Musings: 2015 Resolutions, Fish, Home Parties, and TripAdvisor Guides

Costco Sushi and Frozen Mackerels (Or, Ways I'm Trying to Eat More Fish in 2015)

It's another new year which means a lot of us are attempting to make changes in our lifestyle including how we eat. Earlier on in the year, as I was reflecting on different aspects of my life, I started thinking about my diet. At first I was quite proud of how I was eating- I mean my day-to-day diet is generally healthy and I try and pack in things like whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruit on a daily basis and there are days I forego meat for other vegetarian sources of protein while I generally skip out on the fried food, sweets, and sugared drinks. So naturally, I was feeling pretty good regarding that area of life.

But then I realized it's not only about looking at what you can eliminate from your diet- when making nutrition-related resolutions- but also what you can add. And in that aspect, I knew there was one group where I was woefully lacking in my diet: fish. 

I think I've made it pretty clear on previous posts here that I haven't been on best relations with fish even from a young age. My mom had to put in a lot of effort to get me to even take a bite of any fish and it wasn't until many years later (around when I came to Korea) that my taste buds began familiarizing and appreciating little nemo and his pals. It's commonly known now though that fish is a very important part of one's diet and is even thought to be one of the keys to the long life spans of folks like our neighboring Okiinawans. So I realized I needed to include more of it in my diet as I'm pretty sure I was getting my fish intake only about once or twice a month!

I guess the biggest barrier that was preventing me from eating fish at home was that it's such a hassle to prepare and cook fish at home, not to mention it often leaves behind a stink. And I'm the kind of weirdly-obsessed-about-smells kind of guy.So I've been trying to research some ways to get some more fish in me without the hassle or paying an arm and a leg for it and here are some methods of success I've found
  • Prepped and cleaned frozen mackerel

Fish, and in particular oilier fish, are touted as having a lot of healthy benefits but who likes cleaning out and gutting a whole fish at home? While surfing online I came across some frozen prepped and cleaned Norwegian mackerel fillets and got curious. I was skeptical at first but after reading the positive reviews I knew I didn't have much to lose- especially at the low price of roughly 12,000 won (including S&H) for 1kg of fillets. 

The fillet came frozen and packed with plenty of ice packs to keep them from spoiling. There were about 10 fillet in all which came vacuum packed and ready to go. The ones I ordered were a special bokbunja kind (mountain berries/black berries) but I definitely wouldn't have been able to tell from either taste or looks. And with less than 0.4% of it in the fillet I doubt anyone else would either.

The back of each fillet seal comes with a mark of where the fish came from, where it was processed, and an expiration date. Each pack includes one large fillet that's been gutted and cleaned so they are good to cook right away with no other preparation needed.

I've experimented with them a few times in cooking now from kimchi jjim (braised kimchi and mackerel) to goeungeo jorim (braised mackerel) but I've found that I enjoy them best lightly seasoned and simply roasted. I was worried about the smell they could make in the house but I found some tips online which proved helpful- take a shallow pan with a lid and lay a sheet or two of some butcher paper or roasting paper (no oils needed!) and then place your seasoned fillet (I just added some salt, pepper, and a few shakes of some dried herbs) on top. Add a few lemon slices if you want on top of the fillet and then close the lid on the pan and cook for a few minutes until they're golden, making sure to cook both sides.

The result is a very simple, no-smell, no-mess cooked fish that's on the table in just minutes. The lid helps keep the fish meat moist and minimizes any odors while cleanup is easy as you just need to throw away the butcher paper and maybe wash the pan lid.

Though the main bones have been removed, there are still a few smaller bones near the top part of the fish meat which you'll have to remove while eating but that's a small effort I say in comparison to having deboned an entire mackerel yourself!

Really spectacular way to get your fish intake in such an easy and tasty way with some rice and side dishes! You can buy similar frozen and prepped fillets online in Korea from social commerce sites to a simple search on Naver. They freeze and store well too so be sure to give them a try!
  • Costco's Sushi
Cooked fish restaurants, such as Gosami, are generally inexpensive to eat out at but what about those days you want to go out for some sushi? Getting some good, fresh sushi in Korea isn't too difficult actually as long as you're willing to pay. Oddly, I've been in a major sushi craving lately which hasn't shaken off despite it having lingered for a few weeks now and I was thinking I needed to do a splurge visit soon to take care of my sushi craving until recently, while visiting the store of AMURRRCA, I mean Costco, I was reminded that Korea's Costco branches carry sushi platters and I knew I had to give it a shot. I remember on my first visit to a Korean Costco, I was surprised that they'd dedicate an entire corner to sushi but my skepticism kept me from giving it a shot until my most visit.

The sushi corner of most Korean Costco branches are usually located right by the seafood section. There's usually a crowd huddled around the the sushi trays while just behind the refrigerated displays you can see, behind the large window, a row of workers assembling the sushi as fast as they can to meet the demand. Because of their convenience and popularity, it's not at all unusual to see folks carry their bought sushi trays to the chaotic dining areas of Korean Costcos where they'll gorge on a rather unusual feast of Costco sushi, hot dogs, pizzas, and such.

At the Costco I frequent (Yangjae) there are four different types of sushi trays- 3 regular sized trays and 1 party-sized tray- and all vary in sushi types and price.The cheapest of the bunch is priced at 9,990 won with the sushi makeup being salmon, halibut, shrimp, and flying fish roe. The next one is priced at 13,990 won and includes tuna, eel, salmon roe, and salmon. The priciest of the regular sized trays is 19,990 won which includes halibut, salmon, shrimp, and uni [urchin]. Each of the regular trays will have about 20 pieces of sushi. Also on hand is a party-size tray which is pretty massive at 56 pieces and includes all the Costco sushi offerings (salmon, shrimp, tuna, eel, flying fish roe, etc), but also two different types of sushi rolls (I think a California roll and some other kind) for only 29,990 won. I'm not certain but the party size trays seem to be limited in either the numbers they sell or locations they sell as I didn't see them on my recent visit to the Yangjae Costco.

Each sushi tray has a clear time stamp of not only the day but the time the tray was prepared to guarantee they are fresh as can be in the Costco store. A tray will also include within it soy sauce, wasabi, and gari (pickled ginger) which all come in tear away sealed packages.

After easily convincing the roommate into sharing a sushi feast, we had the task of having to settle on which two trays to bring home as the party tray (unfortunately) was nowhere to be seen. Though the tuna and eel offerings in the mid-priced tray was enticing, neither of us were big fans of salmon roe and I had a mean hankering for uni so we settled on the 19,990 won tray and the cheapest 9,990 won tray and we bought our prizes home.

(9,990 won - salmon, halibut, shrimp, flying fish roe)

(19,990 won - halibut, salmon, shrimp, uni [urchin])

For the most part, you can definitely count on Costco for quality and its sushi was no exception. From right off the bat, the sushi pieces had a nice gleam to it with nothing looking dull in color or form. And definitely no fishy or off-smells when the tray was opened.

The cuts of fish were generous in size with about a cm in thickness making it a nice ratio for the rice which wasn't packed too tightly or loosely and just the right edge of sweet, salty, and tartness to complement the fish. With the exception of one of the uni pieces, all the sushi tasted perfectly fine and without any seafoody smell or taste.

The gari (pickled ginger) was the only major letdown of the entire thing. Having been sealed away for however long in their packs, they were limp and soggy in texture which is unfortunate as God knows how much I love gari when eating sushi! We can't have it all though, I suppose.

Obviously we aren't talking anything near Jiro-quality sushi here but the sushi from here is definitely a step above many perfectly fine mid-tier sushi joints in Seoul. The biggest factor going for the sushi trays from Costco is that they are definitely an economical choice to get a quick sushi fix in. 30,000 won for a full quality sushi meal for two (we even had a few pieces leftover for the next day after eating our heart's content) is definitely hard to come by so I definitely give the Costco sushi a thumbs up to treat yourself without having to spend an arm and a leg!

Another New Year Resolution- Playing Host and Sharing Company and Food

Another new determination I've made with food in the new year is more of a social one. Although hosting friends or guests over in one's home isn't uncommon in the States, it's decidedly less so in Korea where modern social and cultural norms eschews home visits in favor of a nice, "premium" restaurant and meal.

As much as everyone loves a good meal out, I think there's something about the intimacy of inviting someone to your home for a home-cooked meal that no restaurant in the world can emulate. By opening your home, your private space, to someone you love it goes beyond a sharing of time together but a deliberate act of welcoming that person into a deeply and personally sacred ground.

Which is why I decided this year to try and make it a monthly habit to invite a friend or two over to share a simple meal and personal time with. Treating someone out is easy but preparing your home and preparing a meal specifically in mind for someone else is a purposeful act of appreciation and love, even if it takes effort and time and I think those are things woefully lacking in today's modern, adult world.

There's no particular reason behind how I want to invite someone- maybe a friend is going through a tough time, maybe a friend's birthday is around the corner, or maybe he or she is just in need of some catch up time- but this little resolution is just a way to hopefully foster closer friendship and better expression of gratitude in this new year. And what better way through that then with food? 

So to all my good buddies around, I hope to see you over at mi casa sometime soon as I attempt to invite more of you guys over to our dining table :)

My TripAdvisor Guides for Seoul Are All Finally Live!

Lastly, this is a bit of shameless plug for me but it's a project I'm very proud to share. I shared this already on my personal SNS so I apologize to my friends there for the repetition but I just wanted to get it out there to the readers on here.

A few months ago, my friend Chris and I were commissioned to write a series of themed guides for TripAdvisor on Seoul. Instead of a generic list of places to visit, the purpose of the guides were to tailor them towards specific groups and interests such as families, shoppers, couples, outdoor lovers, etc.

It was a fun project to work on personally although with a lot of pressure. The "best food in Seoul", in particular, was challenging to compile as I wanted it to be a good general overview of different kinds of food in Seoul while factoring in aspects such as easy access for first time visitors and proximity to popular neighborhoods (so that one didn't need to go out to a remote and far-off location for a restaurant). My personal favorite though is the "Seoul off the beaten path" guide as it highlights some of the stops and sights that are often overlooked or not mentioned in a most guides.

In any case, you can check them all out by clicking here. So share them with your friends, family, or whoever you know that's coming through Seoul and be sure to click the "thumbs up" while scrolling through each guide please! :)

Random Food Links

Men who consume spicy food have more testosterone apparently

The weird and wonderful world of pizza in Korea

For those who are dieting in the new year but craving certain food- this Instagram account will maybe make you think twice about eating by showing how much exercise you'd need to do to burn the calories of certain foods.

Starbucks expanding its Reserve roasterias in the US to compete with high end coffee shops. (We have 5 or so in Korea and I can say the coffee actually is just so-so).

Studies have shown that being slightly tipsy can boost creativity. The new Problem Sover beer is designed to help with just that.

The explosive growth of craft beer in Korea (featuring spots all around my neighborhood!)

The latest fad in Japan- cotton spinning bars. Oh Japan, you never fail to astound with what unique way you'll bounce next :)

For those in the States, if you wondered why chestnuts are so expensive, it's apparently because most of the American chestnut trees have been wiped out. According to facts from the article, Korea is also the 2nd top producer of chestnuts in the world (after China)!

How music can affect your sense of taste. Fascinating!

5 comfort foods that are actually good for you

7 foods scientifically proven to increase happiness :)

8 food hacks to help your health. (Ginger after a workout???)

The 7 places you need to eat at Gwangjang Market (Korean article)

Did you know the iron in your fortified cereal can be attracted by a strong magnet?

Terrible, no good year for global olive crops which will probably mean a bump in prices for olive oil next year...

Things you probably never knew about McDonalds (1.8 million workers worldwide!)

For those who have trouble sleeping like me- 10 great foods to help you fall asleep

18 food instagram accounts to make you drool

Rogue Brewery has released a Sriracha Stout Beer. Is it bad I want to try?

Because I'm a geeky sucker for history... an extremely detailed look at how people ate in Tudor-era England

14 foods you've been storing wrong. (Who would have thought cucumbers shouldn't go in the fridge...?)

23 best travel snack foods to make

31 recipes using eggs because I love eggs.

21 appetizers that are 3 ingredients or less