Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Korean Food in Central America

Bamchan in San Salvador
This is the second part of my blog on Asian food in Latin America. I was deriding the quality of sushi in these parts and wanted to go catch my own fish. Dan churning up the water in his fishing boat 20 miles off the coast of El Salvador.

Went out with my friend Dan on his nice little boat. About five miles out of Acajutla port, he tells me to take the wheel ... fun but a bit nerve wracking since we were really booting along, looking for drifting wood (where the fish congregate) and I didn’t want to run over some submerged tree or run over one of the many many sea turtles we saw out there. Alas, 5 hours later and going out as far as 20 miles, we didn’t catch anything.

Sushi Handrolls at Home

Had a sushi party at the house for MJ’s 25th birthday. Invited about a dozen people and had about 10 show up. Again, I didn’t want to risk raw fish but I think I may be overly paranoid. The fish is, in fact, iced when it is caught (all the small fishing boats going out from Acajutla put ice in their holds) so I should just suck it up and buy some. I did get some very nice nice fresh shrimp at the Mercado Antiguo Cuscutlan from the niece of Maurita, the woman at whose big food stand I eat at once a week. I’ll ask the niece the next time I see her and hope she can assure me that the fish is super fresh. I used some Scottish smoked salmon from Pricesmart which is fine albeit a bit salty. That and very nice creamy avocado, cucumbers, tamago (egg), and red peppers made for very nice hand rolls ... and the rice worked out pretty well.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the food very much although I think they were more used to the typical salmon and tuna sushi and "creative" rolls. Oh, and we started with bacon wrapped figs (canned and in syrup but usable) with a mascarpone dip and veggies with an awesome dip that Nadia (visiting from Owen Sound) made for us with mayo, sour cream, chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, and green onions. Went to Club Nvy where the poorly dressed doorman looked me up and down and said "Members only". Had to fake being friends with the owner to get in but we did and ended up in the VIP room and drank two bottles of Absolut ... ouch! And tacos and burritos at 4 in the morning.

Yeah Baby ... Nad and me in the VIP lounge.

So this was okay sushi and I am certainly nowhere near even being a kitchen helper in a good sushi restaurant although I am probably close to the level of a mall or supermarket sushi kiosk.

More Soju? Yes please!

While the lack of good/great sushi in Latin America may be lamentable, the Korean food rocks! I have had great Korean in Panama and there are two excellent places here in San Salvador. Pabelion Coreano is my favourite place and has gas cookers on the tables.

As I think I mentioned earlier, sushi is trendy and people will say they like it even though they may only like the idea of it (or maybe just funny rolls with no raw fish and very little nori). The Korean food here is decidedly not trendy and the three restaurants I have eaten at were owned by Koreans with Korean cooks serving to mostly Korean clients.

Mmmm, the porky goodness of Sam-gyup-sal.

The Pabelion has cold Soju for $7 a bottle and lots of delicious bam chan. We usually get the bulgogee, the sam gyup sal, and a few spicy soups. The grilled meats come with big chunks of raw garlic and jalapeno peppers ... which I find a lot hotter than the standard Korean green chillis.

Note the chunks of garlic and jalapeno rings behind the pork ... sesame oil and ko-chu-chang dip

If I get carried away, I’ll eat all the jalapenos on the table and will be up all night with a burning stomach ... but it is usually worth it. The also put out the cold face cloth in case you get carried away with the peppers and it is nice on a hot evening.

BBQ Chicken ... Korean style.

MJ is fond of the spicy fried bbq chicken and the bi-bim-bop is good. They have a lot of other stuff on the menu but we really like our regular stuff so I haven’t been that adventurous.

And they have these amazing frozen melon flavoured popsicles from Korea ... don’t know how they can ship frozen stuff from Korea to Guatemala to San Salvador but it is pretty impressive.

The restaurant also sells Korean food, a lot of it purchased in Guatemala City and brought over here. I usually get my staples in Toronto but I do buy the kimchee and tofu at the restaurant. The owner Alex is very hospitable as is the waitress there.

U-kae-jang and more soju

What else can I say? You can smoke cigs or cigars there, they have other kinds of Korean liquor, they serve sashimi, and it is full of old Korean golfers on Sunday night (I know as I saw them on the golf course earlier that day ... which must make me an old Korean golfer too).

Fatima and Nad enjoying the Bamcham

We usually have some bottles of the straight Soju and do a pitcher of lemon Soju. As far as I know, this is only a Toronto/Korean thing. You get a small pitcher full of ice, add the juice of 2-3 fresh limes, add the Soju and top it off with Sprite and serve in the small glasses. A refreshing beverage!

I usually go with a bag of cigars and the last time I was there, Alex asked if one of his Korean friends could have a cigar. Then a woman grabbed me and asked me if I was married. I asked her if she had a single daughter and she said she did so I said I was married. Then tow others asked for cigars including one woman who wanted a big one ... I was too drunk and polite to say no.

So I have only tried Korean food in Panama and El Salvador but I'll try to get to a place in Guatemala City and give you a report on that. For now, I can say that it is some of the best Asian food in the region and certainly some of the most authentic. And gotta love that cheap Soju.

1 comment:

  1. hello. im am traveling to el salvador next month becasue my fiance is being deported there. and i was wondering if you could give me some tips on the airport and immigration and customs? my email is or AIM bwinlove8