Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Happy Home

Visitors to A Happy Home in Itaewon are greeted by a cacophony of African dialects bouncing off the walls of the small restaurant. Most of the guests were not eating when I arrived on a recent Monday night (and all were male), but the restaurant seems to serve as a meeting place where they can go for lively conversation as well as a taste of home when the mood strikes. My soft-spoken waiter asked if I wanted to move to an inner room away from the large group of men whose shouts indicated that their conversation had briefly turned into a friendly argument, but I assured him that I was fine.

The restaurant is sorely lacking in atmosphere in one sense; the walls are a dingy white, the florid magenta chairs look out of place, and a large screen TV takes up one wall. On the other hand, the place still manages to feel cozy and well-used because of the friendly service and the clientele who have clearly made it a second home. It's not a date destination, but could be a nice place for a relaxed lunch with friends.

I didn't have any experience with West African food prior to my visit, but I'm always looking to expand my palate. When I asked my waiter for advice, he smiled and looked a bit befuddled. "You want something authentic?" he finally asked while staring at the menu on the wall, and I assured him I did. He continued to look equally skeptical and amused, but recommended the first or second meal on the list. I opted for number two, the egusi with a side of fufu, because...well, I had no idea what I was doing, and it looked as good as any.

While waiting for my meal to arrive, the men's booming voices caused my book to vibrate and the occasional names and English snippets I heard made me wish I could understand their conversation; there were a lot of references to the United States, Pablo Escobar, and, most mysteriously, "the dolphin with the top speed in the world." Sadly, I will never know how this fit into the conversation or why it was the only phrase said in English.

Just before my meal arrived, a smiling woman sat down at the table next to me and started watching American Idol on the TV in front of us. When my food--a vivid orange ugesi soup with beef chunks, greens and a side of fufu--landed on the table, she asked me if I needed a fork to eat it or if I would be okay with just a spoon. I told her a spoon was fine, but wasn't I supposed to dip the fufu into the soup by hand anyway? She replied that in Africa it is eaten by hand, but it was fine for me to use a spoon. I dug in, first with my fingers and then a spoon when I realized I had no idea how to manage the large chunks of meat. The medley of spices was pleasant and piquant, and especially tasty combined with the chunks of beef. I asked the woman next to me what was included in the dish and she wrote down the ingredients, most of which could be found in any curry. The one unique ingredient that I'm assuming gave the meal its distinct taste was the egusi that it's named after, a powder made from melon seeds.

Overall, the dish was simultaneously familiar and exotic to me. My only complaint was an aftertaste that reminded me of liver, which is one of the few foods I'll probably never enjoy. There was just a hint of it, but it was enough to prevent me from ordering the dish in the future. Instead, I'm looking forward to trying other entrees on the menu.
(I apologize for the poor picture quality, but I only took a couple of discreet snaps because I didn't want to feel like even more of an outsider than I already was.)

Subsequent internet research has revealed that I completely botched my first fufu experience. When I finished my soup, there was still half a portion of it left. The thought of consuming straight lumps of thick, gooey starch was incredibly unappealing and I left it on my plate, but when another woman arrived and asked her friend quietly why I hadn't finished my meal, the woman who'd helped me replied that I'd asked for the ingredients in the soup and seemed to enjoy it. Since I was clearly within ear range, I looked at the woman and exclaimed that the food had been excellent, but I didn't have enough room to finish the fufu on its own. I should have forced it down, though, as I was clearly being scrutinized and also because I've since found out that it's extremely laborious to prepare. As if leaving half of it on my plate weren't bad enough, it is evidently an insult to the cook to chew fufu instead of swallowing it whole, and I was practically treating the stuff like bubble gum. As an inhabitant of a country not my own, I am used to eating under a microscope(after all, that's why I ate kimchi every day for a year before I actually started to enjoy it), and I should have been better prepared for the Happy Home experience. Food is an extension of hospitality and a symbol of pride, so next time I will swallow my own along with sticky mouthfuls of fufu.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mi Madre

Last fall, I worked as a private teacher for the three young children of a Hollywood movie producer. My job was to accompany the family on location and teach the children--age 3,5, and 6--their respective school subjects simultaneously. I soon found that occupying the 3-yr-old while teaching her brothers two different curricula was an impossible task (and in fact, when I accepted the job I was under the assumption that I would not have all three of them at once; I should have asked). As anyone who has spent time with 3-yr-olds knows, they have an attention span that lasts ten minutes at most, and my various attempts at busying her for long stretches of time with Play-Doh, puzzles, and art projects so that I could teach her brothers were unsuccessful. When I explained this difficulty to her parents, the father asked me if she was "really bad or something," and suggested using separate cubicles for each of the children so they could study independently.

In the midst of the severe anxiety caused by the differences of opinion the father and I had over what his young children should be doing with their school time, we moved from Manhattan to a gated housing complex situated on the dividing line between Las Vegas and the desert. Just outside my window was a golf course where we could see retirees putting balls during our morning school activities. In the valley beyond the golf course, the hotel casinos of Las Vegas gleamed, and yet, if I took a five minute bike ride in the other direction, a seemingly endless stretch of unforgiving desert terrain unfolded before me. Almost every night, I woke up to the haunting sound of coyotes howling, which is like a demented, high-pitched whooping. I was especially disoriented the first night, roused in the darkness and convinced that there were demons on my balcony.

Life was lonely and surreal, and I am thankful to Mario Batali for providing the only glimmers of happiness I experienced during this period. One night early on in our stay, I turned on the television and saw Mark Bittman and Gwyneth Paltrow strolling through a sultan's palace in Granada, then meeting up with a gorgeous Spanish woman to drive along the Andalucian coast and stop for gastronomic goodies along the way. I researched what I had just seen and found that it was a program called Spain on the Road Again that Batali had produced for PBS a number of years back. I proceeded to download all of the episodes on itunes and every night I would eat manchego, drinking tempranillo, and escape to Spain with chefs and movie stars.

It's strange to think that I'm supposed to be in London with that family now. Just when our differences were becoming insurmountable and I was about to quit, I got a call from my boss saying that the father's next movie project had been canceled and they no longer needed my services.

My current situation in Seoul is not so lonely or strange as it was in Nevada, but I am still far from everyone I love and lacking in friends. I watched several episodes of Spain on the Road Again this Saturday over half a bottle of red wine and felt every bit as content as I had the first time. On Sunday, however, I was thrilled to discover something even better: a restaurant in Noksapyeong that includes many of the culinary comforts from that program come to life.

When I stepped into Mi Madre, the windows had been thrown open to the last of the evening sun and the restaurant was bathed in the diffuse golden color of "the magic hour." The atmosphere was cozy, colorful, and unpretentious. I should have taken a photograph then, but the picture below is from a couple of hours later. Still lovely.
Best of all, I discovered the menu contained nearly all of the foods that I had salivated over in Spain on the Road Again: ham and manchego, pulpo a la gallega, paella, and on. The most difficult part was selecting a few tapas and entrees instead of ordering the entire menu.

For our tapas, the tortilla espagnola was filled with delicate layers of thinly sliced potatoes and the squid was grilled perfectly before being doused with olive oil and lemon. I always order squid ink dishes when I have the opportunity, and I'd read very positive reviews of Mi Madre's paella, but for me, the Moorish chicken was the stand-out of the two entrees we tried. The squid ink paella was nice, but slightly on the salty side for me, and the squid was just a little too chewy.

The Moorish chicken, on the other hand, was soft and succulent, and the saffron rice accompanying it was moist and perfectly seasoned. The sauce was bursting with rich spices (I think I tasted cloves, but I'm not sure what else was in there) as well as blanched almonds, quail eggs, dates, and green olives. As much as I want to try the menu's other offerings, it will be hard not to order that chicken again. I also had two glasses of their crisp sangria, which was full of very small diced pieces of apple and lemon and tasted of nutmeg.

This Spanish feast set us back just 66,000 won, and I will surely be back soon to try the dishes I had to neglect this time around. The fried eggplant drizzled with honey and the ham and manchego plate are at the top of my long "to eat" list. Hopefully I'll be able to visit Spain someday soon, but in the meantime, I'll rely on Mario and Mi Madre to supply me with a bit of my version of heaven on Earth.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Haneul Jeongwon Pizza

I didn't have any plans after work on Saturday, but I wanted to do something to celebrate the arrival of my weekend. I decided to try one of the pizzas at Haneul Jeongwon, an Italian restaurant close to my apartment that either means "Sky Garden" or "Garden of Heaven" depending on how literal you are. Although I recently experienced a chunky, cluttered monstrosity of a mushroom risotto there that I'd rather not recount, I spied two women sharing a pizza at a nearby table and it looked promising. The crust was thin and bubbly, just how I like it, and I saw on the menu that there was a formaggi pizza featuring an intriguing combination of mozzarella, gruyere, camembert, and gorgonzola.

I knew what I wanted when I arrived at the restaurant, but I still had an important choice to make: I could eat the hot pizza there and put up with speakers blasting a saccharine-voiced woman singing painfully drawn out renditions of songs like "Fields of Gold," or take it to go and feel its heat slowly slip away from me as I made the fifteen minute walk home. I chose the latter.

Upon opening the box, I was pleasantly surprised at the blast of sunshine that hit me; the pizza formaggi is a gorgeous yellow concoction with a saffron sauce and a triangle of camembert on every slice.

First, the pros: it was spiked with garlic, the crust was thin, crisp and bubbly but also soft where it needed to be, and the bites that included camembert were sensational.
On the other hand, the cons: the layer of cheese had hardened and was more plastic than gooey, and my efforts at re-heating it merely produced cheese sweat. Ew. I doubt that this would have been much better at the restaurant because the problem seemed inherent in the cheeses of choice. Also, despite the nice hits of garlic, the pizza needed more contrast in taste or texture; the bites without camembert became monotonous after a while.

Finally, the saffron sauce was a bit too buttery for me and seemed like it was probably there to impress as opposed to being a well thought-out contribution to the pizza's flavor profile. Overall, the cons won out, particularly the unforgivable texture of the cheese, and yet the pizza had enough promise that I'm inclined to try another pie on their menu. Also, I swallowed up the sun in one sitting, so clearly its redeemable qualities were enough to keep me going back for more.

Location: Next to the Dongdae University Station, just up the road from the Red Mango in the direction of Seoul Tower.
Mushroom risotto: the picture says it all.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

$30 Bibimbap

A few years ago, I stayed at a luxury hotel in Times Square for several weeks (paid for by my employer, of course). At some point early in my stay, I noticed with amusement that the room service menu offered a $30 grilled cheese sandwich. After I'd had really positive experiences with a couple of the menu's fancier items, which were only slightly more expensive, I started to wonder whether maybe, just maybe, there would be something magical about this sandwich, some rare mystery ingredient that transformed it into an unforgettable culinary experience. I speculated that years later, I'd rave about "the best grilled cheese sandwich I've ever had," describing in detail my surprise at discovering how perfectly brie, truffle oil and gold dust complemented each other. For my final night at the hotel, I invited my friend Anna over and we ordered the sandwich and made an event out of it. As you may have guessed, it was an absolute disappointment; in fact, I can't recall what type of bread or cheese it included, but I think it was plain cheddar and I'm pretty sure it was served with French fries and ketchup. Meh. (Side note: a couple of months ago I hosted a grilled cheese party and everything we made was better than that hotel sandwich, but the ones with honey and the one with mozzarella and apricot jam were the real knock-outs.)

Oh, dear, will I ever learn? Nope. A month ago, I found myself in another luxury hotel in the same situation, only this time it was the Korean equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich: bibimbap. For the uninitiated, bibimbap is a classic Korean dish that includes a chaotic medley of rice and vegetables, a heavy dose of pepper paste, and sometimes meat or egg. This was the first Korean meal I ever had, and I've eaten it about two hundred times since then with minimal differences in quality, although there are lots of slightly different varieties. I like mine dolsot style, with crisped up rice and warm egg yolk coating its contents. This meal sets me back about four dollars at my favorite neighborhood restaurant, so I assured myself that there definitely had to be something extra special about the hotel's thirty dollar version.

Meh. More beautiful, certainly, but that's where the differences end. It could be said that anyone who orders something like a grilled cheese sandwich or bibimbap at a hotel wants to seek comfort in the plain, nostalgia-inducing version of the meal they've been accustomed to since childhood, which would be a fair point if it didn't cost almost as much as the Chilean sea bass. On the other hand, Zemkimchi had an interesting post today about angry Koreans demanding higher prices as a mark of status, so perhaps in this case the cost is actually a courtesy to guests who want to eat the same meal as their poorer compatriots but pay seven times as much for it.

I'd like to say I finally learned my lesson, but no doubt in the future you can expect disappointed accounts of my experimentation with the thirty dollar room service tacos in Mexico City and the thirty dollar pierogi in Warsaw.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fukuoka Visa Run, Part 2: RAUMEN STADIUM!

When I found out on Monday of last week that I would be in Fukuoka by Wednesday, I knew that I would want a city guide who was familiar with the local food and language to show me around. I started by looking into "goodwill guides," a cool service I first heard about in New York that exists in many cities; local citizens volunteer to take visitors on tours, sometimes with set destinations, but often fitting in the visitors' personal requests. There were a couple such services in Fukuoka, but both required a week's notice, so I turned to Craigslist. After surveying the Fukuoka page, I felt pessimistic about the possibility of finding someone--there wasn't a single listing in the "platonic" section, nor any other section as far as I could tell. Still, I was desperate, so I went ahead and posted something in the w4w section outlining my situation. I offered friendly company, to treat my guide for a meal, and to return the service if she were to visit Seoul or LA in the future.

A few hours later, I had a reply! It was from Yuichiro, a university student who said he'd like to be my guide, but would I object to the fact that he was a man? I had posted in the w4w section because I once posted in the platonic section on a previous occasion in another city and the responses were almost exclusively from men, many of whom I could tell had more on their minds than finding a buddy. I explained to Yuichiro that I had a boyfriend and didn't want anyone to think there was a possibility of anything more than friendship, but he said he was fine with that and generally sounded really nice, so we agreed to meet near the Hakata subway station.

As luck would have it, I couldn't have asked for a kinder or more accommodating guide. He was shy, but not cripplingly so, and admitted that he'd been drinking scotch alone when he found my ad and responded to it; otherwise he might not have had the nerve to meet a stranger on Craigslist. Amazingly enough, we also discovered that he had recently graduated from the same college in Los Angeles that my boyfriend Dan now attends. He informed me that he'd visited Fukuoka a lot as a child, but had only lived there as an adult for a couple of weeks (hence the late night, scotch-fueled search for friends on the internet). It was helpful to have someone who spoke the language and could explain the culture, but he didn't know much about the restaurant scene, which was a bit of a disappointment.

Since I only had two days in the city, I wanted to try the foods that Fukuoka is best known for, starting with its iconic specialty: ramen. Yuichiro called his sister Mako, who'd been living in the city for a couple of years. Ironically, she directed us to one of two places I'd read about before my arrival, an area called Raumen Stadium in the Canal City Shopping Center that features an entire floor of ramen restaurants. I was wary of the gimmicky set-up and the fact that it was in a mall, but I was willing to give it a chance (and certainly wasn't going to reject my kind guide's suggestion).

It was difficult to settle on a ramen restaurant out of the many enticing choices once we were there, but when Yuichiro explained that one of them had a sign out front saying it had been voted number one in a local contest, that provided the push we needed.

The Japanese affinity for vending machines is well documented, and this extends to some ramen restaurants, including the one we chose. At the other ramen place I'd read about in Fukuoka, Ichiran (which started in Fukuoka but has since spread to other cities in Japan), all of the ordering is done at a vending machine beforehand, and then additional specifics like tenderness of noodles and amount of garlic are filled out on sheets at individual eating cubicles, where customers hand them to servers without ever exchanging a word. Although my lack of Japanese made me consider this option, eating alone can be depressing enough even if the experience doesn't bear a strong resemblance to taking an exam; silently shoveling down noodles in a lonely cubicle is not my ideal dining experience.

The vending machine in front of our restaurant allowed us to choose most of our ramen variables, and then we were to hand the ticket to our waiter and specify the firmness of our noodles once inside. In the picture, you can see notes written above a couple of the options, and Yuichiro explained that one of them was labeled the "women's favorite" and the other was the "men's favorite." The women's was a lighter chicken ramen with minimal garlic and the men's was a heavier pork ramen loaded with garlic. Thankfully, my feminist and foodie ideals aligned perfectly and I was all too happy to take a stinky, fatty stand for women's rights.

Although the stadium had a kitschy, Roman-influenced feel befitting a place called Raumen Stadium, the shop we chose to enter could have been off of any little side street in Fukuoka.

Once seated, our pleasant waitress came around and asked for our noodle preference. Yuichiro asked for his noodles firm and I decided on tender. that I think of it, I may have been conforming to gender expectations in this case, but what can I say? I prefer my ramen noodles like Mama Bear likes her bed: nice and soft. After our waitress left, I noticed the lemons in our water and the quiet jazz playing in the background. I had a good feeling about things.

Ten minutes later, a bowl of ramen was placed before me. It was steaming, smoke colored, and topped with an aromatic dash of mayu, a black sauce made from charred crushed garlic.

This was tonkotsu ramen, the kind Fukuoka is most famous for, which has a broth made from boiling pork, collagen, and fat over high heat for a long time, until the flavors fuse and sing a "Hallelujah" chorus. We dug in with zeal. Yuichiro finally broke the sound of slurping mid-way through our meals when he proclaimed that this was extremely tasty ramen. My experience with the dish is more limited, but I would go so far as to say it was the best I've ever had. The pork was so soft it threatened to disintegrate and the broth tasted like it had been stewing for days.

Near the end, I was picking up the bowl and drinking the last remaining broth (not a faux pas in Japan, thankfully) and alternating it with big swigs of water to off-set the saltiness. Yuichiro noted my water intake and assured me that I didn't have to finish all of my soup. I answered politely but firmly that I certainly did.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fukuoka Visa Run, Part 1: Seaside Sashimi

I just got back from a blissful two days in Fukuoka, which I decided to treat as a vacation instead of a perfunctory visa run. The air was still a little prickly, but the sun was out and the city was erupting in blossoms despite the fact that the peak cherry blossom period had passed. At the visa office on my first day, I picked up a map showing the city's major attractions, and I decided to walk to the Chuo Fresh Fish Market after I picked up my visa the following day. My friend Yuichiro looked skeptical when I told him about my planned walking trip, and it was certainly a lengthy trek, but I'm always up for those. I'd like to tell you how long it took, but I was staring at blossoms and taking pictures of mothers carting their kids in their bike baskets. Time didn't cross my mind, but I'd guess it's about an hour door to door if you subtract the lingering detours. It's also easy to take the subway to the Akasaka Station; from there, take the road next to the Starbucks down towards the sea and you'll run smack into it. I followed the map and it was really easy.

The building the restaurants are in is functional and nondescript, but the turquoise pillar says "fish market" on it.
Inside, there's a tiny store selling fresh fish and some fish-related products that were unidentifiable to me, and beyond that are several bleak hallways lined with small restaurants. Most of the restaurants have pictures or sample meals out in front, but I didn't see a single English word and I was intimidated by the thought of barging in and muddling my way through ordering. I walked past the busiest one, which had a small line stretching outside, several times. I paced the hallway and worked up the courage to enter, half hoping that someone would yell, "Come on in! You're welcome here!" That never happened, so I decided to return a little later, when I hoped it would be less busy and there wouldn't be so many witnesses to my ignorance.
I returned at 1:40, which was fortuitous because it turned out that my chosen restaurant closed for lunch at two. The hallways of the market, like its exterior, felt like a government office building, but upon stepping through the slatted doorway, I found myself in a warm and elegant little sushi bar. As I'd hoped, the crowd had dwindled. When my waiter came over, I recognized that he asked me if I spoke Japanese, and I told him I didn't, which was one of three phrases I'd been able to memorize before leaving Korea (along with "I'll take this one, please" and "this is delicious"). He tentatively began speaking to me in English, and he was pretty good. Most importantly, his friendly demeanor put me at ease and I did my best to communicate that I was embarrassed about not speaking any Japanese, but I just had to try fresh fish while I was in Fukuoka. I also blurted "Arigato gozai mas!" over and over again. Maybe that counts as a fourth phrase? He told me his name was Hedecki and let me take a picture of him.

However, he wasn't able to communicate much about the menu, so I pointed dumbly at what I recognized as sashimi. "Sashimi?" Hedecki asked, and I realized I could have used the actual word.
I'm actually not a big sashimi fan, but since I was in the country where it originated and I was at a fresh fish market, I figured I'd better try it. Also, Hedecki told me that the cooked fish I originally tried to order had lots of bones and would be difficult to eat. Without a translated menu or any familiarity with sashimi, I can't tell you what I ate, but I can tell you that it was a revelation and I was so glad that I'd been directed away from my original order. The white fish on the right (sorry I don't have a better picture) was so smooth and rich that it was scarcely recognizable as fish to my provincial palate. All of the fish was silky and cold and easily gave way between my teeth. What's more, my small feast was only 1000 Yen (about ten dollars). The soup was a non-event, but the dressing on the salad had a delicious zip to it and the mushrooms (in the dish on the left) were lightly seasoned and flavorful.
I started to feel that warm buzz that fresh, high quality food always provides, and then I added to it with some Asahi and friendly conversation with Hedecki. I left the restaurant feeling perfectly content and temporarily invincible.

SoondaeGuk (Pork Blood Sausage Soup)

At 28 years old, I'm embarrassed to admit that I still hold my boyfriend's hand when I get my blood drawn. I also make a weird moaning sound and slap my thigh with the arm that doesn't have a needle inserted into it. I cannot stand watching blood on the big or small screen, and frankly right now it's a challenge even writing about it, which is why I am so proud that I finally did it: I ATE BLOOD SAUSAGE SOUP! I was surprised to find how mild and un-bloodlike the taste was, but it was still a psychological battle.

Sadly, the momentous event was a mid-workday surprise and I was caught without my camera. My friend Jackie suggested that I write a special song to commemorate the occasion instead, so I slapped together some lyrics and she's working on a melody. I'm not sure what it's called yet, but just be glad I didn't go with "Soondae, Bloody Soondae" like I was tempted.

SoondaeGuk Song:

Time to enter the domain
of anti-heros like Bourdain
slurp those blood balls down
feel the pig goo sloshing round
no time for a fearful retreat
and it isn't so different from meat

Blood, you're just blood
it's not like you're mud
I've bled you, I've shed you
you course through Paul Rudd

Blackened lips and slurping sounds
bloody sausage goin' down
you fill me, you thrill me
those Korean kids were right
vampires don't just rule the night

Blood, you're just blood
it's not like you're mud
I've bled you, I've shed you
you course through Paul Rudd

Piggy hips and piggy lips
I've conquered almost every pork part
that a carnivore can eat
and now the next step is pig's feet

Friday, April 2, 2010

ZipSseng Shovel Pub

The other night, my friend Clara and I arranged to meet for dinner at the Jongno-3-ga subway stop, a halfway point between our apartments. Neither of us were familiar with the area, so we decided to walk down a street lined with restaurants and enter whichever one struck our fancy. With both of us unsure of what we wanted and hesitant to make a decision for the other, one busy street turned into another and then another. Before long, it was almost eight o'clock and I was starting to feel slightly headachy and ravenously hungry.

That was when we walked past the shovel restaurant, officially known as ZipSseng . Above the window of what looked like a standard Korean pub was a bright sign showing three shovels teeming with various meats drenched in red sauce. We stopped to stare and discuss the probability that our dinner would actually be served on a shovel if we entered. The thought piqued our interest and made the place stand out from the hundreds of others we'd already passed. Aspiring restaurateurs, take note: if you serve your mediocre pub food in a wacky vessel, curious patrons will come calling.

And mediocre pub food was what it was. Our dak galbi, a highly spicy Korean barbeque dish, came already cooked. We simply had to heat it on the shovel--and of course, take many silly pictures of ourselves in the process. The fragrant sauce contained an exotic element that we couldn't pinpoint; Clara thought maybe it was cinnamon and I speculated that it was Chinese 5 spice. Regardless, it didn't meld with the other flavors in the dish. On top of that, our stale sweet potato slices (which also typically come with dak galbi) were extremely dry on the inside and were probably over-cooked hours before they were served to us. Overall, the meal was fine, but I wouldn't be writing about it if it had been cooked on a normal grill.

Aside from the novelty of the shovel, the other part of the meal that stood out was the unusually tasty makgeolli we ordered. Makgeolli is a Korean rice wine that is typically strong and cloudy--loved by many, but not my favorite. This stuff, however, was smooth, light, and slightly less opaque than the other brands I've had. Clara instructed me to mix mine with Chilsing Cider, the Korean version of Sprite, for a carbonated, slightly sweet effect that made it taste like a popular soda here called Milkis.
Afterward, Clara took me on a tour of candy stalls in the neighborhood. The highlights were the caramelized sugar sweets molded into shapes including fish, Korean masks, and Hello Kitty, as well as "banned candy," which I have been told a couple of times is illegal because it contains harmful chemicals. However, it's sold in stalls all over Korea, so it's clearly not all that taboo. I've never been able to get specifics from Koreans on exactly how harmful the stuff is(more toxic than Doritos or Twinkies? worse than cigarettes? full of arsenic?). I enjoyed my sour-sweet Apache sticks and hope they didn't take years off of my life or turn my liver purple.

Incidentally, the blue package with the winking fish on it says "World Cup" and is dried fish being sold in the midst of all the sweets.