Category Archives: Travel

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 Q4: BBQ for Breakfast

With our utter failure to find an open barbecue truck on Monday and only one morning left to spend in Austin, the idea of having to leave without even trying its world famous barbecue was becoming a real possibility. We had planned a full day of of outlet shopping for Tuesday, and while I was willing to forego that for food, Matt was not and as desperate as I was, I wasn’t prepared to break up our marriage over smoked brisket.

I needed to find a place where we could eat as early and as quickly as possible, which effectively meant that we were going to have to eat barbecue for breakfast but I didn’t have a problem with that.

So this was my plan: check out of our hotel and drive to the La Barbecue truck about half an hour before its opening time of 11 am, PRAY that there isn’t a line, and hopefully be finished eating by midday, leaving us plenty of time to go shopping and stick to our schedule for remainder of the day.

I woke up that morning feeling incredibly anxious. I kept on visualising driving up to the truck, seeing a ridiculously long line, and being forced to just turn around and watch my barbecue dreams slowly fade away as we drove off into the distance . . .

Luckily, the barbecue gods decided to give me a fair go that day. We arrived at La Barbecue at 10:30 am and HOORAY there was only a handful of people waiting on the picnic benches.

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This is when I started to let myself get excited.

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La Barbecue is owned and run by LeAnn Mueller, who hails from a Texan barbecue dynasty. Her brother John runs John Mueller Meat Co which is a name you’ll find alongside La Barbecue on almost every “Best BBQ” list about Texas. Mueller enlisted the expertise of pitmaster John Lewis (ex-Franklin Barbecue, nicknamed the “badass brisket boy” and now moving on to open his own restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina) and after swinging open its trailer doors in late 2012, La Barbecue very quickly become a top contender in the Austin BBQ stakes.

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I didn’t really expect such a famous food hotspot to look so… dingy. I guess all the money goes into the meats and the pitmaster’s salary.

This is the firepit trailer. It fits thirty-two briskets, twenty-four racks of beef ribs, sixteen racks of pork ribs, three whole turkey breasts, and six pork butts. Basically, an entire farm of animal carcasses (sorry vegetarians!)

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The menu is written out in marker on big sheet of butcher’s paper confirming that absolutely zero dollars are going into design and decor here. As 11am approached and a line began to form, we studied the menu and realized that our original plan of just walking up to the counter and saying “one of everything, please!” wasn’t going to work out, especially with beef ribs costing $22 + tax per pound, and each rib weighing almost 2 lbs.

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In the line there was a mix of people who were clearly tourists (couples like us who were over-excited, stressed about what to order, and taking photos all over the place), and men who were there by themselves or with a mate, with their hands in their pockets just chillin’ like they were in the line at McDonalds. The guys in front of us looked like they were local regulars so we asked them for recommendations on what to order.

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They recommended the brisket (duh) and the beef ribs, and also mentioned the sausage was pretty good. Given the cost and size of the beef rib, we decided against it since Matt and I aren’t really big beef-eaters. Matt wanted pork ribs because they’re his fave, and I wanted to try some turkey because I’m a sucker for turkey meat and I’ve never had it barbecued. As we approached the counter, they gave each person a small cube of brisket as a sample. As I bit into it, the explosion of fatty, salty, juicy, smokey flavor made me shout “OMG THIS IS SO GOOD!” so loud that Matt got upset and told me to calm down and stand further away from him.

After a lot of careful thought, this was our final order: 3/4 pound brisket, 1 pound pork ribs (Matt’s choice), 1/4 pound turkey (my choice) and 1 sausage. On the side, chipotle coleslaw and pinto beans. About fifty dollars in total, including tax.

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BEHOLD THE GLORY!

I can hear my stomach weep as I look over these photos.

We sat down at a table with, not a plate, not a platter, but a TRAY full of meat and began to eat the greasiest, most carnivorous brunch of our lives.

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The pork ribs were spice-rubbed and glazed so shiny you could almost see your face in them. The meat fell off the bone like the it didn’t want anything to do with it, and in my opinion these were the best pork ribs I’ve had in my life. Matt prefers his ribs saucier, but he still polished these off within minutes.

The turkey breast was just okay – grilled as a breast alone it didn’t have the juiciness off turkey meat bathed in butter and roasted whole for hours in the oven. It would be good in a sandwich, but by itself it was just taking up precious stomach space I needed to reserve for brisket.

Did someone say brisket?

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OH-OHHH!

These days, any old food photo is hashtag food porn, but the brisket in this picture is so fleshy and sensual that it almost makes me blush. Covered in a crusty black salt and pepper rub that fades into a scarlet smoke ring, there’s a layer of perfectly rendered fat dripping into the butcher’s paper, and the meat falls apart on impact with tray.

Brisket is not a naturally tender cut of meat (it’s a muscle that acts as a cow’s collarbone) so cooking it well is a labour of love and at La Barbecue, it spends twelve to fifteen hours in the pit. If something takes FIFTEEN hours to cook (not including the time it takes to pre-rub and rub) you can be pretty confident that the final product is worth the effort.

Smoked and slow-cooked, the flavour of the meat is as intense as you’d expect. I’ve never had beef that tasted so … beefy. It was like rehydrated black pepper jerky – which doesn’t  make it sound very delicious but if you love beef jerky as much as I do, this is a very good thing. The meat is greasy and the flavour is intense, so eating it with white bread and chipotle slaw (the slaw is really good here btw) helps keep your tastebuds from being too overwhelmed. I’m not quite caveman enough to just eat the meat by itself.

The brisket was so different from anything I’d eaten before, I loved it just for the cultural experience and bragging rights. As much as I wanted it to be the best thing I ate in Texas, that honor still belongs to (don’t judge) my Chick-Fil-A Chicken sandwich. What was even more unexpected, however, was that it wasn’t even the best thing we ate at La Barbecue. It was shockingly upstaged by something we added to our order just because it was cheap and worth a try: the Texas Hot Guts sausage.

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The sausage is bright red like a bell pepper and is so fat it looks ready to pop like a pork intestine balloon. Sausage making is a craft of its own, so even the most expert BBQ-ers outsource to professionals. But the sausage at La Barbecue is a John Lewis original. It’s built with a foundation of coarse, greasy beef and is packed with all kinds of secret spices. It is so red, hot, and salty that it was more like a juicy beef chorizo than the BBQ sausages that I’m used to. If we ever find ourselves back at La Barbecue, we won’t be there for the brisket, we’ll be stocking up on the sausages.

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So in about thirty minutes, “Omg I think we ordered too much food” turned into an empty tray of grease-soaked butcher’s paper.

We may have eaten this meal with plastic cutlery on a damp wooden picnic table, but the food was world class. Even with my limited experience, I know it’ll be a long time before we eat barbecue this excellent again. I give it four… no, five out of five NBA championship rings.

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Now we carry a little piece of Austin with us wherever we go in the pound of weight we each gained from that one meal. “See this new chin I’ve grown? Yeah, I got that all the way from Austin, Texas.”

We knew that San Antonio was way behind Austin in the Texas BBQ rankings, but we still wanted to give it a try. San Antonio BBQ isn’t really famous outside of San Antonio, so I relied on Yelp to help me find a local favorite.

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The Big Big (great name) is ranked #1 on Yelp and is located just off the highway. Unlike the cool backyard trailer of La Barbecue, this place had more of a truck driver’s diner vibe.

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With Spurs logo painted on the wall and a friendly “You deserve to eat this good” greeting us, we liked this place from the moment we walked in. Here you can buy meats by the pound or as a plate of one or two meats with two sides of your choice.

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Even though I wasn’t a HUGE fan of the brisket at La Barbecue, I can’t resist ordering the local speciality when I travel so I got the brisket again, with some pulled pork, collard greens and pinto beans. Collard greens because I saw them on Top Chef and I’ve always wondered what they tasted like. They’re mushy and gross, it turns out. Like someone stewed up some random plants from the yard because they didn’t have any other vegetables to serve with their meat.

You can see from the photo that the brisket here was no where near as glamorous as the one at La Barbecue. It was still tender, but the smoky flavor was milder which I actually quite liked. The pulled pork was just pulled pork and was not really a smart choice on my part. I should have gone for the bbq chicken.

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Matt got the pork ribs (of course), which were good but nothing particularly special. I think he enjoyed his sweet potato casserole even more than his meat.

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I got pretty excited about the bottomless styrofoam soda cups which were as big as my face (“This is SO American!”) but people tell me this isn’t actually that big haha.

We finished our plates (with the exception of the icky collard greens) but felt like something was a bit lacking. So, as fatties do, we went back to the counter and ordered some more food. Since we had such a good sausage experience in Austin, we thought we’d try the Jalapeno sausage here too.

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Really spicy and tasty, as all sausages are, but I think the hot red sausage at La Barbecue ruined us for life. Nothing will ever come close.

This was all I was meant to get but as I was waiting in line I saw all these framed newspaper clippings raving about the peach cobbler, so I thought I’d just add that to the order for dessert.

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It was good but SUPER sweet and we could only handle a few spoonfuls.

If La Barbecue is the hipster, “fine dining” version of Texas Barbecue, The Big Bib is your friendly mom and pop’s. Cheap and cheerful – the whole meal cost us about half of our tray from La Barbecue. I give it a rarely seen, very special Kawhi smile.

Kawhi Smile

And with a heavy heart, I now end the four-part saga that was my trip to Texas; a place I fell in love with so fast and deep I actually wept at San Antonio airport as we waited for our flight back home to Seoul.

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Texas: Austin, San Antonio, my Spurs, Sixth Street, the River Walk, Tex Mex, Chik-Fil-A, In-N-Out, and Barbecue – you are my new favourite. The hero of all my dreams. The place I would always rather be. I’ll miss you but I promise I’ll be back.

obfok

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