: KF, PR, LL, all of whom came into my in a professional capacity, but eventually became family. I was honored that PR cooked us lunch one day as a thank you (see 11.141 Deep-Fried Cream Dory). LL cooked for us most days. KF cooked burnt fried chicken for me once.
The only work-related dinner in 2020 while I was still with WHO took place at the Korean Embassy in Manila, an informal gathering upon the invitation of the ambassador who was digging for some inside info on the rising epidemic (see 11.038 Black Sesame & Pine Nut Porridge).
BEST DISH IN FLIGHT
The evening that we left Manila – uncertain at the time how bad the situation in the Philippines was, uncertain how contagious the virus really was – the 6-hour journey was extremely tense, waiting to board the plane at the airport, huddled in a corner of the terminal, through the flight itself, served by flight attendants in hazmat suits. In retrospect, it wasn’t that bad, but it was the first time that I had feared for the safety of my family (see 11.147 Bulgogi).
BEST MEALS (KOREA)
Upon arriving in Korea, I was relieved not only to have successfully evacuated my family from the Philippines but also to have survived 2.5 months of lockdown. I was grateful to spend the next 2 weeks in quarantine from the tranquil luxury of our cabin. For our first meal that night, meat never tasted so good (11.148 Grilled Hanwoo 1+ Deungsim).
Our first meal upon release from quarantine, the first restaurant meal in 111 days, raw fish never tasted so good (see 11.162 Modeum Sashimi). Draft beer never tasted so good. Freedom never tasted so good. Normalcy never tasted so good.
After a few months in decompression – I can’t remember a single thing that I did but do remember feeling very busy doing nothing – I rejoined society, launching on a completely new career path. And yet, living again in Korea and eating regular Korean food for lunch (see 11.240 Cutting Board Boiled Pork Table d’Hôte), and working for people whom I’ve known my entire life, the situation seemed immediately familiar.
Only 1 work-related dinner in 2020 at my new job in Korea (see 11.305 Omakase (Actually Kaiseki)) – as far as I’m aware, the occasion was the only such company function in the entire 4th quarter, probably in the 2nd half of the year, perhaps all year – a true sign of dire times, whereas small companies in Korea thrive on after-work social gatherings.
Ultimately, it’s all about family (see 11.270 Songi).
BEST RESTAURANT DISHES (KOREA)
Old-fashioned fried chicken from Legendary Chicken (see 11.188 Legendary Chicken), a chicken delivery joint near our new home. Although it’s only been featured once on GMTD thus far, we order regularly, typically as a late-night snack – in fact, maybe the most of any place since our return.
The ban-ban at Goeup Okcheon Naeng Myeon, perfect as ever (see 11.210 Ban-Ban).
Butter Masala Chicken, perhaps the best that I’ve ever had (11.299 Butter Masala Chicken), at Indica, an exciting new Indian restaurant near work.
WORST RESTAURANT DISH (KOREA)
The cafeteria food at my prior place of employment was pretty bad (see most recently 10.153 Beef Caldereta + Steamed Vegetables + Steamed Rice), but the lunch buffet in the building at my new job may be even worse (see 11.253 Spicy Chicken Curry and Other Japaneseish (Not So) Goodies).
BEST NEW RESTAURANT (KOREA)
Whereas the Seongsu neighborhood near work is rapidly gentrifying, I am very pleased that the local dining scene is becoming remarkably diverse and authentic, way in advance of national trends, and good. Among 4 great restaurants nearby, including Taco Minor (see 11.261 Pork Tacos), Numero Tres (see 11.318 Spaghetti Carbonara), Indica (see 11.283 Lehsuni Tikka Chicken), Baozi Pu (11.303 Baozi), my favorite is Taco Minor, for its casual excellence.
BEST RESTAURANT (KOREA)
Jinmi Pyeongyang Mul Naeng Myeon still can’t be beat (see 11.332 Jeyuk).
BEST DISHES BY ME (KOREA)
With the Newbery Project (see NEWBERY), I am glad to have a source of inspiration – 100 sources of inspiration – that keeps challenging me to create dishes that I otherwise never would’ve considered. No great dishes have come of it as yet, but they’ve been fun (see for example 11.293 Umu Puaa, 11.330 The Holy Roller).
WORST DISH BY ME (KOREA)
I place sole blame on the fish (see 11.341 Dochi). I give myself kudos for trying.
(For more details re foods, see WHAT)
(For more details re venues, see WHERE IN KOREA)