Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Korean movie popcorn curries favor with exotic flavors (Curry popcorn?)

When I lived in Korea, I didn't find much of a selection of snack food at the movie theater closest to my apartment. I recall a few options for soft drinks, plain dried squid and popcorn. Yet the dominant aroma in the downtown Chuncheon theater we visited to watch the original original Men in Black was not popcorn but of dried squid.

Movie popcorn in Korea has come a long way from the butter and coconut oil combo common in American movie theaters. (Photo by Wesley Ferreira Oliveira under creative commons license at

Korean movie theater food has come a long way since then. On the popcorn side, there are so many more fun flavors to try. Since popcorn is a blank slate, most any flavoring that is appealing on its own will also be appealing sprinkled on top of popcorn.

 As Kristen of Hello Annyong noted,
The normal tray of nachos, box of buttered popcorn and soft drinks are here but in Korea (and it seems all over Asia) they like to switch up the flavors every once and awhile. Since I’ve been here, I’ve encountered “sweet” or caramel, cheddar, garlic, onion, green tea, and cinnamon popcorn at the theaters (and there’s never a premium to pay on these awesome flavors either) What’s more, they’ll let you mix your favorite flavors in a bucket.
Before you wrinkle your nose at those flavors on popcorn — garlic? green tea? — keep in mind that some of popcorn flavors enjoyed in the States may be equally strange and even nauseating to Koreans. In my culinary past and present, I've eaten popcorn topped with brewer's yeast, celery salt and soy sauce — not at the same time.

At the moment, my favorite popcorn recipe, and a Saturday night ritual in my home, is curry popcorn. The kind of curry powder you use is important, but the brand name isn't. The crucial point is you must enjoy it in other dishes.

In this recipe, I did not use Ottogi brand curry powder, because it contains corn flour. Corn flour is a thickener, not a flavoring agent. It also contains palm oil and we're already adding oil in the form of butter and coconut oil to give this popcorn an authentic movie theater popcorn flavor.  Find a curry powder that has spices only.

The powder I use contains salt, so I did not add more to the recipe. You will need napkins to wipe your fingers afterward, which makes it even more movie munch-worthy.

Curry movie popcorn

3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons curry powder (or more to taste)
1/2 cup (75 g.) popping corn


  1. Pop 1/2 cup of popcorn. I prefer air popping to limit the greasiness.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and coconut oil over low heat.
  3. Add the curry powder, and stir well until smooth.
  4. Drizzle the curry-flavored oil while tossing the popcorn to evenly distribute the curry flavored butter.
  5. If desired, sprinkle some salt, and toss the popcorn again. Serve immediately.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Secret Recipe Club: Vanilla Salted Buttery Breakups

Be not ashamed of mistakes and, thus, make them crimes. —Confucius (551–479 BC)
My Secret Recipe Club assignment this month comes from the Bright Morning Star food blog. The powers that be in the club assign a blog from which to make a recipe, but participants can chose any to make. The blogger then reveal the results for everyone else to see.

Bright Morning Star is inspired by the cuisine of the Goa region of India. Portuguese occupied that area from 1510 to 1961. I decided to make Vanilla Salted Buttery Breakups — it doesn't appear to be Goan — because I need some baking practice. Besides, few can resist dishes that combine vanilla, sugar and butter.

I made a couple of small changes to the recipe. First, I used Madagascar vanilla extract rather than vanilla sugar, which is not a big change. The ingredient came with a bonus, not only flavoring the dough but also wafted the scent of vanilla through my entire house.

I chopped the butter into small pieces, added them into the batter and continued to cut the butter into the dough with a regular fork. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

Second, I made the dough totally by hand. I don't own a large food processor to do the dough work for me. In hindsight, I might have been able to use the dough setting on my bread maker.

I used a fork to cut the butter into the flour. Bakers and chefs more than a century ago used that technique, and it worked just fine. My wrist got quite the workout.

A mistake while rolling the dough didn't affect the flavor but resulted in a botched first batch. I rolled out the dough way too thin. When baked for the recommended minimum half-hour, parts of the dough got were nearly burnt and very crispy.

At the time, I really thought I had made a big mistake, but I took my "mistaken" breakups to a potluck anyway, apologizing the whole time for their appearance. As I tell everyone regularly, I'm not much of a baker.

Yet after receiving some positive feedback on the vanilla and butter taste, I downgraded my big mistake to a small one. Looks don't matter as much as character, and that original batch had good character.

The second time around, I did everything correctly. The proof is in the photos.

Second time's a charm. I didn't use a heavy hand with my rolling pin this time around. A chef's knife did a good job with the crisscross cut.  (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

The egg yolk glaze is next. I brushed it on with a silicone brush, normally used for BBQ basting because it can withstand very hot temperatures. But I use it anytime I glaze or baste because it cleans up more easily than conventional brushes. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

Once it came out of the oven, it looked too pristine to break up. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

The Celtic grey salt gave it an interesting twist in color, texture and flavor. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)
The final product. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

Vanilla Salted Buttery Breakups

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon Madagascar vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon French gray sea salt (sel gris) or kosher salt (I used Celtic grey salt.)
5 tablespoons cold salted butter, cut into small pieces
2.5 tablespoons cold water
1 egg yolk, beaten, for the glaze
  1. Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl and mix to combine.
  2. Drop in the pieces of butter. Cut them into the mixture with a fork until it looks like coarse meal. Don't worry about making the butter pieces the same size.
  3. Slowly add the cold water, and work it with your hands until the the dough forms a ball.
  4. Scrape the dough ball onto a work surface covered with plastic wrap/film. Flatten the dough on the plastic with your hands. 
  5. Wrap the dough in plastic, and roll it to about 1/4 inch thick. If you do most of the work with your hands, all you have to do with the rolling pin is smooth it a little. 
  6. Chill it for about one hour in the refrigerator. (I chilled it overnight and baked it the next morning, which worked just fine.)
  7. Preheat the oven to 350° F (175° C).
  8. Take out dough from refrigerator place it directly onto the baking sheet, so transferring later doesn’t make it cumbersome.
  9. Use a chef's knife to decorate the cookie in a cross pattern. 
  10. Brush the top surface of the dough with the egg yolk glaze. 
  11. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
  12. Bake the cookie for 30 to 40 minutes, or until it is golden. If you roll the dough too thin, 30 minutes will be too long.
  13. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and allow the cookie to cool to room temperature before breaking it into pieces. Size doesn't matter, I promise.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chefs grapple with 'authentic' Asian vs. California cuisine

Is "authentic" just a synonym for "traditional," and how does that color restaurant patrons impression of an Asian-American restaurant's menu offerings? This was one of several topics up for discussion during Monday night's Asian Culinary Forum on "Talking 'bout My Generation: Asian Chefs Reinventing Asian Cuisine."

It was easy for me to catch the ferry in Larkspur, Calif. and cruise on over to the Asian Culinary Form meeting in the San Francisco Ferry Building. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

A small crowd of about 50 people gathered Monday night in a large meeting room on the second floor of the San Francisco Ferry Building. Facing off against police below us was a larger group who had overflowed from the Civic Center anti-BART protests. We were far enough away from the din to have our own spirited and passionate discussion about Asian cuisine and the balance between tradition, authenticity and evolution with the culinary times.

The panel included:

Thy Tran, founder and director of the Asian Culinary Forum, moderated the discussion.

The definition of "authentic" Asian cuisine dominated much of the evening's conversation. Even as Tran moved the conversation forward to other topics, the panelists kept coming back to what makes a particular dish or restaurant "authentic" and whether Asian restauranteurs who create what some might call fusion cuisine have any right to call their food "authentic."

The word "authentic" can be a codeword for "traditional." For some chefs, patrons' sprouting knowledge of Asian cuisine can be a dangerous thing. For example, some food lovers presume that the word kimchi means "spicy" rather than "pickled vegetable" and disparage any kimchi that doesn't pack enough heat to make them cry for Momma.

"My kimchi is authentic in that it is my great-great-grandmother's recipe, but people will say it's not authentic because it is not spicy enough," said Lee of Namu. "Authenticity is more about doing what you really want to do and doing it with quality."

Using a recipe with technical finesse and skill is a "knockoff" or a "copy-cat" of traditional cuisine but not necessarily an authentic representation of the cuisine or the cook making it, he added.

Later, he said his mother, who came to visit him from Boston was "floored" by the cuisine at his Namu restaurant when it was nearly ready to open its doors.

"She asked me, 'Where did you learn to do this?' I said, 'You.'"

Though his mother and grandmother taught him how to cook, his mother did not recognize herself in his food. This may be the difference between traditional and authentic that Lee was trying to get across.

Asian cuisine in San Francisco goes back to the arrival of Chinese immigrants in the 1850s. Japanese and Korean immigrants came later. Many Asian restaurants in the city have these pioneers to thank for the concentration of core customers.

One way these young Asian-American chefs compete with established and less-expensive Asian restaurants is in quality of ingredients. They often use organic, seasonal, locally grown ingredients to raise the profile of their restaurants.

"In the Bay Area, there's a huge supply of cheap Asian food," said Pacio of Spice Kit. "That's what we have to compete against. We have to educate people every day (about our ingredients) and that's a challenge. We wanted to expose our food to a different audience."

Richie Nakano of Hapa Ramen comments while Sarah Dey of New Delhi Restaurant listens. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

This can cause a disconnect in customer perceptions of quality related to price. The seeming disconnect is particularly acute for ramen.

Introduced to America from Japan in the 1960s as an instant meal, ramen commonly is sold in small vacuum-sealed bags filled with deep fried noodles and a salt- and MSG-laden spice packet. Just add a cup of boiling water and wait two minutes for the meal. 

This inexpensive grocery store ramen — a college student staple diet — is what many Americans think of when they hear "ramen." Yet ramen does not have this reputation in Japan.

Hapa Ramen is trying to change ramen's tawdry reputation in the San Francisco Bay area, but it can be an uphill battle, Nakano said.

"People think of ramen as 99 cent (food) and complain that my ramen costs $9," he said. "If you use higher-quality ingredients, you have to charge more. There's no other way."

Later, Nakano said, "When people have a very specific memory of a food after living in Japan for a semester, it's hard to compete against that."

Lee added, "Everyone thinks they're an expert on ramen."

The evening began with an informal reception, including a spread of wine (Bex Reisling), sake and crudités. The latter, made by the panelists themselves, included tiny samosas filled with lightly spiced potatoes and peas, eel braised in Korean chili paste and served with soy sauce–bathed pickles, brown sugar–cured ham and crisp-fried lotus root chips sprinkled with shredded nori. The food was a blend of traditional Asian and American cuisine but totally authentic.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Iron Chef Myeong Sook Lee's Pre-dipped Bulgogi French Dip Sandwich for Sempio

Iron Chef Myeong Sook Lee calls this sandwich a "top ten Korean fusion dish."  Watch the video for the English translation. I have reprinted Chef Lee's Korean translation for those who prefer Korean.

Pre-dipped Bulgogi French Dip Sandwich

Ingredients (4 serving)
A. 1 lb beef
B. 1/2 cup BBQ sauce
C. 1/2 cup 다진파 (minced scallions)
D. 1/2cup 표고채 (sliced shitake mushrooms)
E. 1T 밀가루 (flour)
F. 1T 버터 (butter)
G. 1T 다진 홍 고추 (chopped red pepper)
H. 육수 1cup (broth)

1) 불고기용 쇠고기에 BBQ sauce를 넣어 양념을 하여 달군 팬에 볶는 다.
2) 볶은 불고기 그릇에 담고, 불고기를 볶은 불고기국물에 육수를 넣어 펄펄 끓여 물과 밀가루를 섞어 잘 섞어서 끓는 고기국물에 넣어 한번 더 끓여 dip sauce를 만들어 프랑스 빵에 안쪽을 dip sauce에 담 그어 불고기와 볶은 양파와 표고를 넣어 dip sandwich를 만든다.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Another reason Japanese 7-Eleven's rock: Kimchi Onigiri

BusanKevin says, "It's summer in Japan and 7-11 convenience stores are carrying a lot of Korean-themed food. I tried a kimchi chain onigiri. that is a kimchi fried-rice rice ball. I thought it was pretty good."

The Japanese 7-Eleven's serve up Bae Yong-joon designed kimbap to their customers and now they get some TVXQ and Girl's Generation kimchi fried rice balls? Life is just not fair, is it?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Koreafornian recipes for National Onion Month

August is National Onion Month, an invented excuse to eat lots of the bold bulbs. Raw, sauteed, caramelized, boiled or baked, any onion is a good onion.

However, a light touch with the flame will help your onions retain more nutritional value in the final dish.

American columnist Elizabeth Robins Pennell wrote:

Banish [the onion] from the kitchen and the pleasure flies with it. Its presence lends colour and enchantment to the most modest dish; its absence reduces the rarest dainty to hopeless insipidity, and the diner to despair.
"The Incomparable Onion." The Delights of Delicate Eating.
University of Illinois Press: 2000, p. 155. Originally published in 1896.

Here are a few Koreafornian recipes to "lend … enchantment" to your kitchen this month.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Celebrate Liberation Day: Dak jjim recipe video

Today is Liberation Day in Korea, which commemorates their liberation from Japanese rule (1910-1945). In Korean, the holiday is called Gwangbokjeol. In the States, it is referred to as Victory in Japan Day, or VJ Day.

In honor of the 66th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan, Take notes on this cooking video I found on YouTube showing the recipe for dak jjim.

It's is dish that's doesn't know whether it's a  braised chicken or a stewed chicken. It's similar to the more famous kalbi jjim. This version excludes the glass noodles, shiitakes, cubed carrots and potatoes common to most versions of this recipe, but who needs the extra, starchy carbohydrates anyway?

I think it would be a good idea to celebrate Liberation Day with some dak jjim, steamed rice and Korean sidedishes.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Review: VIP Restaurant (영빈관), Anchorage, Alaska

On trips to see family in Alaska's largest city, Anchorage, I make it a point to visit VIP Restaurant at least once. It's located in the Valhalla Center, a retail and office building amid the Korean business cluster along West Northern Lights Boulevard.

There are a few other Korean restaurants in the city, but I have a personal connection to this one. A relative built the center the 1970s and leased the space to the restaurant in the early 1990s.

VIP Restaurant is on the ground floor of the Valhalla Center on the far right side. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

VIP Restaurant — 영빈관 the Korean name means "house for special guests" — serves a large variety of Korean food, particularly soups and stews (탕 tang and 찌개 jjigae). VIP also has a selection of broiled fish, beef and pork dishes.

For those reluctant to try Korean food, also offer a modest selection of Chinese restaurant favorites, such as curry chicken, fried rice and Mongolian beef.

My husband and I brought my mother-in-law and stepfather-in-law for a weekday lunch. The restaurant was not crowded, and we received attentive service.

Land of the Morning Calm in the Land of the Midnight Sun: A 13-banchan display was traditionally reserved for royalty, but this is not a snooty, royal cuisine restaurant. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)
The waitress brought out 13 반찬 banchan (appetizer plates), the most I've seen at any Korean restaurant I've visited so far in the States.

One of the banchan highlights was the seaweed salad. My husband normally eschews chewing seaweed in its various forms. This was first seaweed salad he said he enjoyed, partly because the type of plant used was the more delicate wakame seaweed (which is called 미역, miyeok in Korean) and partly because the savory-sweet marinade pleasantly masked the taste.

The main course came with a small bowl of 동민 dong min radish kimchi broth flavored with green onion and beef. That was another first for me on this side of the Pacific.

Between the four of us, we ordered 갈비 galbi (grilled beef ribs), two variations of 돌솥 비빔밥 dolsot bibimbap (hot stone bowl filled with mixed vegetables and rice) and Mongolian beef.

Ordering galbi ($12.99 lunch) and Mongolian beef ($11.99 lunch) allowed a side-by-side comparison of Korean and Chinese foods. The galbi was grilled wang-style ("king" cut with thin meat along two- to five-inch-long ribs) rather than L.A.-style (a thin flanken cut) more common to Korean-American restaurants.

The galbi had the typical Korean sweet touch, likely from fruit juice or corn syrup in the marinade. The Mongolian beef was stir-fried with ample green onion and certainly was more savory than the galbi. My Korean cuisine–averse builder-relative scarfed up the galbi and barely touched the Chi-Am dish.

The dolsot bibimbap dishes — served at this established in thick metal bowls rather than earthenware — hit the key cue: a blazing-hot bowl to crisp the rice in sesame oil and keep the food warm throughout the meal. The latter is nice for a typical Anchorage August day: in the 50s Fahrenheit and raining.

Kimchi bibimbap with the required fried egg. The other veggies are hiding behind the kimchi (Jeff Quackenbush photo)

My husband ordered dolsot kimchi bibimbap ($14.99). He noted for our Korean cuisine–cautious tablemates that cooked kimchi takes on a mellower flavor from its banchan brother.
Royally Jeonju-style bibimbap: I decided I preferred having kimchi on the side this time around. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

For my hot bibimbap, I chose to eat like a queen: 전주 Jeonju bibimbap ($15.99). This specialty of Jeonju incorporates cues from Korean royal cuisine. My dish was overflowing with veggies: shredded laver, carrot, radish, soybean sprouts and gosari. My taste buds appreciated a generous squirt of bibibimbap 고주장 gochujang (a sweetened version of Korea's go-to spicy red pepper sauce) from the tabletop squeeze bottle.

VIP Restaurant
Valhalla Center, 555 W. Northern Lights Blvd, Ste. 105, Anchorage, AK 99503
(907) 279-7549
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What's the difference between spicy chicken dishes dakkalbi and buldak?

Korean language teacher BusyAtom JB of Korean Every Day asked me via Twitter:
Could you explain the difference between 닭갈비 and 불닭?
I couldn't answer that in 140 characters or less. I broke my reply into two parts.

Reply No. 1:
불닭 (fire chicken) is much spicier than 춘천 닭갈비 (chuncheon dakkalbi).
Buldak literally means "fire chicken." Dakkalbi is a spicy chicken dish that's a specialty of Chuncheon, a city in the mountains east of Seoul.

Reply No. 2:
also 불닭 has mustard seasoning while 춘천 닭갈비 may include curry powder & of course, 춘천 닭갈비 has 가래떡 (garaetteok) noodles
Garae tteok is a long cylindrical rice cake a few centimeters in diameter.

A picture can be worth a thousand words, but a video is worth even more. Watch the buldak cooking video below made by YouTube user Krassav4eg from Novosibirsk, Russia, and then read my Chuncheon dakkalbi  recipe to discover for yourself additional differences between these two popular dishes.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Korean Food Foundation Presents "Angelo Sosa Goes Korean" Party

The Korean Food Foundation and Chef Angelo Sosa (of Social Eatz) hosted a party on July 20, 2011 showing New Yorkers how they can incorporate Korean ingredients into familiar American foods, such as tomato soup and mini-burgers.

Menu items included
  • Blackberry-tini
  • Sweet and Spicy Tomato Soup
  • Bulgogi meat balls with Asian Pear salad
  • Chillled buckwheat noodles infused with watermelon and "gochujang tea"
  • Doenjang braised pork belly with sweet and sour kimchi
  • Mini bibimbap burgers
Let Chef Sosa's creativity spark your own creative juices. Get into your Korean food pantry and innovate for yourself.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Yonhap feature: 'Culinary connoisseurs crave kimchi crocks'

My first article for Yonhap News Agency posted today. I interviewed Adam Field, an onggijang (kimchi crock potter) based in Durango, Colo. He hand-produces onggi for customers eager to make their own kimchi with the same methods Koreans have used for more than 5,000 years.

Adam Field lives in Durango, Colo. He took this photo in the Rocky Mountains near Telleuride, Colorado while traveling to a farmers market to sell his wares and meet customers. (Adam Field photo)
Read "Culinary connoisseurs crave kimchi crocks." To order your own handmade-in-the-USA onggi, visit Adam Field Pottery.

Study: Seaweed beats milk as most nutritious food

The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, which is published by the American Chemical Society, recently published a meta-analysis of nearly 100 scientific studies that found seaweed may become a more important source of bio-available peptides than dairy products.

Seaweed, raw or lightly sauteed, makes a wonderful, healthful salad. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

Bio-available peptides are crucial to human health because they create a hormone-like response well beyond their nutritional value, according to Maria Hayes of the Teagsac Food Research Centre in Ireland. This line of study may bear the most fruit in developing new blood pressure–controlling treatments.

Hayes also said that edible micro-algae and seaweed "are a low-calorie food, with a high concentration of vitamins A, C, D and E, along with the B vitamins, and minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, sodium and potassium." Seaweed is also a good source of protein.

For more information, read the study "Heart Health Peptides From Macroalgae and Their Potential Use in Functional Foods."

Monday, August 1, 2011

Army Base Camp Soup-Budae Jjigae (부대찌개)

Chris asks, "What does a poor, hungry Korean do with a pack of hotdogs, spam, bacon, and baked beans? Add hot pepper sauce and make Soup! Budae jjigae (literally: Army Base Camp Soup) comes from the Korean War times. American Soldiers gave food to the hungry Koreans, and this is what they made with it!
And, it still remains popular today. Delicious though it may be, it's not the best Korea has to offer."

If you can't travel to Korea to try it in one of the many restaurants dedicated to preserving the dish, you can make it at home, with the help of Aeri at Aeriskitchen on YouTube. You can also find the complete Budae Jjigae recipe on Aeri's blog at

Linked Within

Related Posts with Thumbnails