Category Archives: review

Seoul Food Safari: Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Japan

New year’s resolution: revive food blog.

I published 14 posts in 2015, a little bit more than one per month, which is actually not that bad but I think I can do a lot better. I blame the strange and uncharacteristic fitness kick that took over my life in the summer… spent all my spare time run-walking and didn’t eat out that much. I don’t know what came over me. But thankfully, I have now entered winter hibernation which means a lot less moving and a lot more eating.

The smart thing to do would be to trash everything in my backlog and just start from my most recently eaten meal… but the very very small OCD part of me can’t bear to just let all these photos and experiences disappear into oblivion. So I’m gonna do a few quick photo-dump bulk-blogging posts to clear my library and actually get things up-to-date here. Because these places are still worth posting about, provided that they still exist.

I noticed that most of my backlog consisted of international food spots, so I’ve dubbed this series “Seoul Food Safari” and today our tastebuds travel to Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Japan. Click on the name of each restaurant for address and Naver map!

1. Samarkand Restaurant, Ansan (technically not Seoul but . . . eh.)

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On our second visit to Ansan, we had dinner at Samarkand which is an Uzbek restaurant that comes highly recommended by everyone on the internet who has written anything about good food in the Ansan area.

The waiter greeted us at the door and didn’t seem to want to let us sit inside. “Inside? Smoking only outside.” Because we clearly look like pack-a-day kind of people. I blame Matt’s long hair and facial scar (actually from chicken pox).

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It’s a small cafe-style restaurant, with an Uzbek mini-mart in the back. Walls decked with traditional Uzbek clothing (still in their plastic cover? maybe it’s just the owner’s drycleaning…)

I always get really confused about how to order at these kinds of restaurants. It feels most natural to speak in English because obviously I can’t speak Uzbekistani but it feels so weird to speak Korean (my second language) to another non-Korean person. But EVERY SINGLE TIME my English gets blank looks and I end up just awkwardly pointing at menu items. And then I overhear the waiter speaking fluent Korean to another table and feel like an idiot.

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Prices have gone up in recent years, but they’re still pretty reasonable. We ordered the Plov on the recommendation of an Uzbek friend who always talks about how much he misses it.

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Plov (also known as pilaf in other cultures) is a very simple dish of seasoned rice, carrots and lamb. The rice is incredibly flavourful because it’s actually cooked on top of the lamb and carrots in a dutch oven, infusing it with all the stock and spices.

The servingware here is beautiful too.

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We also got Samsa which is huge triangle-shaped pastry packed with a meat and onion filling.

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I LOVE meat-filled pastries, but they sadly do not form part of Korean cuisine (the closest thing would probably be fried dumplings). But these really hit the spot after being long-deprived of my Aussie meat pies and sausage rolls. I really liked the mix of spices that were present in each dish – relatively mild compared to Asian or Middle-Eastern cooking, but still gave every mouthful a very distinct and interesting flavour.

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We ended our meal with some barbecued lamb skewers which were charred and juicy and amazing. Lamb is the rarest of the meats here (most Koreans hate the smell) so its always a special treat and whenever I eat it I always exclaim something like “LAMB! I almost forgot how delicious you were!”

I knew absolutely zero about Uzbek food before this meal but I really enjoyed it. It was somewhat similar to the Middle-Eastern food that I know and love, but was also a new experience in itself. If you’re not keen enough to travel to Ansan, the goods news is that there’s a Samarkand Cafe in Dongdaemun that is also pretty well known (very close to Dongdaemun History and Culture Park station). I’m not sure if it has the same owner, but from the photos I’ve seen the food looks almost identical. Totally worth a visit if you’re sick of Korean food and want to try something completely different.

2. Lie Lie Lie, Yeonnam-Dong 

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In my quest to find the best Vietnamese pork roll in Seoul, Lie Lie Lie is the current frontrunner. It’s a tiny shop hidden in the alleyways of up-and-coming “hot place” Yeonnam-dong – an area next to Hongdae that is brimming with cool little shops, cafes, and eateries.

This place is great for a number of reasons. Firstly, all the bread is freshly baked daily on premises.

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Here is the oven to prove it.

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This is the closest thing I’ve found to the Vietnamese rolls from the “hot bread” bakeries in Sydney. While I do love banh mi served in a classic french baguette, this is the kind of bread that defines “pork roll” for me.

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Second, they stock cans and cans of the essential ingredient: LIVER SPREAD. Pork roll is not pork roll without the dodgy pâté, but this is the first banh mi place I’ve found in Seoul that actually has it. Pâté has a flavour and texture that Koreans wouldn’t typically enjoy, so I understand why places don’t bother with it but without the spread, whatever you’re selling isn’t banh mi; it’s a banh mi-inspired sandwich.

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They have four different types at the very good price of 5,500 won and of course I happily paid the 500 won extra for the chicken liver pate. I was only really interested in the cold cut version, but I was with a friend who had never tried banh mi before so we ordered three different ones for the sake of variety.

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The grilled chicken and spicy pork banh mi were both really good (the spicy pork one tasted a bit like Korean-Vietnamese fusion) and all the essential vegetable components were present:

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Cucumber, carrot, pickled radish, fresh chopped chilli, spring onion, and coriander. They could be a bit more generous with the fillings, but hey, at least everything was there and nothing weird was added (I’ve had some banh mi here with iceberg lettuce. That’s no-no.)

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The best BY FAR was the cold cut w/ pâté. The only thing missing was the maggi sauce, so it wasn’t quite the lovely, messy, sauce-soaked experience of a Sydney pork roll but it was more than good enough to satisfy my cravings.

A word of warning: the rolls are quite small. One roll per person is not enough for lunch – we were quite happy with three rolls between the two of us but I could easily polish off two myself if hungry enough.

There are a couple of other banh mi joints on my radar, and if any other place manages to beat Lie Lie Lie on flavour and authenticity, it will for sure make an appearance on this blog, don’t worry.

3. Fukuoka Hamburg, Hongdae

I have learned to embrace the hamburg “steak” – the minced beef steak substitute enjoyed in cattle-poor nations, otherwise known as a “patty” or “rissole” in places where red meat is more of a staple than a luxury. It is sad excuse for steak, but it does the job when my belly craves beef but my wallet can’t afford it.

I first had hot-stone self-cook hamburg in Tokyo and I loved it. Every bite of fatty hamburg is perfectly cooked to your liking, still sizzling from the magic stone. It’s also just a fun eating experience, and having individual cooking stones feels much more refined than grilling meat in a barbecue grill built into your table.

I found this place after watching two characters go on a date here in a Korean drama. The drama sucked, but at least it led me to Fukuoka Hamburg – a trendy chain restaurant that has a few locations around Seoul These photos are from about six months ago but I actually went back the other day and it was just as good as I remembered.

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This is the “egg garlic” hamburg that comes on a bed of scrambled egg and garlic chips. You can also just get egg hamburg, egg cheese hamburg, or the PREMIUM egg cheese AND garlic hamburg. You can get the hamburg steak without the egg too, but why would you?

The steak comes in XS, S, M and L sizes and even as a pretty big eater, S was enough hamburg for me (even without any rice!) The self-cooking forces you to eat quite slowly, so I was quite satisfied by the end of it.

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You not only get your own personal cooking stone, each person also gets their own smoke ventilation pipe. And if your hot stone starts to cool down, they give just replace it with a new one.

Safety tips: DO NOT TOUCH THE HOT STONE. Not even when its cooled down. And wear the disposable aprons they give you if you want to protect your clothes from sputtering beef fat.

It’s on the pricey side for casual dining in Seoul (starts at around 10,000 won for S size) but it’s 100% hanwoo from cattle bred and raised in Korea – so the quality of the meat and the self-cooking makes it taste so much better than your everyday hamburg. And none of that gross ketchup/Worcestershire sauce nonsense that hamburg steaks usually come swimming in.

The first time I had Fukuoka Hamburg, I ended up at a Japanese dessert cafe by complete coincidence. We were just wandering around looking for something sweet and came upon Be Sweet On, a really adorable cafe that does house-made Japanese style desserts.

Seoul is generally very good at desserts, but most cafes just have a variety of pre-made cakes and/or bingsoo. This place is unique because it serves these beautifully made-to-order desserts that look like what you’d get as the final course at a fancy restaurant.

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This is the Mont Blanc -puréed chestnuts with a quenelle of dark chocolate ice cream.

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And this is the tarte tartin – puff pastry with vanilla cream, caramelized apples, vanilla ice cream, and a thin apple chip on top.

This place ain’t cheap but they’re the prettiest desserts I’ve had in Seoul.

So that’s it for this instalment of Seoul Food Safari. In the next episode, we take our bellies to China, Britain, and Hong Kong. See you then!

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The Chois Eat Their Way Through Jeonju + Gunsan (Part 2)

I really don’t know where this year has gone. The food in this blog was eaten in May. It is now November. There have been a few times like this in the past when I haven’t blogged in months, have accumulated an overwhelming backlog of food photos, and thoughts like “Should I just not bother? Is it finally time to hang up my amateur food blogger hat?” start to enter my mind. But I’m always too stubborn to quit. I’ve pushed through a six-month lag before and I can do it again. I just gotta sit my butt down and remind myself how much I enjoy writing these, that it’s worth opening my laptop and pumping out some words even thought it would be much easier to turn on the TV and binge-watch K-dramas.

So where were we? It’s Spring. I’m in Jeonju. With my parents. Trying very hard to preserve my sanity.

On the morning of our second day in Jeonju, we asked our hanok stay host to recommend a restaurant for another signature Jeonju dish: soybean sprout souprice (콩나물 국밥/kong-namul gukbap).

I LOVE having soup and rice for breakfast. My parents were so well assimilated to Aussie-culture that I grew up with the standard cereal, toast, and eggs for brekkie so having Korean style gukbap in the morning is still a novelty for me and I love it. I don’t care if I have garlic and kimchi breath all day – gimme that breakfast gukbap!

Our sent us out of the hanok village to the Nambu Shijang, an old-school market where the goods on sale look like haven’t changed much since the 1960s.

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The market is like a maze without a map and the restaurant was pretty hard to find – I was expecting to see a massive line since it seemed like you needed to stand in line to eat anything decent in Jeonju. But it turned out to be a tiny, dingy looking place with a few shabby chairs and tables and only a couple of people inside. It made me think, “Did our host just send us to his aunty’s restaurant?” We were too hungry to care at this point, so we just sat down. This kind of food is best made by an aunty anyway.

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In the kitchen there’s a huge vat of broth, a big bowl of rinsed soybean sprouts, and an impressive array of spices and sauces. Soybean sprout souprice seems like a very simple dish, but I guess there really is an art to it.

I actually hated this kind of soup growing up – it was one of the few Korean dishes that just made me groan when I saw it on the dinner table. There’s no meat involved – the broth is made with dried anchovies which gives it an unpleasant bitter flavour. And the soybean sprouts were just… I mean, who ever gets excited about soybean sprouts? It was just a sad, boring, bland loser of a soup.

Coming to Korea, however, I discovered that Jeonju-style soybean sprout souprice was a much-beloved hangover cure soup that people were willing to travel for. I gave it a try in Seoul and I don’t know what it is – maybe some special broth recipe, maybe MSG, maybe the salted shrimp sauce and spices that they add on top – but I LOVED it. It’s still a very simple soup based around an incredibly unexciting vegetable but there’s something about it that’s very comforting and addictive.

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This one came out with the rice already in the soup because you need the rice bowl for the thing that makes Jeonju-style souprice truly special: the lightly poached egg-sauce. First-timers might be confused about what to do with this little bowl of egg, but don’t the mistake of putting the eggs in the soup. What you’re actually meant to do is put the soup in the eggs.

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It’s egg as sauce!! My favourite thing!! You’re meant take your soybean sprouts and dip them in the runny egg yolk. You can also take spoonfuls of souprice and mix it all into the egg bowl too. This just proves the egg makes everything – even boring old soybean sprout soup – more awesome.

The soup is wholesome and satisfying, but also has a very clean taste thanks to its simple ingredients, with just enough kick from the garnish of chopped fresh chillies, chilli powder, salted shrimp, crushed garlic and sesame seeds. It’s strangely refreshing, and the heat will get you sweating, which I guess is what makes it the perfect hangover cure.

It wasn’t really much different or more special compared to the soybean sprout souprice I’ve had in Seoul, but I’m glad I got to try at a dinky little no-name restaurant, with zero tourists and just one ahjumma in the kitchen working up a sweat in her floral apron. Much much better than standing in line for an hour to eat it at a place so famous it’s got two branches in Seoul, which completely defeats the purpose of going all the way to Jeonju to try it.

After breakfast, we headed back to the Hanok Village to have morning tea at one of its many cute cafes.

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It’s a place called 1723 and it has a particularly special dessert that came up in several of the blog posts I’d come across while researching this trip.

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Injeolmi icecream: vanilla soft serve with chopped up pieces of red bean-stuffed sticky rice cake, extra bits of mochi, topped with injeolmi bean powder. So good! This is maybe the best modernized Korean traditional dessert I’ve had. And Koreans are very very good at modernizing their traditional desserts. Incredibly simple but so delicious… got me singing

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Injeolmi-themed desserts are quite common since Koreans lurrrve their bean powder, with injeolmi bingsu being one of the bestselling items at Sulbing (one of the most popular dessert cafes in Korea). But the texture of the bean powder works SO MUCH BETTER with ice cream than it does with shaved ice. And the red bean mochi which is a sickly sweet to eat by itself is much better served in little pieces as a topping.

Do you miss my mum? I do, too. Here she is modelling our dessert and wearing sunglasses indoors like she’s Kanye.

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And we couldn’t leave Jeonju without one last tumbler of slushie beer.

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Cheers!

So that was the end of our time in Jeonju, but because people told us there wasn’t enough  to do in Jeonju to last us three days and two nights (they were wrong… there was plenty of stuff left to eat do) we also booked a night in Gunsan, a little-known town that’s most famous for the Japanese style houses and buildings that have been preserved since the occupation. Not sure why Koreans would want to preserve Japanese architecture from such a dark time in its history . . .  but this is a food blog so let’s not go into that.

Gunsan is definitely not the food-mecca that Jeonju is . . . in fact, there was so little to see that my mum couldn’t help but mention to every local she met, “There’s not much to do here, is there? Honestly, it’s a bit disappointing.” I called her out for being a rude, obnoxious tourist and she called me out for being a mean, overreacting daughter . . . but this is a food blog so let’s not go into that.

I managed to find a couple of matjibs that looked pretty decent, one specializing in soy-marinated crabs (간장게장/Ganjang Gejang), which is my mum’s all-time fave but for some reason, I had never tried it.

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We took a cab to the restaurant which was in the middle of nowhere. We were told we had to wait 45 minutes for a table and possibly even longer for our food, so clearly everyone else in Gunsan also realized that this was the only decent restaurant around. Annoyed and hungry, we still waited because we had no where elseto go and no way to get there. I really really hoped that the food would be worth the wait, because three grumpy, hungry, annoyed, disappointed Chois is NOT a fun time.

We finally got a table and ordered the jungsik which was 23,000 won per person (very decent price for this kind of meal) and came with the marinated crab, soup, rice, and a bunch of sides.

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Apparently, soy-marinated crab is all about the roe. There are certain seasons when the roe is more abundant, and the better gejang restaurants only serve super-fertile crabs that are overflowing with that gooey bright orange roe.

Roe is something I’ve been developing a palate for since I moved to Korea. I’ve always loved salmon roe because of the way it pops in your mouth, but HATED cooked roe (still do) because of its grainy, rubbery texture. Other types of raw or marinated roe I didn’t really enjoy because I found the bitter taste off-putting. But thanks to the gradual Koreanification of my taste buds, I’m finding that I like it more and more. So while a raw, roe-based dish like ganjang gejang wouldn’t have interested me at all before, I was pretty excited to try it.

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Gejang is prepared with a soy-based marinade that is boiled, cooled, and then poured over fresh, salted crabs. According to mum, our resident gejang expert, the cheaper places serve the crabs after they’ve been sitting in the marinade for a while because the crabs can stay preserved for up to a few weeks. But as a result, they become extremely salty, tasting more like a pickle. The better restaurants with fresher crabs don’t let the crabs sit in the marinade for too long – so it just tastes like crab sashimi with the delicious soy marinade poured over it.

This place was one of the good ones – the crab was so fresh and the marinade was perfectly balanced – sweet, salty, infused with the flavor of the crab with hints of ginger, garlic and chilli. Gejang’s nickname is “rice thief crab” (밥도둑) because something magical happens when the sauce and roe touch those fluffy grains of white rice. The marinated crab tastes great by itself but it’s what happens when the dish is mixed up with rice that makes ganjang gejang ganjang gejang. Even the carb-conscious will stare at their reflection in the empty steel rice bowl and not think twice about ordering another one.

More than the fleshy crab legs and roe though, my favorite part of this dish was taking the shell with all its yellow-green guts and salty-sweet sauce and mixing up all my rice in there. I don’t have a photo because I was too busy eating it.

The next day we visited Lee Sung Dang, the oldest bakery in Korea. It’s been around since 1945 and is famous for its red bean bun and vegetable bun which apparently haven’t changed much since its opening. There was actually a separate line for those two signature items, and it stretched all the way out the store to the street corner. They had run out of vegetable buns (boo) and even though none of us really like red bean buns, we forced dad to stay in the line because we couldn’t come to the oldest bakery in Korea in a random place like Gunsan and NOT get their most famous bun. Mum and I went inside to check out what else they had on offer.

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This is what most Korean bakeries looked like twenty years ago. Much simpler than the stuff you see these days at Paris Baguette and other bakeries that are trying to be more Western and are moving away from these traditional Korean sweet breads. These kinds of bakeries are actually not that easy to find now.

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This is my old fave – sesame sticky rice bread (깨찰빵) – the bread batter is mixed with sticky rice powder which gives this slightly sweet hollow bun a crusty/chewy texture – so good but quite hard to find these days. Regret not buying the whole tray.

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Here are my parents and their bread haul. Both wearing sunglasses indoors like they’re Beyonce and Jay-Z. LOL at the fact that everyone else captured in this photo looks like they’re staring at us thinking, “Who are those freaks and why are they taking a photo inside a bakery with their sunglasses on?”

People were leaving the bakery with massive boxes packed with the red bean buns, but we were quite self-controlled and only bought five. I’m kind of a red bean bun hater but these were so fresh out of the oven that I actually really enjoyed them.

And here ends the Choi family’s eating adventures around Jeonju and Gunsan. I’ll sign off with a photo of mum looking ever-so-chic drinking a tri-coloured slushie.

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“See you next time, fatties.”

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Texas Trip of a Lifetime Q2: In-N-Out v. Chick-Fil-A

Continued from Texas Trip of a Lifetime Q1: Chuy’s Tex Mex and South Congress Cafe, Austin

The miserable weather was not letting up, but dinnertime was approaching and I thought, “I’m in Austin and I may never come back here again so I’LL BE DAMNED if I’m gonna let a little bit of rain get in the way of eating some world famous Austin food truck barbecued meats!” I didn’t care if I needed to eat it under an umbrella or stink up our rental car with the smell of smoked brisket, I wasn’t going home without trying it.

With the limited time we had in the city, Franklin was sadly never an option. As much as it broke my heart to forego what many consider to be the best barbecue in America (if not the world!) the four hour wait would have taken too big a chunk out of our precious little time in Austin and I had to make that sacrifice. It was a really tough call, but it was one I had to make.

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Lucky for us, since Aaron Franklin sparked a barbecue revolution in Austin, the city has become known for restaurants and food trucks that take their meat very very seriously and have turned smoked protein into a refined art. A bunch of places have emerged that dare to challenge Franklin’s dominance and my research put two names at the top of the list: La Barbecue and Micklethwait Craft Meats.

They’re both located around downtown Austin, so we took the car to Micklethwait first, only to be . . .

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DENIED. Closed. Only open Wednesday through Saturday. Okay, disappointing, but let’s try La Barbecue.

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DENIED AGAIN. Turns out rain wasn’t even the issue, the problem was that we had lost all sense of date and time, as you do when you’re traveling, and failed to realise it was Monday and that most restaurants are closed on Mondays. This meant that even apart from food trucks there was no viable option for a barbecue dinner in Austin that night.

Cue panic.

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I did not have a non-barbecue Plan B and I could not live with the idea of wasting a meal in Austin at some crappy random restaurant that we chose just because it was open.

This is when Matt cheerily suggested, “Let’s go to In-N-Out!!”

With all the hype I had heard about In-N-Out, I would have been happy to go there for a late-night burger run after a Spurs game but I had not planned on spending a main meal there. Even if it was God’s gift to fast food, fast food is still fast food and I didn’t come to Texas to eat a slightly fancier version of McDonalds! But desperate times . . .

Matt was filled with utter glee at the thought of In-N-Out for dinner. He had tried it for the first time on his last trip to the States and it had been immortalised in his memory as the greatest fast food burger he’d ever tasted. He was like:

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And I was sitting in the car like . . .

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“This better be good.”

Every American I’ve met in Korea gets a big moist-eyed and drooly when they talk about In-N-Out. As someone who’s (surprisingly) not that into junky fast food burgers, my question is always, “How good can it be?” They can never quite specify exactly why they love In-N-Out as much as they do, but they all seem to be in agreement that there’s nothing on earth that quite equals the burgers at In-N-Out.

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The first thing I noticed was that the menu is REALLY basic. Three burgers, fries, and drinks. And the burgers are all just variations of the same hamburger. While most fast food restaurants these days have 100-item menus that are constantly changing with seasons and trends, the In-N-Out menu has stayed the same since it first opened in 1948.

I think people love the story of In-N-Out as much as they love the burgers. It’s a family-run business that, despite its cult-status and popularity, has only 300 locations in the USA (compare that to McDonalds’ 15,000 locations) and has refused to franchise or go public. It’s recently branched out to Texas (WIN for us) but is still pretty much exclusive to the state of California. They care about quality in a way that is really rare in the fast food business, and they only use fresh ingredients – freezers are not even allowed in any of the restaurants.

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Our server was super cheery – in fact all the staff seemed genuinely happy and friendly. A nice change from Maccas servers who treat you like you’ve stolen their will to live. The friendliness is probably the fruit of the company’s strong Christian values and the fact that unlike almost every other fast food business, the workers get paid significantly more than minimum wage.

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There’s only one In-N-Out in Austin and it’s relatively new so the place was packed out.

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The kitchen is completely open so you can see the workers at the assembly station putting together the elements of each burger with tender loving care. Thanks to their dedication to hamburger excellence, you aren’t given sad, wilted burgers that make you want to take to the photo on the menu up to the counter and complain “THIS IS ALL A LIE.” You end up with this beauty:

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DOUBLE PATTY!

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Let’s zoom out a bit now:

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One Double-Double, one Cheeseburger, and two fries, ALL “Animal Style.” What is this crazy Animal Style, you ask? Well, as it turns out, while the menu may look deceptively simple on its face, behind it lies a universe of infinite permutations and customisations that In-N-Out aficionados refer to as the “secret menu.” There is an official “Not-So-Secret Menu” that In-N-Out has on their website, and this includes Animal Style (burger with extra Thousand Island spread, grilled onions instead of fresh and mustard-grilled beef patty; fries topped with melted cheese, grilled onions, and spread), but there is SO MUCH MORE that I didn’t know about and am KICKING myself for not studying earlier.

In particular, I would have liked to try:

  • Patty cooked medium-rare (pink in the middle and super juicy!)
  • Burger w/ chopped chillies (sport peppers chopped and pressed into the bottom of the burger)
  • Fries well-done (for extra crispiness – we found the fries a bit soggy and disappointing, but well-done would have cured this I’m sure)
  • Whole grilled onion (for extra stinky breath goodness)
  • 3×3 (3 patties, 3 cheese slices. Not for me, but Matt would have been game and it would have looked really sexy in a photo)

The 4×4 (4xPatty, 4xCheese) is actually listed on the official Not-So-Secret menu which I find INSANE. Not sure if even Matt could even stomach that. Wait, I just asked him if he could take it and he said “GLADLY” so I guess it’s not as crazy as I thought. And it doesn’t even stop there; you can go as high as you want. 100 x 100 anyone? Man, if I had known all this beforehand, this blog post would be a lot more fun. Oh well, I guess that’s just one more reason why I need to go back to Texas someday soon.

But what did we actually think of the burgers? Matt’s face says it all.

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(The second photo is from when we went again in San Antonio. We asked the server to give us a paper hat. Pretty sure they’re only meant to hand that out to kids.)

It was just as good as he remembered. Like a beastly Manu monster dunk in a championship winning game, it’s rare, it’s like a dream, but when you get to experience it in real life it’s the absolute greatest thing in the world.

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As for me, I liked it a lot. It’s the best fast food burger I’ve tasted and I really appreciated the attention to detail like the crisp toasted bun, melty melty cheese, the freshness of the lettuce and tomato, and the patty that actually tasted like real beef. But a burger is still . . . a burger. It wasn’t something so revelatory that I wanted to scream or jump or cry or die. It was a solid, satisfying Danny Green triple-double fist pump.

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That brings me to the next American fast food icon that I was even more intrigued to try. Chick-Fil-A was a name I wasn’t at all familiar with until I moved to Korea and made friends with people from the American South. When I asked them what I needed to eat in Texas, before the Tex Mex, before the barbecue, before any other restaurant, they told me: “CHICK. FIL. A.”

Chick-Fil-A specialises in chicken sandwiches and the classic sandwich is just a deep fried chicken fillet, with two pickle slices between two soft buns. That’s it. My expectations were set pretty darn high thanks to the overwhelming praise of my southern friends, but was also tempered by my “How good could it actually be? It’s just a chicken sandwich” skepticism.

That night (yes, the same day we had In-N-Out – we were on holiday and just rollin’ like fatties) after a really great bar-hop of Sixth Street’s live music bars, we went on a late night Chick-Fil-A run just as its doors were about to close.

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The sandwich came in this sturdy foil-lined paper bag. It opened up to reveal this…

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… and my heart just went:

Kawhi Dunk

The FATTEST chicken fillet I’d ever seen in my life. It was fatter than both those buns combined! And you can’t really tell from the grainy inside the car at midnight photo, but the batter was dark gold and looked so crispy. I ripped open a sachet of the signature Chick-Fil-A sauce (a combination of honey mustard, BBQ, and ranch) and squeezed it all over the that fat fillet and took a biiiig bite.

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And my brain, my mouth, my everything just went,

Bench Celebrate

I am not a good enough writer to adequately explain to you all how good this little sandwich tasted. So I’ll try to express it through the language of Spurs gif.

Manu Flame Pass

It was like, Obi Wan Ginobili half-court magic fireball pass good.

Tony Paint Teleport

It was like, Tony Parker in the paint laying it up like nightcrawler good.

duncan high five

It was like, Timmy D buzzer-beating game-winning jumpshot good.

oop

It was like, BoBo to Kawhi with the OOP good.

Do they use drugs? Do they use magic? Do they sing Beyonce’s hits to their chickens and raise them on a diet of foie gras and champagne? It’s a chicken BREAST fillet but there is no trace of the stringy, tough, dryness that is expected from white meat. My teeth just glided through that fillet like it was a chicken-flavoured marshmallow. There MUST be some deep, dark secret to how they get their sandwiches to taste so good because if it was anything less than sorcery, everyone would copy the recipe and our world would be filled with perfect tasting chicken sandwiches.

There are a few theories floating around. One of the most popular is that the chicken fillets are brined in pickle juice, and a lot of the copycat recipes recommend using this method when trying to replicate the sandwich at home. This makes a lot of sense because it explains both the explosion of salty salty goodness that cannot come from the chicken breast alone, and the super succulent, tender texture of the fillet. Others suggest that a more ordinary brine of salt and water will do the trick. I’ve been always been a brining skeptic (mainly because I’m lazy) but when I saw the physical transformation that brining achieves, I was almost convinced that this must have been the key. But I’d still prefer to believe that the secret involves some magic breed of a chicken that bathes in milk and has a personal masseuse.

I wouldn’t stop going on and on about how good the chicken was and how I needed to eat it at least one more time before leaving the States but Matt just brushed me off, saying that I only liked it so much because I had experienced something he calls “The Drunken Munchies.” Okay, yeah I had enjoyed a glass of wine and some Sangria cocktails that night. And yes, I may have fallen asleep in the car while he was out getting the sandwiches, but it was past my bedtime and I was just tired, okay? How dare he suggest that the integrity of my tastebuds was compromised by a few measly drinks.

gregg2

There was only one way we could settle this . . .

Fast-forward to our last meal in San Antonio. We drove 30 minutes west of downtown so Matt could have In-N-Out one more time. We picked up his Double-Double and Cheeseburger order (both for him), and then went around the corner for my much-anticipated dinner at:

CHICK

This time, in full daylight and perfectly sober, I went inside myself and ordered a chicken sandwich and some of their famous waffle fries.

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I was just going to get the original sandwich again, but when I saw the spicy option I couldn’t resist. Because I like my chicken fillets the same way I like my meatballs,

spicy

. . . SPICY!

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This time around the fillet wasn’t as giant as the one in Austin, but it was still bigger than the top bun. The crunch of the batter was actually visible and begging to be bitten into.

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The Fil-Ayyyyy was as juicy and tender as I remembered it. The spiciness added a nice kick, but I wasn’t so awesome that I would always choose this over the original. In fact, I think I liked the original (and whatever secret herbs and spices it has in its batter) better. And yeah, I’ll admit that while this had all the same qualities as the first sandwich in Austin, it didn’t blow my mind in the same way. But it wasn’t because my judgment had been impaired that first time, it was because your first Chick-Fil-A sandwich is like your first kiss. You may have it again dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times in your life, but nothing will ever compare to the moment when you first experienced that completely new and sweet sensation that was unlike anything you had felt before.

Chick-Fil-A, I bestow upon you the highest honour: the coveted, prestigious, and freakishly oversized

kawhi 5Klaw

KAWHI-FIVE.

IMG_8675

TEAM CHICKEN 4EVAAAA!

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