Monday, 25 February 2008

Bangkok, Bangkok

Rugby Trip To Bangkok
21st to 24th February

Last weekend I went on tour to Bangkok with the mighty Typhoons Rugby Club to compete in the annual Bangkok 10s. While the old saying "what happens on tour stays on tour" certainly holds true I think I can mention that I played terrible rugby, watched some decent rugby, had a couple of beers and got all inspired by Thai food again. The stalls and restaurants around our hotel sold a range of fantastic snacks, meals and drinks at crazy prices. From the daily cups of freshly squeezed juices, to fried nibbles and bowls of noodles it was all delicious and I'm looking forward to visiting Thailand again as soon as possible.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Of Cabbage and Kimchai

Trip to Korea
5th to 16th February 2008

For the Chinese New Year holiday Naomi and headed across to Korea. We spent our first week exploring Seoul's historical palaces, temples, markets, ice skating rink and bars, with day trips to the menacing DMZ and the more jovial Korean Folk Village. The second week was spent at the world class ski resort of YongPyong, where the skiing was certainly superb, but the food tumbled towards average. It was freezing the whole time and one morning while we were skiing it got down to about minue eighteen. The Meal is Tradition
Koreans rigidly stick to a defined national cuisine, unlike other countries which have 'favourite' or 'traditional' dishes. Amongst the bibimbap, bulgogi and juk perhaps the one true Korean national dish is
kimchi. Usually pickled and spiced cabbage, kimchi is often translated as any preserved vegetable that is served as an accompaniment to a meal. People are addicted to the stuff and apart from continually touting its health benefits they eat it religiously with every meal. The usual Korean restaurant always serves a variety of banchan or side dishes that include eggs, water spinach, acorn jelly, lettuce, octopus, white bait and buckets of kimchi. I enjoyed many of these but was quickly warn down by kimchi's never ending presence and also worried about the waste of the vast uneaten quantities of banchan that must be thrown away each day.

Cooking at your own table is almost a Korean right and certainly the local idea of a good time. In Seoul's Sogong-dong district we enjoyed the famous dish
bulgogi. Cooked on a circular hotplate with enoki mushrooms and spring onions the sweetly marinated beef was dipped in sauce and then wrapped in lettuce to eat. This routine of cook, dip and wrap was the same for the barbeque restaurants we tried. We grilled delicious local beef in the small town near YongPyong and had fantastic barbequed pork in a bubbling student restaurant in the Hongik University area. I'm a fan of these style restaurants and really enjoy the relaxed vibe of cook, dip, wrap, eat, drink, repeat.
Other Korean meals we enjoyed included a interesting feed of Korean Chinese fusion in a strange restaurant devoid of all English near Hongik University; a spicy but satisfying lunch of wok fried chicken in a backstreet near the Insadonggil market and a huge pan of chicken rice, again cooked 'Korean style' at the table. All, of course, were accompanied by kimchi. A special mention must go to the Korean restaurant in the
Dragon Valley Hotel at YongPyong for being overpriced and easily the worst meal we had.

Koreans love to snack and the street food available on every corner was fantastic. Winter dishes were in an we munched on chestnuts, sweet potato, grilled dried squid, dumplings, warm hazelnut biscuits and fried rice cakes stuffed with red bean paste and peanuts. I couldn't bring myself to try a hot cup of silkworm lave as the smell was too off putting, but this little critters were immensely popular and even came canned at the super market.

Escaping the Kimchi
Korean restaurants only seem to offer about six different dishes, three of which were too spicy for Naomi, so we were soon looking for a change. The Korean take on foreign food ranged from terrible to good; though apart from the expected sushi and fast food chains there were very few options about. We had serviceable pizza at the YongPyong ski resort, but easily the best 'foreign' food we had in Korea was at
Terarosa Coffee in the city of Gangneung. This tasteful 'tea room' served delicious pasta, fresh bread, wine by the glass and good coffee; it was worth visiting Gangneung for lunch alone.

Something to Drink
For a country of tea
drinkers Koreans like coffee and that makes them OK with me. Getting a morning fix of caffeine was never a problem and we even managed to escape the big chains and find a couple of lively local cafes. One in the popular shopping area of Myeong-dong was a favourite especially because of the huge serve of cream covered French toast that Naomi rather enjoyed for breakfast.

Koreans don't seem to mind a drink, but import taxes make buying foreign booze stupidly expensive so we tried to stick to local options. The beers were all pretty average, but Naomi started to develop a taste for Soju. This dirt cheap Korean spirit resembles vodka, though she preferred to drink it mixed rather than thrown straight down as is the local fashion. There were also a few bottles of Korean wine floating around and I've got one to review soon. Bars were common place in Seoul and are favourites were in the lively area around Hongik University. This student hub was packed with locals and had a fun vibe; from the free cocktail Naomi was given in one pub to the huge group gleefully sculling their way through a blind speed date in the next bar.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

A Korean Apple and Some Gingseng Candy

Generously Given Korean Snacks
Naomi and I have relocated our Korean adventure to the world class ski fields of YongPyong. The snow is crisp and dry; the runs long, wide and steep; the slopes blissfully empty and the whole place set at a chilly minus 15. While empty slopes are great for boards and skis, they also tend to mean a rather boring resort of an evening. The perfect example of the Korean company town, YongPyong's below average
dinning options are just as abandoned as its runs. At least in the neighbouring town we were able to get a decent, cheap serve of bulgogi or barbequed beef.

While finding a meal that deserves eating is a challenge steeper than the evil double black diamond runs, finding a snack doesn't seem to be an issue. A man in the hotel lift gave us a beautifully fragrant apple mainly, I think, because it was a Korean apple and he was a proud Korean. Another fellow on a bus passed us a fist full of ginseng candy and chocolate along with our requested directions. The apple was divine, the chocolates good and the ginseng candy a nice gesture. By throwing food to the seals the locals are making a great impression.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Hite Beer

Hite Beer
Seoul, Korea

Another country, another average beer. I'm drinking this as I look out the window of our hotel in Seoul. The view is a mix of old and new; the tatty Daerim Arcade merges with more modern, but just as ungainly buildings; further into the background bare gardens surround Jongmyo, Seoul's royal shrine and hills of the Changdeokgung and Changgyeonggung palaces. Made by the Hite Brewery Company, this is one of Korea's three main commercial beers and is widely available. The label claims it has a "FTK" or "Fresh Taste Keeping System", though it looks like a normal crow-seal to me.

The beer is a yellowy, straw colour with a light fluffy head that quickly dissipates. The nose offers nothing interesting, actually nothing much at all. If I really snort there's hints of preserved lemon and public urinals. The palate is just as disappointing with a little sourness and a slight taste of stale Wheet-bix. To be honest my flavour profile is almost contrived as Hite Beer tastes of nothing, smells of nothing and for all intents and purposes is an absolute non-event. A pitiful, pale beer that would probably quench a thirst, but isn't good for much else.

Visit their cool looking Korean website or the boring corporate English website.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Saint Clair 'Swamp Block' Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Saint Clair 'Swamp Block' Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Marlborough, New Zealand, $221, stelvin seal

This comes from New Zealand's renowned Marlborough region. The people at St Clair have undertaken the noble task of releasing wines from twelve individual vineyards under their Pioneer Block range. A number 2 on the label means that it heralds from the 'Swamp Block' vineyard; a cooler spot located on the coast at Cloudy Bay.

The delightful nose on this makes me happy; it's dominated by passionfruit and grapefruit. The palate is as delicious as promised; there's grassy herbs, lots of fresh, juicy limes and grapefruit to finish. A fantastically balanced wine with good acidity and great length. It's not that often that my notes match those on the back of the label, but it was interesting that the people at St Clair managed to get it spot on. A lovely wine; the Saint Clair 'Swamp Block' Sauvignon Blanc 2007 is certainly recommended. It even makes me want to buy more Sauvignon Blanc.

Visit the winery website.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Peas, My Glourious Peas.

Update from the Garden
When we moved into a new flat last year we were lucky enough to be on the top floor and have our own personal roof top space. Most of the time I tend to think or this area as a 'barbecue terrace' or 'beer garden', but while it's a great place for kicking back with a beer or having friends around for a barbie, it's also presented an opportunity to grow a few veggies and herbs.
Today I harvested the first peas and mint. I tossed the handful of home-grown snow peas with beans, the mint, pine nuts and some feta in a tasty salad. Now I can't wait until the tomatoes and capsicums kick in, though I'll have to wait and see how the pumpkins go...

Hardy's Oomoo 'GSM' 2005

Hardy's Oomoo Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre 2005
McLaren Vale, South Australia, $128, stelvin seal

This wine is a revival of an old 1800s label and Oomoo is meant to be an Aboriginal word meaning 'good'. It comes from big corporate giant Hardy's. The Shiraz gained a bit of a reputation in Australia a few years ago for offering good value. Though its HK price doesn't quite reflect the same value, I thought I'd give this classic Australian blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre a go.

It's dark, rich and purple in colour. The nose didn't bowl me over as much as I expected but I got pleasant aromas of meat, plums, cherries and coco. The palate was a good balance of sweet and savoury flavours; there was lots of ripe, jammy fruit along side some dusty coco and dried herbs. The tannins were nice and chalky rather than grippy and the wine really was rather pleasant to drink. An enjoyable, medium bodied food wine that while not overly intense was certainly quaffable.

Visit winery website.