Thursday, December 29, 2011

Koreafornian Cooking in 2011

In 2011, I grew as a writer and a cook of Korean cuisine, venturing beyond Koreafornian Cooking to write posts and feature articles for WineKorea and Yonhap News Agency.
“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning, but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” —Hal Borland
The following are my favorite posts and publications throughout the year.


The most fundamental but neglected ingredient in any cuisine is water. In "How water can be hard on your culinary masterpieces," I tackled a question in my head for nearly 30 years.

Finding the answer took a strange route, through a couple of Korean history books, including Samguk Sagi, a travel book by Korean megastar Bae Yong Joon, and the work of Julia Child. Even the World Health Organization helped me.

I did find the answer to why Grandmother's Montana pickles tasted differently than her Illinois pickles despite having the same recipe. The answer was also so insanely simple: Different mineral components in the water made the difference. I wish I could go back in time and give her the answer, so she wouldn't have stopped making them all those years ago.

Who would have thought that a recreation of a classic Korean street food would land me my first freelance article? (Photo by Tammy Quackenbush)

Also early in January, Plate magazine published my article on Korean breakfast culture. My recipe post "Korean Egg Toast" prompted the editors to ask me to write about the first cuisine of the day in the Land of the Morning Calm.


Since the weather was still very cold and the risk of catching a cold (or something worse) was still high, I continued indulging my 유자차 yujacha obsession with recipes for Yujacha Salmon and French Toast With Yujacha Syrup.


To use up leftover bulgogi or kalbi marinade, I fused a Thai peanut sauce recipe with one for Korean grilled meat wrap sauce (쌈장 ssamjang) to create Peanut Ssamjang.

This recipe was easier than the Yujacha Hamantaschen I made last year but just as tasty. (Photo by Tammy Quackenbush)

My yujacha obsession raged untreated, resulting in Yujacha Rolls, Yuja Curd, Candied Yuja Peel and Yuja Soju Tincture.


A couple of recipes brought back very warm memories. I've been making my own Tuna Kimchi Jjigae, or kimchi stew with tuna, for more than 10 years, because I haven't yet found a Korean restaurant that serves it. Yet Korean grocers sell canned tuna specially made for kimchi jjigae.

You can't have Passover without charoset but there's nothing in the Torah that says it must be made with apples, right? (Photo by Tammy Quackenbush)

My second charoset recipe came together for the Paschal season. In addition to the delicious Shingo, Korean Pear Charoset had honey, lemon juice and cinnamon.


I rode a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train for the first time to write a guest post for Seoul Suburban, a travel blog for "discovering Seoul, one subway stop at a time." Oakland, Calif., is certainly more than a stop away from Seoul.

Both Incheon and Oakland (major port cities)  have landmarks named after the famous WW2 and Korean War General MacArthur. (Photo by Jeff Quackenbush)

Yet that city across the bay from San Francisco had a Korean restaurant serving 짜자면 jjajamyun (noodles in salty-savory dark brown sauce) within a short walk of a subway stop named for Gen. Douglas MacArthur, whose forces stormed the shores of Incheon in the Korean War.

Tteokgalbi, don't dare call it "hamburger." (Photo by Tammy Quackenbush)

My recipe for Gwangju 떡갈비 Tteokgalbi brought the trolls ashore on the east side of the Pacific. An anonymous poster claimed — without a hint of sarcasm — Gwangju tourism websites and blogs lie about the city's being the spiritual home of the grilled "hamburger" dish.


A Taiwanese blogger was sentenced to jail and fined nearly $7,000 for calling a restaurant's noodles "salty." Another anonymous commenter (probably not the same one as on the tteokgalbi post) thought I was overreacting about the potentially huge legal liabilities of blogging. If anything, I was underreacting.

Seoulfoodyo started the meme of top 10 반찬 banchan (myriad side dishes traditionally served with Korean meals), and I ran with it in "How to eat like a Korean: Tammy's top 10 banchan."


Scribe Winery near Sonoma, Calif., brought in San Francisco's Namu restaurant to cater a party for 50 guests in connection with the Outside Lands concert series. I covered the event for WineKorea and learned something new about pairing chardonnay wine with Korean food.

Some posts stir up fulfilling dialogue; some, a hornet nest of angst. A review of Trader Joe's frozen 비빔밥 bibimbap stirred up the latter, at least on the Korean side of the Pacific. In the States, readers seemed to have understood the meal was intended for those wanting a quick, inexpensive lunch at work and not as a representation of real Korean cuisine or a replacement for a good home-cooked or restaurant meal.


Yonhap News Agency published my first feature article. I interviewed Adam Field, an 옹기장 onggijang (kimchi crock potter) based in Durango, Colo. I learned about him second-hand in May while attending Fermentation Fest in Sonoma County wine country north of San Francisco. While networking, I lamented to one person that I couldn't find real Korean onggi easily in the States. She told me about Field and gave me his email address.

VIP's Jeonju bibimbap was royally delicious. (Photo by Jeff Quackenbush)

While visiting family in Anchorage, I reviewed a longstanding Korean establishment in the Alaska's largest city, VIP Restaurant.


The most popular post of the year was on inventing a recipe for Noryangjin-inspired Poktanbap (폭탄밥), aka "Bomb Rice." All I had to work with to recreate the dish was the description in a Seoul Suburban post on the authors' discovering poktanbap.

I had way too much fun trying to recreate this dish, more fun than allowed by law. I had no idea how many others were intrigued by it, too. (Photo by Tammy Quackenbush)

My post went viral, thanks to a submittal to StumbledUpon. Joe McPherson of ZenKimchi Food Journal went to Noryangjin a few days later to follow up. He found the little street stall serving poktanbap and discovered Seoul-Suburban left out a couple of ingredients: coconut and walnuts. I think it is still really good without them.

My second post for WineKorea covered Seoul on Wheels' visit to Chateau Montelena. The legendary Napa Valley winery invited the Korean taco truck to a celebration of the beginning of the winegrape harvest.


CJ Foods released a new line of Korean barbecue sauces under the Bibigo brand and sent me samples to review. I made a simple Korean Taco recipe to evaluate the sauce's potential as a harried housewife's easy-peasy Korean meat marinade.

I also rediscovered a love of black and white photography, thanks to Black and White Wednesday.


Staying in St. Louis en route to my 20th high school reunion, I serendipitously sampled the selections of Seoul Garden in the suburb of St. Ann, Mo. It was my second out-of-state restaurant review.

Seoul Garden served up some simple comforting egg custard the night we arrived in St. Ann, Mo. (Photo by Tammy Quackenbush)

Twitter became a key source of blog inspiration. I answered tweeted questions about kimchi onggi and soju with necessarily 140-plus-character posts.


Within a couple of days of each other, two restaurants I had covered decided to close their doors.

San Francisco Bay area locals who fear going through Namu withdrawals can still find tasty okonomayaki, gamja fries and Korean tacos at their food booth at the Farmers Market at the Ferry Building. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

On Nov. 30, Namu restaurant announced it would close on Christmas Eve. Difficulty renegotiating the lease on the first location led to shuttering it to concentrate on a new venture in the city already set to debut in early 2012. Namu pledged to continue visits to street-food venues.

The following day, on Dec. 1, San Francisco-based Cafe Gratitude set Facebook and later Twitter ablaze with the announcement of the closure of all Northern California restaurants. Legal problems were cited as the deciding factor. Of interest to my readers both on Koreafornian Cooking ("Black and White Wednesday: Cafe Gratitude Vegan Bibimbap") and Yonhap News ("San Francisco cultivates kimchi as California cuisine") is the planned closure of the wholesale food division, which makes the "I Am Alive" kimchi.

Here's looking forward to an even more eventful and interesting 2012.

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