Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lunch at Khao Sak National Park

We took a one day tour to Khao Sak National Park, a rainforest in Thailand. We used no energy to see the park: a guide canoed for us, and an elephant stomped through the jungle with us on its back. However, we were still starving by lunch time.
Our group shared this delicious, well-displayed Thai meal:
Shrimp and vegetables in a sweet sauce & green curry with chicken: Vegetables and chicken in oyster sauce:
Vegetable, chicken and tofu soup:
Star-shaped rice:
Dessert was the standard pineapple, watermelon, and tangerine spread. If a restaurant in the middle of the jungle can serve delicious food, why was Patong's food so terrible?

Tropical Fruits

I tried four new fruits in Thailand:Red guava (center) was delicious! The texture and flavor were to die for. One guava contains four times the vitamin C of an orange. It's high in antioxidants, beta carotene and fiber too.
The white fleshed fruit with a green layer was crunchy and flavorful. Unfortunately, I don't know its name.
Dragon fruit or red pitaya (top) was my favorite fruit last year in Thailand. Don't be fooled by its unusual black seeds and zany exterior (see below) - this fruit is quite bland, just the way I like it! Its texture reminded me of watermelon, and its tasted slightly like vanilla or coconut.

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Dragon fruit is high in vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants, just like guava. It's actually the fruit of a cactus!
Jackfruit (right)...I'm not sure where to start with this fruit. First off, I just learned that jackfruit is another name for the infamous durian. If I had known I were eating durian, I would have been more hesitant. (Everyone knows that ripe durian smells nasty, so bad that carrying it on airplanes is illegal in Asia. The fruit is also very expensive and messy to cut.) Of all the fruit I purchased, the jackfruit was the only one I left behind. Something about the chewy texture and sharp, overly sweet taste made it difficult to eat.
I quickly learned that the yellow flesh hid a walnut-sized seed. The seed can be cooked and eaten like a chestnut.

Jackfruit is the largest fruit grown on a tree. According to Wikipedia, some jackfruits weigh 80 pounds and measure 10 inches in diameter! The fruit's interior contains the flesh-covered seeds.

I hope I can find delicious guava and dragon fruit at home. It's a shame that we are stuck in an apple-orange-banana world in the United States. Then again, Thailand is stuck in its pineapple-jackfruit-dragonfruit world. We all need to expand our horizons!

Patong's Carre Four

We stocked our room with groceries from a local Carre Four. We weren't the only ones with the idea; the place was teeming with foreigners! Like any supermarket, this one had food departments. Here is the one for dried fruit ranging from strawberries to figs:
A variety of tofu products:The foreign food section, where Jif peanut butter cost $6:Happy meat:The infamous durian, the expensive, smelly fruit loved by raw foodists. Don't try to take one home - it's illegal to travel with them:Happy with our purchases: Our breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner foods for five days (we supplemented with protein powder):

As soon as we left the store, tuk tuk drivers descended upon us. Our ride cost $6 for a mere 2 miles! No choice in the matter, as I was too tired to haggle:Believe it or not, we were eating peanut butter sandwiches up to the last day in Thailand. We're such creatures of habit!

Curries & More in Thailand

We ate out every night for dinner. Normally I ordered a green or Massaman kaeng with chicken. I liked to order the same thing each time to compare the flavors.Massaman curry is a good choice for beginners due to its mild taste. The name means "Muslim curry" due to its origins in the Muslim-populated south. Ingredients include cinnamon, tamarind, cardamom, chilli, cloves, turmeric, chicken, and potatoes.

A variation of Massaman curry, the Massaman curry pizza:
Curries aren't exactly a health food. An important ingredient in curries is coconut milk, which contains unhealthy saturated fat. Curries are also high in calories thanks to the coconut milk (and other oils). When I eat a curry dish, I eat the solids and a small amount of liquid. I'm sure I ate a year's worth of saturated fat during our trip. (I had curry for every meal!)
A beautifully displayed pad Thai (wrapped in egg):
The four condiments used to season pad Thai:
Sweet - sugar
Sour - vinegar
Hot - red chili powder sauce
Salty - sliced chili sauce
Pad Thai is made to be seasoned. I always thought the dish was flavorful "as is" until I added condiments. What a flavor explosion!
Morning snack on our guided tour of Khao Lak National Park:
Banana-based products taste better in Thailand. I couldn't resist this dense, mildly-sweetened banana-coconut muffin:

As you can tell from these photos, we ate most of our meals in our room. More on that subject later!

Random Foods in Thailand

Happy New Year!
Here are some items that caught my eye in Thailand. We spent a few nights on Ko Phi Phi, where the nightlife rivaled the beach life. Vendors sold buckets containing a can of soda, an alcohol flask, and two straws. Simply pour the liquids in the bucket for an evening's worth of drinks: Other vendors sold Thai pancakes, which resembled crepes. The toppings, such as coconut or shrimp, were all Thai:
Pouches of Thai curry for "take-away":
Eggs for sale on the dry goods shelf:
Produce for sale in the Thai part of Ton Sai, a tiny village:
7-11 sold unwrapped locally-made sandwiches. Simply reach in and grab one:
A plethora of vitamin drinks containing everything from collagen to CoQ10:
These drinks were only about $1 each. ($1 = 33 baht)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Ball and Time for Pee Pee

Our final holiday party of the season was a military holiday ball. The military band played jazzy music, and I won a free manicure. The invitation said "business-formal," but women still wore dramatic ball gowns. I, on the other hand, followed the rules of business-formal, other than the open-toed shoes. Fortunately I had a hand-me-down red dress from my mom, since I'm not one for shopping:The food was standard holiday fare: The stuffing and sweet potatoes were delicious! No Korean food on hand other than kimchi'i. As tradition dictates, we had plenty of toasts:
And also a brigade cake:
Tonight we leave for our trip to Phuket and Ko Phi Phi. Though unrelated, I will post about Thailand's exotic fruits. I'm already craving a certain fruit with white flesh and small, black seeds. I ate it every day during our Koh Samui trip last year. I might post about main dishes, too, if I can handle the spices!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Juk at Lotte Department Store

On Friday night I met a Korean friend in Myeongdong, a crowded shopping district: We always meet by the stage. This time it was decorated in red, and holiday music was playing:

We walked to Lotte Department Store, where we ate in the food court. Department store food courts in Korea serve tasty, quality food in a pleasant environment, unlike American mall food courts.
We ordered our meal at a cashier station and presented our receipt to the restaurant. My friend asked the ladies to fill our bowls to the brim!
Two bowls of thick pumpkin juk with winter kimchi'i:
The main ingredient seems to be kabocha squash, not "hallowe'en" pumpkin. (More on this squash later.) Juk is the perfect meal for a cold, winter's night!

Korean American Friendship Gift

On Friday the Korean American Friendship Committee delivered gifts to hospital departments. The box said "Fru Story...when you wish to send your sincere heart":

I love the way Koreans use the English language. I'm not sure I even understand what this phrase means. The more I read it, the less sense it makes! My question is, do Koreans write this way on purpose, or is something lost in translation? Anyway, the box contained individually-wrapped apples and persimmons:

The crisp Fuyu next to its squishy Hachiya cousin:
I guess the aptly-shaped Hachiya could symbolize giving one's sincere heart.

Friday, December 19, 2008

E-mart and Buns

On our walk to E-mart, we have somewhat of a ritual. First we look for the lady selling Korean popcorn or the man selling persimmons. Then we walk past the numerous tents of street foods and always vow to take photos next time. We always smell at least one rotten or sour odor. We sneak looks down the vacant street of the "red-light district," where doll-like women pretty themselves behind glass windows. On our return trip, we stop by the bootleg DVD tent to check for the latest seasons of our favorite TV shows. Finally, right before crossing the street, we stop at this tiny shop for steamed buns:Due to language differences, we never know what fillings the buns contain. All we can do is point and hope for the best:
I guess the surprise is part of the fun! (Note to my family: No, I do not partake in this surprise.)

Dream of Dark Chocolate

Chocolate lovers in Korea can describe their favorite chocolate down to the percentage of cocoa: For those of us looking for a health benefit to eating sweets, 72% cocoa is a healthy choice. The darker the better, since health-boosting flavonoids give chocolate its dark color. Also, look for cocoa butter as an ingredient rather than palm or coconut oil. Though cocoa butter contains saturated fat, its effect on blood cholesterol is neutral. This reputable website recommends no more than seven ounces per week.
I prefer supplements, fruits, vegetables, or certain teas for antioxidants. I'm not a choco-holic,though, so I could care less about chocolate. Nevertheless, I did buy the 72% chocolate, and it tasted fine. I'm still a lifelong vanilla fan, though!

Tea & Treats at Insa-dong

After a chilly shopping day at Insadong, we stopped a tea place. This tea place sold tteok (Korean rice cakes) instead of the standard muffins and cakes. We smuggled in our own sweets, the ginger (left) and sugar (right) candies from a street vendor:
I tried a sugar one in the spirit of my Korean food blog. Of course I didn't care for the sweetness or aftertaste so I spit it in my napkin. (Unlike at Sancheon, where I simply returned a bitten kimchi fritter to the community bowl.)
(Photo courtesy of Studio Sans.)
We warmed ourselves with tea: citron, plum, and Chinese quince to be exact (from left to right). The server gave us a metal thermos of hot water to top off our tea cups. Thank goodness, since the teas were so sweet.
The menu contained all sorts of health claims for these teas, a no-no in the United States. For example, my plum tea supposedly treated constipation (probably true), and another tea addressed type II diabetes (not sure about that one).

After tea, we stopped by a popular shop where young, outgoing, attractive Korean guys make candy. The process requires two people. The first person mixes sugar/honey with starch. He pulls and tugs the blob until it forms thin strands:
The second person plops a scoop of sweet red bean and nuts onto the strands. Then he uses a pair of chopsticks to spin the strands around the red bean. The finished product is a small, white stringy soft "candy" with a bean/nut center:
If you're lucky, they'll give you a sample. If you're female, they'll probably demand that you eat it straight from their outstretched chopsticks!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Baker's Annual Cookie Party

Yesterday afternoon we went to the Baker's for a cookie party. I made brownies from scratch for the first time. I always add a 'secret ingredient' when I cook to add excitement. This time I put a mashed banana in the batter. The brownies were so moist and flavorful! I received several compliments. (Even though I accidentally left foil on the bottom of the brownie squares.)
By the way, brownies are very easy to make from scratch. I will never use a box mix again!
Back to the party. Platters of cookies, ranging from coconut-chocolate chip bars to biscotti lined the tables. Bold

Chocolate biscotti on the lower left, flavorful Spearmint mints in the center, walnut tea balls at the top, a store-bought cream puffs at right.

Pecan tart and my mug of mulled wine.

English toffee bars, oatmeal raisin cookies, a soft flan-style dessert, frosted pumpkin cookies, and, to my delight, sliced fuyu persimmon!

Hearty chocolate-peanut butter-oat cookies, snickerdoodles, and the pumpkin cookies.

I'm glad the party was during the afternoon this year. It gave my body enough time for digestion! Next year I would like to find a healthy holiday cookie book. I really do prefer to make and eat healthy treats, even during the holidays. I figured a mashed banana would provide a small quantity of fiber and potassium this year.
Thank you to the Bakers for a great afternoon!