Tag Archives: Food

Day 47-48: Last Gasp for Gangnam Style

After introducing ourselves to what is “Gangnam style”, we celebrated our last evening in the hot spot of Seoul. As Korea’s answer to New York’s Times Square or Ginza in Tokyo, Gangnam literally stands for a mundane name: South of the River. It wasn’t surprising as Koreans follow the Chinese directional terms faithfully. More stylishly, I suppose you could call it South City, as in Chicago, or the counterpart to the “East Bay” in SF Bay Area’s Oakland.

The restaurants and dining options are endless. The bright neon lights mesmerize one’s ability to think and make decisions clearly. We ended up at, of all places, in 98 degree weather in a Korean barbecue. The vents worked great and the food was memorable, but we couldn’t keep the sweat from dripping down our backs in an air-conditioned environment. The coals from the grill at the tables were efficiently removed by an assistant and quickly delivered back to the ambient temperature outdoors.

We felt like were were cooking ourselves. That is, not making food, but cooking our bodies. Eating and drenching is not exactly a compatible nor relaxing experience. Most of the food service personnel around Seoul are from Dongbei or Northern China. They come as itinerant workers or have been long time residents of Korea. We could communicate with them and surprisingly, use more Chinese on this trip than we expected.

Earlier, our daytime expedition outside the city and into Jeonju Hanok Village and into the countryside required a 2.5 hour bus ride south. The hilly landscape, absent of animals that we could see, is highly utilized with rice paddies or laden with ramshackle structures. Korea is not a beautiful country, but it is practical and efficient. Aesthetics are extraneous and overhead lines and blight come from necessity.

As part of the UNESCO Creative World Cities Network, the ancient town is also designated as an international “slow city”. The town contained a cluster of historic residences, a royal portrait gallery, and an odd church that is a mixture of Byzantine and Catholic religions.

Sadly, my world trip for 2018 has reached its final destination and conclusion. I hope you have enjoyed my travels as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you. They included two new desinations, Hungary and Korea. Both countries are similar in some ways. They are less traveled but worth seeing and learning about. Their people have endured many hardships and misunderstandings, both in perception and reality. I hope you will be inspired to seek beyond your comfort levels and allow your curiosity to direct your next travels.

Go Gangnam!!

Day 45-46: Seoul Food and Not so So-So Seoul

Korean Cooking School

Our cooking class surpassed all other activities in Seoul.  I heartily recommend the experience of learning how to cook Seoul food. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the culture. We met our guides at the metro station, then headed to the local market. It was a lively, tidy, well-managed environment, with plenty of new discoveries.

The abundance of root vegetables told us that Koreans were kept alive in a harsh, cold environment by these necessities. The chile for spice, garlic for health, freshly made 100% sesame oil for lubrication, and full sides of pork for protein were readily available. And of course, fish from the sea, a few dried lizards, and agave were among the specialties for variety and comic relief.

Our cooking class, taught by a capable local Korean chefin (as they would say in Germany), introduced glass noodles, bulgogi meat, Korean pancake, kimchee vegetable soup, and stir fried vegetable flavored with kimchee to our Asian group hailing from Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hawaii, San Jose, and San Francisco. We bonded by working in two teams to dice, slice, and prepare the food per our capable guide’s instructions.

And the final result:

The Royal Shrine, National Museum and  Bukchon Hanok Ancient Village

In the blazing saddles heat the day before, we visited the Royal Shrine and the National Museum in the historic center of Seoul. The crowds were decked out in their rented Korean costumes, to take selfies of themselves and each other. I tried my best to avoid the indulgent ones, so here are a few that were caught off-guard before taking photos of themselves or causing selfie-blight.

The UNESCO world sites surprised us, as many of the Chinese characters were recognizable. Korean culture borrowed from the Chinese language, Confucian education and ancient Chinese customs, like Buddhist rites and feng shui.

Many of the cultural elements of combining nature, architecture, and design are similar to those in Chinese culture. Calligraphy, scroll painting, and ancestral worship are also borrowed from the Chinese.

The ancient Bukchon Hanok village reflected the Japanese hill towns, with well-made wood frame gentry housing, wood details, heavy ceramic tile roofs, and integrated landscaping.

Our highlight was the Korean version of the Changing of the Guard. The bottom line of the spirit of Seoul: borrowing from ancient Chinese culture wasn’t such a bad idea, blaring horns included. Koreans added alot of color and style that the Chinese missed.

Day 41-42: The GF Line

Chinese Opera Museum, Foshan

Among the hidden treasures in Foshan where we are staying in China, is the Chinese Opera Museum. I was coming to Guangzhou to do some research on Chinese opera, so I was delighted to find an entire complex devoted to my research! Below are only a few of the highlights that I poured over.

On an evening walk to dinner, we found another treasure. A huge temple complex was on the other side of our development.

Zumiao Temple, Foshan (1796)

Outside, the temple was teeming with retirees playing cards, mahjong and go under the lush green trees that provide shade and shelter for the day’s activities. A large stone turtle with a snake on its back was accompanied by a host of live turtles stacked back to back on the wooden dock of the pond.

The GF Line stands for Guangzhou-Foshan, one of the new mass transit extensions within the massive Guangzhou Pearl River Delta. Guangzhou is now a city of 13 million. Including Foshan to the west and Zhongshan to the South, Guangzhou is one of the largest conurbations on the planet.

Ling Nan Tian Di District

We are staying in Ling Nan Tian Di, a brand new development in Foshan. Our good friend, professional musician and Chinese opera performer Sherlyn Chew invited us to stay at her apartment in this burgeoning new area. Foshan is known for its Shiwan pottery, but the new development is as sophisticated as Xin Tian Di in Shanghai. High rise residential development, office towers, and a major shopping district are combined into a lively mixed use development.

Here’s a gallery of the renovated traditional village development for tourists:

The Tian Di district in Foshan is developed by Shui On, a single, large Hong Kong developer. In comparison, the San Kai village development in Zhongshan (shown in previous post) is a much more small scale, ad-hoc enterprise. Renovations are left up to each business owner-developer. The area feels more like an artsy live-work district with cafes and bars like what you would find in Oakland or Berlin’s industrial districts.

Food

Below, a somewhat repeat-performance of the dishes from Zhongshan (by choice): Steamed crystal prawns, shaved bitter melon with pork slices and gingko nuts, and roasted goose. The bowed tofu strips topped the braised pork belly underneath. I love the delicate Cantonese style of flavors, that are clean and unadulterated. If it is too salty,  it isn’t true Cantonese cooking.

Day 29-32: Buda or Pest?

Budapest is a city split in two by the Danube. The river is the longest in Europe, discharging not into any ocean but the Black Sea. The St. Gellert’s Thermal Baths and dinner at the New York Cafe were among the highlights of our visit with friends Alberto and Miki in Budapest.

Budapest conveys a by-gone era, with once-grand buildings deteriorated, unkempt and unkept. You struggle to look for meaning and points of reference: When was it? Who did it? How did it happen? Why? Many of these questions are left unanswered. Without a local guide and more substantive conversation with locals, the history is hard to decipher.

The grand market presented some interesting finds for goose liver, paprika, and lavender. A commotion drew us to a crowd apprehending a man who had just knocked down a female tourist.

Last but not least are the finale to our 72 hours in Budapest: dinner and delightful jazz.

Day 26-28: It’s a Wrap!

In opera lingo, it’s a wrap! After a month, my German class came to a close this week. The intermediate level class was populated by a variety of students from France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Estonia, Mexico, Ukraine, Russia, and Argentina. There was only one other lonely student from the U.S., which suited me fine. I used probably more German this time as my vocabulary has improved.

In comparison to prior Goethe Institut classes in Dusseldorf, Berlin, Schwäbisch Hall, and Dresden, this class was better focused and productive. And Munich was a well endowed city, ready to accept newcomers and newly acquired German language speakers. It was fantastisch!

Hubby Gee Kin arrived on Thursday to help me complete my tour of Munich over the weekend. A festival carnival at the Marienkirche entertained us with local charm and what families would enjoy on a summer weekend.

 

A first and foremost visit to the Nationalistische Sozialismus Museum gave us an overall history of Munich since WWI and the setting that led to the rise and fall of the Nazi Party. We gained perspective on Munich and its complex history from the excellent audio tapes at each display.

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We had just enough time to meet our guide, Dr. Christoph Engels, who helped us to visualize the power of Hitler‘s propaganda. We ended up at the Haus fur Kunst, where Hitler promoted his knowledge of art and culture.

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I couldn’t resist another trip to the Isar River where the surfers mesmerized us with their talents. Everyone was taking advantage of the summer heat and made the time to dip their feet into the cool fast flowing waters of the river.

Here was a brave young woman attempting  the surf:

The next day, we visited the Schwabing and Maxvorstadt district, visited the Vctuals Market,and attended a performance of harp and flute in the Residenz.

We are on our way to Budapest by car with friends Miki and Alberto, so stay tuned for our next adventure.

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Day 23-25: Last Days at Marienplatz

Sadly, as my month in Munich draws to an end, I feel that I barely scratched the surface of this vibrant city. The Munchers love their city, its efficiency, and justifiably, its character. It certainly feels more unique and stands out above the other German cities. The Bavarian charm, cheeriness or cheesiness, whichever end of the spectrum you pick, is definitely present.

Unfortunately a heat wave has struck my ability and everyone else’s to move about the city. No AC in the place where I am staying reminds me of my first summer in NYC. Pregnant and jobless, I had to strategize how to get through an entire day of heat. The setting sun was always a welcome relief as the temperature subsided accordingly.

My NYC jungle skills were put to use. Despite my first free day from German classes, I devote my afternoon to the Kaufhof, one of Munich’s foremost department stores. It was a good choice, as I ended up spending six hours there. I probably haven’t spent six hours in any dept store in the States in the last six years put together, so you may be wondering: what makes a department store in Munich so special?

The answer: not much. It has air conditioning.

I entertained myself in the afternoon by starting out in the food hall with a mineral water, cherry torte and expresso. Then I shopped slowly for an all-weather jacket, remembering how good German outdoorwear products are. Then I bought two coveted goose down duvets and the “bedwash” as they call sheets. A couple of trips to the global services claim center, a conversation with my German partner via Facetime, and dinner at the Hofbrauhaus again (this time, fries, roast pork and Pro Secco), and there goes the neighborhood and six hours! Whew!

While being house-bound in the Kaufhof, I decided to take a few shots of the local environment and what’s different (and for those of you, like me, who no longer shop in department stores) (photos are below, left to right):

1. Kids playing with real toys, not computers!

2. A fond reminder of having kids, and buying coveted Playmobil toys;

3. Titanium poles for “Wandering”;

4. Scooters hit the mainstream;

5. Food Court, German style;

6. Escalators, up-down on both sides!!

*shown above: Entrance to the Kaufhof from the Subway Station, a sports car made of Legos

AUSTIN CITY FOLLOW-UP: In case you were wondering what daughter Melissa was doing in Austin (when I tagged along): go to the following link from Instagram on Chef’s Feed:

https://www.chefsfeed.com/videos/1409-one-day-in-austin-ep-3

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Day 4-8: Unique Munich

For the past three years, Very Good Friend Helena from Brunnen (near Lucerne) Switzerland has graced me with an annual visit in Germany. This year, in Munich, our first adventure was tackling the Museums of the Alte and Neue Pinotheks together. The Masters and Impressionists of European art, respectively, reside at these museums.

We concentrated only on the Vermeer Woman in Blue special exhibition at the Alte Pinothek, and the French Impressionists at the Neue.

It was delightful to hear the German guide’s commentary on the Vermeer painting. Her clear and inspiring comments reminded me why I’m in Germany. The clarity and forthrightness of her explanation about the form, structure, color, and subject of the painting made it engaging and easy to understand.

I learned that many of these genre paintings with exquisite light were symbolic connections to the Dutch military and its world explorations, that included Asia and the Dutch East Indies.

I had never connected these dots before. The guide even raised the symbolism of women’s place in society. They represented the Republic and their noble public image vs. that of men, who represented soldiers and their bad behavior away from home. Men often were sailing or serving as soldiers. When they arrived at port, they often headed to the brothels and engaged in bad or uncomely behavior.

This was certainly a new spin on art history and the exquisite Dutch, light-filled genre paintings that I came to admire. I couldn’t help but to connect the home-bound intimate interiors with the fanciful red light district in Amsterdam.

A few other notable artists’ works in the Neue Pinothek included these impressionists from the 19th Century:

On Sunday we rolled down the hill and across the swift flowing river to the Deutsches Museum. The Isar River not only has a surfing spot, but also a decent sandy beach down down the street from where I live in the middle of town!!

The Museum is one of the foremost science museums in the world. It’s a full scale playout of The Way Things Work and more. We focussed on the Planetarium and Astronomy sections of the museum. The English translations are excellent. The featured image above is from a diorama replica of the Challenger Expedition in 1872.

On Thursday night, I attended the Goethe Institute’s International Dinner and taught my Turkish classmate how to use chopsticks. She was a natural.

Her boyfriend and another Turkish classmate helped her prepare a ready-made Turkish dish of mini-ravioli pasta that was delicious with a mild sauce!

And as a parting bonus video: a clip of the evening performance of the organ concert at the Asam Kirche is below. You can read about the church in the previous post.

Here’s VGF Helena at lunch next to the museum and an irresistible baby at the next table:

Day 2-3: Munchin’ in München

Alumni Tom from my Year Three of the Goethe Institute (Schwäbisch Hall) asked for more…which I interpret as juicy details of days in Deutschland…so here it comes!

Food! Food! Glorious Food! You can’t help but feel a little bit like Oliver Twist trolling the markets and streets of Munich. You are scheming to steal a taste of everything you see. Forget the South Beach diets, guys. this is serious business. I wrote about the 3B’s in past landings, that include Beer, Bratwurst and Brot.

Sadly, I have indulged in only the last one so far. I couldn’t resist the fresh, crusty rolls that are so attractively swirled into sections that fit your hand and mouth in perfect unison. They even douse them with seeds to make them appear healthy. (See captions in photos for specifics.)

Arrival at the Goethe Institute for another German course (I’m up to B2!) is serious business, so I had to get my head in gear for some intellectual challenge. Things are looking promising for the location, teacher, and fellow students. We’ll see. I just signed up to give a presentation about the opera, in German! Fortunately it is on the last day of classes so I can prepare and have plenty of time to sweat and fret.

City Tour

Our first class intro to Munich was a city tour. We visited a few of the highlights in Marienplatz, the city’s historic center. I was pleased that the professional guide who led us didn’t hit the same spots that I stumbled into on the first day. The highlight for me was the Catholic rococo church by the Asam Brothers. It was very unsuspecting from the outside like many urban Italian Mannerist churches, but the interior was a dramatic spectacle.

I hadn’t planned on seeing such ornateness in Germany. The goals were to present holy theater, light, and drama. They seemed to want to outdo every Italian master that ever existed, and their own to boot. Portions of the church were disassembled during WWII so the artifacts and sculpture were preserved. This church was one of the goopiest I had seen anywhere, but it somehow was disgustingly elegant. Maybe I’m just getting old and decrepit and starting to ignore restraint.

The Opera House

Tonite I attended a performance at the Bayerishes Staatsopera House. I am preparing for next week’s 17-hour Ring, that will be held over four days. This performance was a decent Lieder, or Song Recital by German opera star Anja Harteros. I was happily reading the words to the songs in German when the women next to me asked me if I liked the concert. I told them that I was enraptured by it. I didn’t confess to her, that I was only excited that I could read and understand the German and that I had hardly paid attention to the singer.


They proceeded to tell me how bad the performance was. They were opera singers and had studied in Munich themselves. They seemed very distraught that the singer was incomprehensible and the music very stiff with no interpretation. I quickly excused myself from the conversation, as clearly a novice like me has no right to evaluate operatic performance standards. As I slinked out of the opera house, I fondled my Brahms and Schubert program and disappeared into the S-Bahn.

48 Hours Deep in the Heart of Texas

I never imagined coming to Austin, Texas, but so far it has been refreshingly inspirational. Whiffs of religious fervor permeate the air. A Peace, Love, & God concrete block chapel lies around the corner from us. There are plenty of cutesy cool/hot bars, ice cream takeouts, and even a made-to-order Texas boot outlet down the street.

Pastry chef & daughter Melissa invited me to join her here for a couple of days. I learned alot about Texas in 48 hours. Texas fought and won over Mexico, after Spain had a shot at owning it. It was once its own Republic, became part of the U.S., and even was a Confederate state.

Texas is so vast that no one within ever contemplates traveling across it. We thought our flight was just a hop across borders like going to Idaho or Colorado, only to discover that we landed literally halfway across the country!

Food was on our minds as soon as we touched the tarmac. Thankfully we had eaten a scantilly clad salad for lunch, only to blast our bellies with an array of Tex-Mex BBQ at dinner.

Valentina’s roadway smokers are considered among the best in the country for smoked meat and we found out why. I seldom indulge words on food, but this one deserves mention. See the huge beef brisket “sandwich” (where does the bread go when you hold it up to eat it?!?). The meat was the moistest, most succulent reward that carnivores could ever want to hunt and kill animals for.

The taco version got rid of the skimpy bun-to-meat ratio but nevertheless left the slow-cooked juices and barbeque sauce dripping down bare arms to elbows (no sleeves needed in this part of the country–it’s too hot!) After seeking and finding a second paradise in the ribs, we didn’t even finish the spicy sausages that would make currywurst in Germany look pathetic. We decided to wrap and take them home (self-service foil on tap) for breakfast. Wow. My prayers were answered.

The permanent pop-up “restaurant” has all the facilities one needs for deluxe dining (see captions).

A walk up Congress Avenue after dinner earned us a few digestive stars and a sighting of bats–millions of em. Everyone waits for dusk to strike (first video below), when the bats take off from their dorms under the bridge (second video below) and get their version of exercise in the evening sky (third video). Whoa. A bit too creepy for my wimpy soul, especially since we are staying in a signature accommodation called the “Bathouse”.

Last but not least, here are a few musings of music and food along the strip. You can finish off the sticky arms from the BBQ with instant melt ice cream before jumping into the shower for a tasty rinse.

 

24 Hours in Chicago

With occasion to be with a friend in the Chicago area, I dedicated one day to an urban walk on my own. I set a five-mile goal from my hotel through Lincoln Park, that could easily be accomplished over flat terrain.

I started off by studying the hotel map, then stripping off all the adds around the border to a basic 6×8″ image of the streets. My origami skills taught me how to develop this minimalist map. And yes, I find this low-tech method sometimes useful in lieu of fumbling for my Iphone, getting wifi access, and googling the destination. It depends on the circumstances and where the answer to the question is the most reliable.

Beginning from the south end of Lincoln Park, I first headed north through the park past the zoo and Botanical Garden. I smiled as I recognized Schiller and Shakespeare in the Park. I searched for Schiller’s pal Goethe, but he was no where in my line of vision to be found. I noted that the streets named after these venerable German writers show that they are appreciated in this part of the country. (Maybe the admired Midwest American work ethic and unpretentiousness come from the German heritage too?)

It didn’t take long to reach the conservatory near the north end, but only after I stopped to stare at the trees above me for quite some time. I heard some unfamiliar squawking above me, and then a flustered crow flew away. It was being chased by other similar sized, but different birds. I noticed a flock of nests above, housing a colony of fluffy white and grey-topped birds. They were protecting their young from the crow’s home invasion.

I discovered soon after my arrival at the Nature Museum that these birds are black Night Herons, and they are on the endangered species list. My discovery of the birds in the trees peaked my interest and curiosity. Timing for the teachable moment was perfect, so I immediately soaked up the wealth of information about birds in the museum. Like me, these birds like living in the city.

Jared Diamond, one of my favorite authors, studied the Birds of Paradise in New Guinea. These birds were featured in another display at the museum. They developed fancy plumes over millions of years to attract females. Here’s a cute, short, minute-long  cartoon clip explaining how the females were the determinants in the evolutionary process (You can turn the volume off and just read the subtitles to avoid background noise from the gallery):

The display of birds of paradise kept me spellbound. Here are a few explanations and examples:

And there was a mechanical version that demonstrated how the plumes are spread:

The flowers in the Botanical Garden were not quite as impressive as the ones I had just seen in San Diego a week ago, but they were in full bloom and nevertheless a feast for the eyes.
A quick bus ride took me back to the south end where the Chicago History Museum is located. I could barely get out of there alive, after getting mesmerized by the numerous exhibits that not only told the story about Chicago, but about America. I started to appreciate the uniquely good Midwestern values, creativity and ideals that advanced and developed our country. And a pinch of German forthrightness and earnestness didn’t hurt.

The many phases of Chicago history were represented, but for me I had to stop and study the Pritzker family tree. (Pritzker developed the Hyatt Hotels).  I traced the lineage of the Chicago merchant, real estate mogul, and philanthropist and identified a few Bay Area illuminaries. Can you find them?

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Next I learned about the Great Chicago fire of 1871, that killed 300 people and left 100,000 homeless at the edge of Lake Michigan in this stirring panorama:

The Native American Checagoans, the Stockyard and the Stock Exchange, the Railroad, the Automobile, and American Innovation and Creativity were informative and fascinating sections of the museum. Here are a couple of the text panels that include the Chicago Fire of 1871:

An elegant function space showcased stain glassed masterpieces that included those by Tiffany and Frank Lloyd Wright. And a room for Lincoln was beautifully decorated in period style. (see below).

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a few of the immensely beautiful, elegant modernist buildings that speak for Chicago:

Even the low rise ones are good. What distinguishes these from those in American cities like New York and San Francisco? As an architect, I find the classic proportions, clean lines and simplicity of intent so soothing to the eye. The high quality of craftsmanship, appreciation of detail in material, and RESTRAINT all add up. Coming to Chicago is like Mecca to an architect. Buildings are meant to be seen from all sides (thanks to alot of land and $$$) and we have the luxury of time and space to ponder each building’s magnificent presence.

And for those dying to know, I managed to eat some delicious, unadulterated, well-prepared food at Quartino, an Italian classic with an extensive, full page 1/4, half, and full bottle wine selection; and Tanta, a Peruvian ceviche bar (attached photo of tombo/quinoa/avocado salad, Pisco bloody Mary, and essential plantain chips, shown below.) Perfect for a Saturday brunch before heading to the airport!
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