Friday, November 28, 2014

Grub Club: London Pub

Yeah, yeah, I know I've been derelict in my duties.  Blame it on my Season and the fact that I haven't done anything very exciting lately - other than teaching, fundraising, and getting creative with the occasional morning announcement.  The changing of the guard, so to speak, has been harder on me this year than it has in many years, so even though it only got properly cold (and I mean that as a Mongolian now instead of someone from America's Heartland) this last week, I've been up and down for a couple of months now.  But time keeps marching on, so we've only got two weeks left til Christmas break, and I'm pretty sure eventually I'll make it out on the other side into spring.

TL; DR:  I'm depressed because it's winter, but eventually I'll get over it.

Two weeks ago was supposed to be Engrish's pick, but she had to keep up her celebrity status by visiting with friends from the UK.  Blondie, Champ, Lil' Miss Catwalk and I responded by visiting the UK via London Pub.  We've been there before, a few times by now, and originally it was one of Blondie's picks, back when we were trying and failing to get started again.  It's one of the better choices that opened up in Buddha Vista up here on the hill last spring.
That first time (and every time since) I ordered the...chicken sandwich thingy.  Sorry, I don't remember what it's actually called.  Succulent and savory, it's only flaw is the grilled outside.  I'm not a big fan of overly crunchy bread unless it's a crouton, but my chicken sammich is deeeelish.
Champ went for a burger.  For some reason, some sandwiches come with fries and others come with those Lincoln-log potatoes.  Apparently they still tasted good, but were too much potato for me. 
And these were definitely too much!  Who purposely orders something like this?  My friends, that's who.  These are the jacket potatoes.  They seem exactly like something the British would come up with.
Finally, there was Blondie's pizza.  I'm always wary of pub pizza, particularly in Mongolia where we don't understand that spam is not pepperoni.  However, Blondie's margherita pizza had a light tender crust and was just oozing with cheese - in short, it was a little slice of Italy. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Grub Club: Seoul Restaurant

I don't know what it is (a longing for my second home, perhaps?  Or maybe just the deeply ingrained belief that Korean food makes me skinny?), but I've been eating a lot of Korean food this fall.  Thus, it makes sense that we'd end up at a Korean restaurant for my first successful Grub Club pick of the school year.

Seoul Restaurant is not just any Korean restaurant, though - it was the #1 Korean place as chosen by UB Foodies, and the 12th restaurant out of 169 UB restaurants on TripAdvisor.  It is on the grounds of the Children's Park, just after Tumen Ekh, in an unassuming round building.

We were wowed from the beginning by the decor.  The central area of the restaurant is decorated in cool light and wedding palace grandeur, not to mention lots of naked people - I was a particular fan of the diving naked men fountain on the walls as you go up the stairs.  There's also a more rustic, hunting lodge seating area around the outside front, with a moose mounted on the wall at one end and a deer at the other, grills if you're there for galbi (we weren't), and much warmer light.
Once we were seated (at a table by a glass window that looked into the interior of the restaurant, where a young-ish couple sat and made googly eyes at each other for part of our meal), we were presented with five menus.  FIVE.  Seoul offers not only Korean but Chinese, Japanese, Western, and threw in a separate menu for side dishes.  The side dishes are also listed on the corresponding menus, so I had to wonder exactly why they needed their own menu, but hey, it is a Korean restaurant, and we all know how Koreans feel about the number 4, right?*
I was super excited to see one of my favorite anju (drinking snacks) on said side menu - dubu kimchi.  It's firm tofu, sliced and steamed, served with a fry-up of kimchi, peppers, and pork.  I ordered it for everyone but ended up eating most of it myself (everyone liked it - I was just greedy and scarfed most of it down myself, even before I could get a photo).
Blondie has a broccoli addiction, so this dish off the Chinese menu was right up her alley, in spite of the mushrooms in it.  She shared this one and the next with Engrish.
I sniped a bite of their crispy chicken dish, and it was perfection.  A lot of times when you order Chinese chicken it is a fatty mess, or filled with little bits of bone, so you can't just strap it on like a feedbag (one of Blondie's sayings, for those of you wondering).  The crispy chicken, though, was exactly what you would dream it to be - lots of savory little bites of chicken wrapped up in crunchy goodness.  Her dining experience was so good that Blondie gave me 10's across the board.
I also ordered the fried mandu and dolsot bibimbap (not pictured).  The mandu were tasty, but just a little too big.  The bibimbap...well, it was just okay.  I gave the food a 9, thanks to the bibimbap - I've had better, even here.  Champ and Lil' Miss Catwalk also ordered Korean food - ramyeon and kimbap for the former and bulgogi for the latter - and they seemed to like it alright, but were not as effusive as me and Blondie.  At any rate, it was a delicious meal and I can understand why Seoul ranks as highly as it does.  And now - off to brave the Black Market in search of silk and coffee cups.

*It's bad luck.  The word for death sounds very similar to the word for 4.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Beginner's Guide to Ger Camp

I am attempting to be all sorts of adult tonight, and let me tell you, it is exhausting.  I swept, swiffed, mopped, washed dishes, and now it is time for me to catch up the blog, when all I want is to see what happens next in Bleach (in part so I can finally move on to Naruto).  Check out how grown up I am.

Anyways.  Last weekend was Time Lady's birthday.  After more than a year she'd still never been ger camping, so Engrish and I took it upon ourselves to rectify the situation with a trip to Terelj.

A few days before, Time Lady asked me, "What do you bring on a ger camp?" and it made me realize that although I've done a fair bit of ger camping in the last two years, I've never written the definitive guide to it.  Although it's a little late at this point, I'd like to dedicate this guide to her for her birthday (because who needs expensive geek gifts when your foul-mouthed blogging friend dedicates a post to you?!?)
What is a ger?  A ger is a felt hut (the same thing as a yurt), in which nomadic families live.  Camps of them have become a popular option for tourists both foreign and domestic in Mongolia, as they allow you to get out into the countryside and in touch with tradition.  Most gers have 3-4 beds (although there are bigger and smaller ones) and are heated by a stove that can burn wood, coal, or - if necessary - even dung.  There will also be a little table and a few other pieces of furniture.
What do you bring to a ger camp?  Time Lady asked about bedding and I told her that it wasn't necessary.  Then I realized I was thinking of sheets, blankets, and pillows, which aren't necessarily warm enough for cold Mongolian nights, so I had to chase her down and tell her that Engrish and I normally bring sleeping bags.  We always bring food - typically a sausage fest with cheese, bread, and crackers - although you can get more complex (Five made nachos once, and in Dariganga I made ger chili) and most ger camps have a restaurant, so you won't starve.  Games are a must, but my personal favorite thing to bring on a ger camp is FIRE!
This answer prompted some teasing from my students, but hell, building the fire is my favorite part of ger camping (not just because of the sound!), and I was especially proud of the new firestarters I made with cotton facial circles and wax.  I can't stress enough how important it is to bring someone who likes to play with fire.  Ger camps are supposed to send someone in the night to keep your fire going, but it never seems to work out that way, and I've developed a touch of pyromania to combat the cold of early mornings in the countryside.
What do you DO at ger camp?  I've mentioned before that Mongolia is a place to come for beautiful, rugged nature and the tradition of ger camping reflects that.  When you go, you have the chance to get OUT of the city, breathe some fresh air, marvel at the blue of the skies, and leave everything behind.  We usually bring books and some games - Guillotine being one of my favorites (you need more people for Cards Against Humanity or Apples to Apples).  I brought my sketchbook this time and some watercolor pencils.  We spent Saturday afternoon taking a long, Jane Austen walk along the river, and the late afternoon reading.  If you're more active you'd probably enjoy bringing a frisbee or a ball and glove, and a lot of ger camps seem to have basketball hoops.  If you can't live without your phone, ger camp might not be for you.  We went to UB2 last weekend, which had excellent reception (Engrish is a rock star and kept getting important calls while we were out walking) and electricity, not to mention the heated floors and a TV...we went really easy on Time Lady...but we've also stayed in ones where you had to walk 10 minutes up a mountain to get even the slightest service.  Besides, that's not really what it's about, is it?

Expect the Unexpected:
I think the most crucial thing you can do to enjoy a ger camp is be prepared.  The camp may not have water, so bring a few bottles or a good filtration system, as well as some wet wipes.  It may not have toilets, with or without running water so bring toilet paper and mentally prepare yourself to pop a squat.  If you know ahead of time that you are putting yourself in a situation that is supposed to be somewhat rough by nature and embrace that, you'll have a much better time.  Especially if you remind yourself that it's MUCH less rough than actual camping (or tenting, if you insist on calling it that like Engrish).

Happy Birthday, Time Lady!  Thanks for giving us an excuse to have such a great weekend!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Grub Club: Shibuya

Yes, I realize it took til November, but Grub Club is finally back.  We've been trying, since August, actually, but never got more than three of us together.  Finally, Lil' Miss Catwalk said she wouldn't be able to come on Thursday because of student council, which she facilitates, so we moved it to Tuesday, which has led us to be much more successful.  However, this was our first new restaurant, so this is the official first post of the new school year.

This week was Champ's pick, and she took us to Shibuya, a teppanyaki restaurant on Seoul Street.  I've been there a couple of times and found it to be decent, so I was copacetic (heh, these days when am I NOT copacetic when it comes to Japanese food?)

Champ, Lil' Miss Catwalk, Engrish, and Blondie all tried the yakitori, and seemed to think they were pretty good.  Blondie was a particular fan of the tofu salad (bottom right corner of the plate), which is good because she ended up getting a LOT of it.
I, on the other hand, decided to go with a ramen and some sushi.  The ramen had a nice flavor, and had a lot of vegetables in it - mushrooms, carrots, and bean sprouts - along with some tasty pork (albeit not the thin slices you normally expect to get in ramen).  I really enjoyed it.
The sushi, on the other hand...yeah, not so much.  The problem with Shibuya's sushi rolls is the fact that they give them names but don't actually tell you what is in them.  So I ordered the Lion King roll, which looked like a crab and cucumber with salmon on top.  And that would have been tasty.  Instead, it had something akin to coleslaw in it, and I still have no idea what kind of fish that is on top.  It's not salmon, that's for damn sure.  In between that hot mess is some overcooked rice.  I didn't notice the rice with everything else that's going on there, but my friends ordered spicy tuna rolls, which made it much more noticeable.  The rice had a gummy, almost kind of paste-ish consistency, and nobody was a big fan of it. 
Speaking of Japan, and fans...or fangirls, rather, Halloween was last Friday.  I was working on my Erza Scarlet costume until I went to bed last Thursday.  I decided I wanted to do this in June or July (after all, thanks to my red hair and huge...tracts of land...I'm halfway to being an anime character as it is), but my first couple of tries were failures.  I finally started looking at her different kinds of armor and figured if I was willing to sacrifice one of my "Little Chinese Seamstress" dresses I could just barely pull it off.  Student reviews were mixed, but my hardcore otakus approved, so I can live with that.