07 October 2010

First Korean Dinners

Written on 2 October.
The last few days have been extremely disappointing in the culinary areas of my life. Limited resources, in terms of finances, space, time and equipment, have given us meals with, for example, frozen ready-made Korean dumplings, and pasta sauce from a jar. A jar! As well as embarrassing, that experience was quite strange: the inconspicuous-looking garlic and onion tomato pasta sauce ended up being unbelievably spicy, even though I'd only added a tiny bit of chilli. Korean food is spicy. It turns out that they even like their Western food hot.

We've eaten out once – and again, this is going to disappoint – at a Korean panini place where the menu was all in English. The boyfriend had a salsa chicken panini and I had a double cheese panini. Both were very nice, with lashings of wholegrain mustard, which was unexpected but delicious. It might take a few days before we have enough time, money, and confident Korean (or at least confidence in the phrasebook) before we try anything more adventurous.

So far the two of us have experienced a couple of food markets (hundreds of street corners are home to Korean grandmothers squatting for hours trying to sell their home-grown vegetables) and explored three supermarkets. The selection, particularly of fresh cheap vegetables, is wonderful: squash and sweet potatoes are to be found everywhere. Fruit is more of a problem, mostly because much of it is unrecognisable to our sadly untrained eyes. Tofu is abundant – I will have Tom eating it by the end of the year! – as is fish, with which I don't believe I'll be so lucky. Chicken is cheap, the pork we've seen is prohibitively expensive, and beef is cheaper than it is in Europe but still not so much so that we'll be consuming much of it. As far as we can tell, the only passata-type stuff comes in tins the size of a person's head. We'll have to figure out how to keep one of those without it going mouldy before we actually buy one.

Our kitchen is narrow, and lacking in several things: workspace, for one, and an oven, for another. However, what we do have is a two-burner gas stove, an extra long sink, a full-sized fridge with freezer, a microwave, and – a pantry! A door off the kitchen leads into a cool area which currently houses tins and packets (as well as being a convenient place for the hoover). The pantry was where we discovered that we live a very quick, cheap taxi ride away from a real, honest-to-goodness Tesco, thanks to the labels. (For more on this, see my travel blog here.) We explored the shop on Saturday, which was our third anniversary, and treated ourselves to some of our favourite foods. Sadly we were unable to find frozen vegetables, and fresh vegetables were out of the question as buying those would have meant we were unable to buy wine. A couple has to have their priorities, you know.

It ended up as a very simple dinner – I can't emphasize how simple it was – but Tom found it absolutely delicious. I very much enjoyed it, but found the mash a little dry, so added extra butter.

Anniversary Steak with Sweet Potato Mash
Serves 2.

2 beef steaks
4 or 5 medium-sized sweet potatoes

We peeled, chopped, and boiled the sweet potatoes in salted water for about fifteen minutes, until they were very soft and easily penetrated with a fork. The potatoes were drained.
Meanwhile, the raw steaks were rubbed with oil, salt and pepper before being placed into a hot, dry pan for 3-4 minutes.
The potatoes were mashed with plenty of milk, a few teaspoons of butter, and lots of salt and pepper before being served.
The steaks were flipped, cooked for another 3-4 minutes, and rested briefly before being served rare.

And that was it!