Asia Report #3 - Famous Suwon Kalbi, "Knife Noodles," Everybody Ramen
Before we hit the World Cup Stadium in Suwon (nicknamed Big Bird for its design) for a Blue Wings game, Dan and I were treated to some World Famous Suwon kalbi. Of course I forgot to grab a business card so I could tell you the name of the restaurant. I kept forgetting to do that a lot on this trip. Anyway, Suwon is known for its kalbi preperations and the kalbi here was indeed super tasty, but we've had just as good or if not better in New York. We're so spoiled living in a city like New York, where with the exception of maybe cheap Mexican, you can get excellent versions of so many ethnic foods. What made the meal for me with the unbelievable number of small dishes (banchan) that accompanied the beef. There must have been about 20 small dishes including super tasty mini pancakes that I think were made with some sort of yellow bean and maybe some glutinous rice? It had a bit of a spongey texture to it. There was also a few different types of kimchi (your standard cabbage to a variation on water kimchi (mul kimchi), which is not spicy at all. Additionally, we were offered small plates of various marinated vegetables, a scoop of tangy mashed potatoes, and mook, which I had blogged about earlier on the trip. The piece de resistance was the bowl of piping hot bean paste stew (denjang jigae) - which you never get for free in an American Korean restaurant. There were huge chunks of tofu and zuchinni, as well as clusters of enoki mushrooms floating around the slightly spicy, densely colored broth.
I found it really interesting that in Korea, you often share drinks. So when we all ordered some Pepsi, we were brought one bottle and three glasses. This is so much better than drinking all those oversized portions in the states. Also, the waitress kept insisting that Dan make a ssam with his kalbi. Ssam is like a Korean version of a wrap. In this instance, a piece of lettuce acts as the wrapper, with rice, kalbi, roasted garlic chips and hot bean paste making up the contents.
Oh, let me add that this was a soot bul kalbi joint - no gas grill here. All charcoal!
Wow, in retrospect we had a very long day in Suwon. Before the kalbi lunch, we took a city tour, which included stops at various points of the HwaSeong fortress, Royal Palaces, a drive by of the World Cup Stadium and a military training facility, and a KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) set that included recreations of Korean villages at different points in history. Pretty silly! After lunch, we were going to head off to a Korean Folk Village, but I had enough sightseeing for the day, so we rested a bit before dinner and the game. The room I rested in was the same room that 8 years prior, I was the victim of a relentless mosquito gang.
I had been promised a dinner at a kal guksu (which translates to knife noodles) house the moment we arrived in Suwon. The whole world knows I love my noodles. Unfortunately for Dan, this restaurant only had floor seating so he had to make due despite his pretzel rod flexibility. At the table were a couple of gas grills which the waiter filled with broth. Once it started boiling, we added various seafood (including mini-clams, mussels, abalone, and this one thing I was told would squirt out when bitten into. I do not like foods that squirt so I kept away) and vegetables. After letting that cook for a while, the handmade noodles were added. The starch in the noodles helps to thicken up the broth. The noodles are referred to as kal guksu because that's how they're prepared. You roll out your pasta dough and fold it over a couple of times and then use a knife to cut the thin strands. My mom makes a mean version of this dish.
Listmaker does a great job of going through the game for you - from the accident we witnessed prior to getting to our seats to the mad dash for the hot water coolers at half time to cook the instant ramen. The ramen scene was amazing! There was a trio of water dispensers every few gates or so and people, mostly kids and young adults were lined up 5 deep!. We were told that some people bring their ramen, but the stadium also offered them at concession stands too. The cost? About a dollar, I think. Beats a $5 hot dog most of the time!
p.s. Dan has become even more maniacal about baseball on this trip. He is crazy.