Tag Archives: food
December 2, 2009

North Korea: Dining out in Pyongyang (or the most cooking I’ve done…ever)



Dining like the Koryo kings of yesteryear in Kaesong, DPRK

Some of the most frequently asked questions about my trip to North Korea are “Was there enough food? What did you eat? How was it?” One person even asked me if there was a McDonald’s. When I replied no, there is no McDonald’s in North Korea, they were incredulous. “Really? Not even a McDonald’s?” Yes, many Americans find this hard to believe, but there are some areas of the world that remain free of the ubiquitous golden arches.

One of my favorite things about traveling is eating. I tend to walk a lot wherever I go, and thus must repeatedly gorge myself on questionable, yet delicious, street food such as shawarma served by toothless Azeri men using knives that probably haven’t been washed in several years. Or, if I’m in Tbilisi, stopping at every single cafe just so I can declare which one makes the tastiest khachapuri. But Pyongyang is not like this. There is no Michelin Guide for North Korea and you won’t find Anthony Bourdain wandering the back alleys of Pyongyang with camera crew in tow. Your eating experience in North Korea is, much like your entire itinerary, carefully planned out with no diversions or options allowed. There is no choice of dining establishments – you eat at the restaurants you are taken to. When you get to the restaurants, there are no menus to order from – you eat what is put in front of you. This was quite a departure from my usual experience.


Soju, a Korean liquor. Tasted a lot like vodka.

Our breakfast was always served in the large ballroom of our island communist resort and casino. At the center of the ballroom, laid out on tables covered in crisp white linen, was a large spread of kimchi (yes, even for breakfast), various sandwich meats, and baskets of bread. One morning a platter of donuts mysteriously appeared. Something new! And they were the worst donuts I had ever eaten – thick, and dense, with no sweetness whatsoever – but it was something different, so I gladly welcomed them.

At the far end of the room was an omelet station, where a chef wearing a surgical mask would prepare an omelet with your desired ingredients, as long as you didn’t want anything in it besides onions and tomatoes. They weren’t bad at all, but were a little undercooked. One member of our tour group tried to convince the chef to flip the omelet one more time to have it well done, but his flipping a skillet pantomime was just met with a blank stare and a few words of unintelligible Korean, so he warily accepted the undercooked omelet.

Lunches and dinners presented a bit more variety than breakfast. We often returned to the hotel for lunch, which was held in either “Restaurant No. 1″ or “Restaurant No. 2″. I much prefer this utilitarian naming convention to the ridiculous hotel restaurant names you encounter in the U.S. As if “LakeView Restaurant” is supposed to convince us that we’re not stuck in some hotel in the middle of the desert? Right.

When we weren’t at the hotel, we dined at a restaurant somewhere in Pyongyang. I don’t recall any of the names, so unfortunately cannot review each of them on Yelp, but nearly every restaurant seemed to be a replica of the others, with perhaps a slightly different decor and choice of videos playing on the TVs scattered throughout the restaurants. Our favorite was the video of soldiers and missiles parading through Kim Il-Sung Square set to a soundtrack of military music. When a waitress replaced it with a series of horrible North Korean music videos, we pleaded with her to return to the more martial fare.


Nice decor

As for the quality of the food, some of it was good, some of it was bad. Irregardless, at each meal we were served an embarrassingly large quantity of food. Just when you think you’ve finished your last course, the servers bring another one to the table, as if to say “Look! There is no food shortage here!” Of course, we weren’t fooled. They were just trying to put on a good show for the tourists, as this cornucopia is not standard throughout North Korea. In reality, North Korea suffers from severe food shortages. It is estimated that in the mid-1990s up to 1 million people died of starvation. North Korea cannot feed its population, and must rely on aid from the West. At the time of our visit, 8.7 million North Koreans, or nearly 40 percent of the population, was in urgent need of food assistance. But little of the aid delivered to North Korea actually makes it to the Korean people. Most of it is siphoned off by the military and ruling elite while the rest of the population is forced to subsist on 1-2 meals per day if they are lucky. The thought often occurred to me that the rice in my bowl was likely taken from a bag emblazoned with a U.S. flag and stamped “A gift from the American people.”

Many of our meals consisted of kimchi, rice, bread, some sort of fish swimming in a mysterious, unpalatable sauce, and a boiling pot of water commonly known as a “hot pot”. Along with the hot pot we were given a platter of raw meat, veggies, and noodles and instructed to add them to the pot at various times, but left to guess when this concoction was actually ready to be eaten. “Jesus,” I thought every time I poked at the questionable meat floating in boiling water, “I sure hope this is done.” (If you couldn’t tell already, I’m not much of a cook, and only prepare meat with my foolproof George Foreman “Champ” Grill.) Eating the actual hot pot was a feat in and of itself. We were provided with thin metal chopsticks which weren’t very conducive to grasping the slippery noodles. I often just gave up, completely demoralized at my lack of chopstick skills. Finally, the North Koreans had humiliated the American Imperialist.


Hot pot

One day, for lunch, we were served Chinese food instead of Korean food. The main course was deep fried duck (uh, I think) swimming in gallons of oil served with sides of rice and tempura fried onions, which I was drawn to immediately. Onion rings! I quickly devoured all of them.


What’s underneath the oil-soaked napkin?


Ah, fried duck

The best meal we had during our trip was at the Pyongyang No. 1 Duck Barbecue Restaurant. I’m not sure if the “No. 1″ is there to denote it from other Pyongyang Duck Barbecue Restaurants (a chain, perhaps?) or to simply declare it the best barbecue duck restaurant in Pyongyang. Regardless, it definitely served the tastiest food we had in North Korea.

We were seated in groups of 4-5 people per table. Built into the center of each table was a small gas grill, which we would soon be covering with raw duck. As with previous restaurants, the servers kept bringing us a ridiculously large amount of food. If they noticed that one of the many plates of duck on our table was half gone, they would bring out yet another full plate for our table. When we told them that we didn’t need it, as we already had plenty, they looked at us perplexedly. The BBQ sauce served with the duck was actually quite good, and the Texan at our table, who is well-acquainted with BBQ sauce, gave it his approval.

Admittedly, by our third day in Pyongyang, visions of Taco Bell Grilled Stuft Burritos began swimming through my head. Oh god, if only I could get some nacho cheese and sour cream. And maybe one of those caramel empanadas. Or a slice of pecan pie topped with vanilla ice cream. I think I saw a Dairy Queen in Beijing. We’ll be there in a couple of days. Thankfully, as a stop gap measure, I had brought along plenty of snacks. I have this habit of loading my backpack with beef jerky, trail mix, and Snickers bars whenever I travel to a communist or formerly communist country. It dates back to my first trip abroad in 2002, when I studied abroad in Russia for a summer and my mom, apparently under the impression that Russia a) had no food; or b) had food, but you would have stand in line for hours to get it, filled my luggage with these items. Of course, I discovered upon arriving in Russia that there was plenty of food, no lines, and you could even buy a Snickers bar there. Nevertheless, I brought all of those snacks with me to North Korea, and was very glad that I did. There are no Snickers for sale in North Korea.

All photos are here.


May 4, 2009

Costa Rica: The food. Oh, the food.


As a warning, you probably shouldn’t view this post if you are extremely hungry due to all the gratuitous food photos.

I can’t recall having a single bad meal in Costa Rica. We ate a lot of meat, seafood, plantains, guacamole, rice and beans (I never thought of rice and beans as a breakfast dish, but it was surprisingly good), and grilled veggies. And, of course, drank a lot of beer. Luckily, we met some fellow WRSC guests who had been to WRSC the previous year and took us to some great (and cheap) restaurants in Tamarindo.


Pick your steak from the counter display and these guys grill it for you. Biggest filet mignon I’ve ever had.


Stuffed. We also had the entire restaurant to ourselves.

The next place we went to was Pedro’s, a small shack located on the beach (my previous post had a photo of it during the daytime). I opted for the jumbo shrimp, caught that day, and then breaded.


Rian’s seafood platter


Another meal at El Sabor de la Vida, across the street from WRSC:


I had the shrimp plate (by now you have already figured out that I love shrimp) and it was probably around $5.


The next day, Andrew bought some fish and shrimp from fishermen while he was out on a surf trip. He dropped them off at El Sabor de la Vida and the woman there grilled them, made ceviche, and put on an amazing spread with sides of guacamole, chips, plantains, and rice. For all of this, she charged us about $4 per person. Needless to say, we gave her a very nice tip.


December 1, 2008

Friday’s lunch

in-n-out_number_1.jpg

in-n-out_number_1.jpg

I couldn’t go to California for Thanksgiving and not have In-N-Out, could I?

For Saturday’s dinner, we went to Las Casuelas Nuevas with a dozen or so friends and family members. I had a gigantic margarita, freshly made guacamole, my usual beef taco and cheese enchilada dish, and deep-fried ice cream for dessert. Whenever I leave California I feel like I need to go to detox for overdosing on food.

April 14, 2008

They might stage an intervention

I am flying out to San Antonio tomorrow for work. Again, just doing my part to ensure America’s energy needs are met. My parents are meeting me in San Antonio over the weekend, as they’ve never been there and I think they will enjoy the city. I told my mom I would be done with the meetings around noon on Friday, just in time for lunch. Her response?

We will not be eating any of those mega portions of disgusting Texas food, especially the chicken fried bacon dipped in gravy. You are way out of control!

Personally, I still think I have a ways to go before I hit rock bottom.

April 10, 2008

Eating like a Texan, part II: Chicken fried bacon roadtrip

Perhaps I should preface this entry with an email I received from my mom in regards to my Sunday night dinner in Houston:

Subject: Texas food

Lindsay,

Are you nuts! If you move to Texas, I hope you don’t eat like that all the time. You will be huge, not to mention your arteries clogged.

[...]

Love,
Mom

Mom, as a warning, you might want to stop reading this post now.

When I go to Houston, our meetings are occasionally held at the IAH airport Marriott. It’s convenient; your plane lands, you grab your luggage, hop on the mini subway that runs between the terminals, and shortly thereafter find yourself at the hotel. You have breakfast at the hotel, meetings at the hotel, lunch at the hotel, and, since there are no restaurants within walking distance of IAH, dinner at the hotel. The end result is that for a day and a half you exist in this airport/hotel bubble and never actually once step outside (although with Houston’s poor air quality, that’s probably a good thing).

This most recent trip to Houston, however, involved a roadtrip to Snook, Texas, a small town (population 568) located 100 miles northwest of Houston. I went to Snook with two highly entertaining engineers/bacon aficionados: my boss, and Dave, one of our Houston-based member company guys who heard about a restaurant in Snook and its holy grail of bacon several months prior to our trip. The drive didn’t take very long at all, and the countryside was actually quite beautiful. Trees, farms, cows, bluebonnets, that sort of stuff.

Still, I know what you’re thinking. Lindsay, dude, WTF? Why would you drive 200 miles roundtrip, to the middle of nowhere, for dinner? Simple: chicken fried bacon. Let me just emphasize this one more time: CHICKEN. FRIED. BACON.

The restaurant that serves this delicious, artery-clogging appetizer is Sodolak’s Original Country Inn, a small establishment where the walls are lined with firefighter gear and the borders of the menus feature ads for funeral homes and gun stores. The staff is friendly (it is Texas, after all), some of the locals are dressed in cowboy boots and hats (again, Texas), and stacks of official Sodolak’s Original Country Inn t-shirts and camouflage hats are piled next to the cash register.

We ordered three servings of Sodolak’s infamous appetizer. Chicken fried bacon, as you’ve likely already gathered, consists of long strips of bacon coated in chicken fried steak batter, deep fried, and served with a generous side of cream gravy. It was amazingly delicious, and the fried consistency was perfect (i.e., not too overbearingly thick.)

In addition to the chicken fried bacon, we each had a filet mignon, served with a baked potato, Texas toast, and a side salad that was drowning in ranch dressing (as it should be). For a brief five seconds, I had considered ordering chicken fried steak, but figured that would be pretty intense, especially after the chicken fried bacon. You may not believe this, but even I have limits.

So was Sodolak’s worth the 200 mile trip? Yeah, most definitely. I have already found myself craving chicken fried bacon and will be visiting Sodolak’s again after I move to Houston (and no, Mom, I won’t be eating chicken fried bacon everyday, alright?).

For more on Sodolak’s and chicken fried bacon, check out this YouTube video from Texas Country Reporter:

April 7, 2008

Eating like a Texan

I am in Houston for work, but met up with some Cindy and Ann for dinner tonight. We ate at Goode Company BBQ on Kirby Drive. It’s a really chill place where you grab a beer from a huge cooler, order your food cafeteria style, and then take your tray outside to the long wooden tables. I had a delicious BBQ beef brisket po’boy, jambalaya texana, Shiner Bock, and a Saint Arnold’s root beer. The best part about this place, though, is that there is a gigantic armadillo statue, complete with glowing eyes and longhorns, directly across the parking lot. You really cannot explain such things, as it’s to be expected in Texas.

Following dinner, we hit up House of Pies, where I had a slice of “Texas” pecan pie a la mode (of course).

And that’s one of the good things about Houston – it’s easy to find good and cheap food throughout this city.

February 24, 2008

In-N-Out University

In-N-Out University in Baldwin Park

Depending on my GMAT score, this might be where I end up getting my MBA. And ya know, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

In-N-Out University in Baldwin Park
In-N-Out University in Baldwin Park

The In-N-Out University, according to the company’s website, is “where new managers are trained and the In-N-Out formula for success is consistently reinforced.”

I snapped this photo while on a traditional In-N-Out run after being picked up from Ontario airport. The In-N-Out University is located at 13850 Francisquito Ave. in Baldwin Park, the city where In-N-Out Burger was born.

Also, if you stop at the Baldwin Park location, there is a company store located in the same building as the “university.” Here, you can buy all the In-N-Out merchandise that your heart desires, including t-shirts, Fossil watches, beach towels, and Christmas ornaments. I’m not even going to tell you how much stuff I bought there.

Oh, and after checking the “new items” section on the website, you can now buy flip-flops:

in-n-out_flip-flops.jpg

Dudes, as a reminder, my birthday is coming up in a few months.

February 21, 2008

Pink’s Hot Dogs

Pink

Stealing a page from Ann’s new blog, I’m going to start posting random photos that I’ve taken over the years and write a short explanation about them. The photo might be of something historical or just plain ridiculous, but will usually be related to somewhere that I’ve traveled.

Pink's hot dogs sign

I took this photo a few months ago while I was in Los Angeles. Pink’s Hot Dog stand, located on N. La Brea Boulevard in Hollywood, claims to be the “Home of the World’s Best Chili Dog”. Not having taste tested every single chili dog in the world, I cannot vouch for the authenticity of this claim, but I will say that Pink’s does make a damn good hot dog. Their menu is pretty eclectic, featuring hot dogs topped with everything from guacamole to BBQ sauce and onion rings. Ryan and I first visited Pink’s back in 2005, when we gorged ourselves on hot dogs after visiting a Soviet submarine in Long Beach. During my most recent trip, I opted for the “Today Show Dog” – two hot dogs in one bun topped with mustard, onions, chili, cheese, and guacamole (and keep in mind that for lunch I had a double double and fries from In-N-Out. Yes, I am well aware that a visit to the cardiologist is in my future).

Pink's hot dogs

If you find yourself in Los Angeles and craving a hot dog, I highly recommend you stop by Pink’s. The line tends to get long, but it’s worth the wait.

December 29, 2007

Hawaiian breakfast



Hawaiian breakfast, originally uploaded by lfincher.

Loco Moco (white rice topped with a hamburger patty, eggs, and brown gravy), pineapple, and a pineapple daiquiri.

July 13, 2003

That Georgia’s always on my mind…

This was definitely a good weekend.  On Friday my class got out at 1pm (instead of 3pm like it usually does).  After class we went to a place called Stockmann’s – it’s kind of like Harrod’s of London, but not as large.  Nonetheless, it is definitely a place where only “New Russians” and expats shop.  We were mainly interested in the grocery store, which stocks Western delicacies such as Goldfish crackers and Pace Picante Salsa.  The grocery prices aren’t too bad…they are about what you would pay in the US, but the other goods are extremely overpriced.  We wanted to buy a spatula for pancakes, but there was no way in hell we were going to pay $40 for it.  After Stockmann’s we had dinner at TGI Friday’s (turns out there is a small one located within walking distance from our dorm).  I had the chicken tenders…very tasty.  All of the waiters spoke English, which was a plus, and also made us wonder if it was some sort of requirement that TGI Friday’s has.

On Saturday we went to Tsaritsyno Park, the site of a former palace that belonged to Catherine the Great.  It was never completed though, and was just left to the elements, so all that remains is the shell of the palace.  There is a large lake there, so Liz, Luke, Chris, and I rented a 4 person rowboat and went out on the lake for an hour.  The boat was uhhh…well, it didn’t tip over…I’m not quite sure it would pass a US Coast Guard check, though.  We docked the boat just in time, though, as it started raining extremely hard (it’s been doing that a lot lately).  I definitely didn’t want to be out on the lake in that boat during a rainstorm.  We ran for cover and ended up at this tent outside a church that was selling icons, bibles, etc.  I bought a cool looking icon, and the lady that was selling them told us that some guy started a Russian monastery in California.  Crazy…I’ll have to look that one up when I get back home.  Chris was sitting under an awning of the church and a priest came out and started yelling at him.  Then the militsia came over to Chris and asked for his documents.  We went over there to see what was going on, and when the militsia asked where we were from we told them the USA and they said “Oh, fine” and left us alone.  I didn’t expect they would just leave us alone like that, but hey, I’m not complaining.  Nonetheless, Chris has the honor of being the first in our group to be hassled by the militsia.

On the metro leaving the park I was sitting on the end of the bench in the middle of the car when I looked down and saw a large duffle bag just sitting there…no one around it or anything…and there were only a few people on the car, since our stop was pretty far out from the city center.  When we transferred trains Luke told a metro worker and she started yelling at some guy on the phone to stop the train at the next stop and check the bag.  Some moron probably just forgot his bag on the train.  They have been pretty conscientous about security due to the current suicide bombers at the concert and Tverskaya Street (and the metro car bombings a few years ago).

We ate at the Georgian restaurant again…the food is so incredible (the Georgians call their cuisine “table scraps from heaven.”)  I’d like to go to Georgia someday…seems like an interesting place.  Back at the dorm we had cake and ice cream because it was Luke’s birthday.

Today we went to Victory Park, which has a huge monument and museum dedicated to WW2.  We were going to check out the outdoor artillery and fortifications exhibit, but it started raining very very hard…the rain here is insane.  Now I gotta go back to my dorm and study Russian…class tomorrow!