Carlos Eats Korea: The 1st Korean Food Tour for Foreign Foodies

My second food tour in South Korea brought me down to Jeollanam – the Southern tip of South Korea. This food tour was sponsored by Hansik – the Korean Food Foundation. My team was called The Nakji Hunterschosen by our team leader Juanita Hong. We visited a number of towns during my trip and although the trip was lots of work (we were being filmed by KBS and camera work for a documentary is much harder than I imagined…especially when most people speak a foreign language) – the trip was still a great success. I met many people in Jeollanam and learned much about Korean cuisine and culture.

We rode in a charter bus around the region. Our first day was spent at a seafood market in Mokpo.  During our visit to the market we were able to see live fish and then enjoy some fresh seafood. The restaurant used every piece of the fish during our visit and the owner mentioned that in Korean culture they do not believe in wasting food – so the parts of the fish that were not used as sashimi we used in a fish soup and then also as side dishes or banchan in Korean. The banchan were numerous and indeed Jeollanam is known for its lavish and tasty variety of banchan.

The most interesting thing I tried was a bloody clam – it was slimy and actually not as bad as I imagined, although I am unsure if I would try it again without some other kind of sauces mixed in.

The sashimi was made Korean style and tasted good, but didn’t quite melt in my mouth like I hoped it would. The seaport itself had a great view of the water and our hotel, the Muan Beach Hotel, had a beautiful beach-front view at sunset.

After we settled into our hotel, we departed to a town where a man is famous for making octopus or nakji in Korean. He brought out live nakji and together we made the nakji that is traditionally used by Koreans for funeral processions and other ceremonies. Nakji is very expensive (just one can cost at least 25,000 won or more).

The restaurant owner has cooked nakji for more than 17 years and showed us his techniques and how to make nakji soup and nakji on a stick. We also tried nakji raw – which I found to be unappetizing but some of my teammates enjoyed. I was a little disturbed by the nakji and I am sure many foreigners might feel the same way during their first encounter – but for Koreans this just another one of their delicacies and I think learning about that was an important and valuable experience.

After we finished we retired to our hotel and then woke  the next day and headed to meet a fisherman who was going to take us hunting for nakji (hence our name The Nakji Hunters). This was a true workout during a chilly day, but one of the best experiences of our trip. We headed out with our boots and raincoats into a boat that brought us to mud islands where nakji wash up in the early morning.

The fisherman (full of energy) ran around the island with us chasing behind (shovels in hand) and guided us to the small mounds where the nakji are trapped in mud. Nakji eventually escape into the water from the mud and it was essential that we work as fast as possible before they all made it back to sea.

We managed to catch nine nakji. When you step on the mounds they are trapped in, the surrounding water releases and if you dig in the middle you will find a nakji sitting in the middle of the mud. You use your hands to pick it out of the ground. The feeling of a nakji on your hand is an experience itself and I think many travelers to Korea would be interested in this. Some Koreans eat the nakji whole after discovering it, but I decided to hold-off on that, feeling adventurous enough with the blood clams the day before.

Once we left the fisherman behind we headed to a Traditional Korean Market where we visited stands and eventually sold our nakji and seafood off to local townspeople. It was a fun experience and elderly lady managed to haggle down the price of our fish to just 3,000 won! A lesson was learned: never haggle with the elderly – they are experienced.

After our experience we headed to a Korean meat shop and purchased Korean beef and mushrooms for dinner. It had to have been one of the best meals of our trip. One of the Hansik employees posted a photograph on Twitter of my huge smile as I devoured the food. The quality of the meat was superb and during my interview I noted that Westerners would love to have the experience to purchase and make their own meat in this self-cook Korean style. The meat rivaled the taste of some steakhouses I have tried in Tampa and that means a lot since Tampa is the home of Outback Steakhouse and highly esteemed Bern’s Steakhouse – as most of you readers are aware.

After dinner we headed to Boseong and retired in a traditional Korean house there right on the tea farm. We met with the employees on our film and Korea crew and had some late-night snacks while playing some Korean games before heading to bed. We awoke early the next morning to head to the Daehan Boseong Tea Plantation.

The plantation was absolutely beautiful when we awoke in the morning and headed outside. The valley was stunning and although the key blooming season for the fields is in spring and summer – the leaves were still surviving through the autumn. We walked through the field as the camera crew filmed us and discussed some of the health properties of green tea that has made it become famous through the world. You can read some more about my experience on Hansik’s website.

Our last stop was at a Boseong restaurant, Che Heom Jang, that specializes in dishes made from a patented green tea extract. The restaurant owner guided us through the process of making green tea kimchi, a dish that was excellent and unknown even to many Korean people I know in Seoul. The beauty of green tea is it neutralizes the smell that kimchi tends to acquire over time and also tastes great. We put oysters inside the kimchi to enhance the taste even further.

The two women at the restaurant also guided us through other dishes and one looked especially cool in her traditional Korean outfit called a hanbok. We made green tea rice cakes and also green tea rice balls among other dishes and enjoyed several green tea banchan including a nakji soup with green tea thrown inside. Being a huge fan of green tea since my childhood, this experience was special to me and brought me some new understanding about Korean cuisine being innovative and working hard to attempt new heights.

I felt the green tea restaurant was a fitting end to our journey and as we boarded our charter bus back to Seoul – I headed back home with a new perspective about Korean food and culture that I will carry with me as I experience many new foods in the future.

Make sure you check out our Tumblr at http://www.thenakjihunters.tumblr.com and our Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/thenakjihunters for more updates and insights on Korean food and culture and look for the KBS2 documentary to air in the near future on Korean television!🙂

Carlos Eats Sushi Tour

It’s time for a new challenge. I want to try sushi restaurant in Tampa that I haven’t visited yet. There are a ton. So I’m going to make a list of places I have not tried yet and am interested in trying.

  • Origami Sushi
  • Soho Sushi
  • Tomo Sushi
  • Yokohama Japanese Restaurant (Brandon)
  • Ginza Japanese Steakhouse
  • Sakana Sushi
  • Zen Bistro Bar & Grill

Feel free to recommend me some spots.

Carlos Eats Pizza Tour Stop 3: New York, New York Pizza

Hearing from many that New York, New York Pizza in Ybor City has some of the best pizza in town we decided we would give it a shot after a night at Gameworks. We arrived into the place, perhaps not the nicest looking restaurant…but plenty of customers. We found a booth and were quickly waited on. The waiter gave us some time to look over the menu and we decided to go with a large pepperoni pizza.

When the pizza came out it smelled fantastic. There was dim lighting so it was hard to get a good picture of the pepperoni pizza. I took a few photos so hopefully we could portray what it really looked like. The crust was nice and crunchy, the cheese was oozing (thankfully not too hot so we wouldn’t burn our mouths, but just right) and the quality was the best I have had in Tampa. The pizza had little grease as well. Each pepperoni was enjoyable, easily passing any other places visited so far on the pizza tour. Seasoned just right, they made sure not to go overboard with the add-ons and had the additional condiments available to us for our use.

The picture that does the best justice to the pizza is this picture of a slice of pepperoni pizza. You can see how cheesy the slice is, you can tell the pepperoni was cooked right, and see some of the seasoning, as well as a toasted crust. Just looking at this picture is making me hungry all over again for some of their pizza. I can’t count how many times I have walked by this place while visiting Ybor City and never knew what was inside.

I’ll have to make it back here sometime to try some of their other pizzas, but this pepperoni pizza was the best I have had so far.

New York New York Pizza Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: New York, New York Pizza Bar & Grill

Address: 1512 E 7th Ave Tampa, FL 33605

Phone Number: (813) 248-1845

Website: http://www.newyorknewyorkpizzeria.com/

That’s Amore

Tonight my parents took me out to That’s Amore, an Italian restaurant on Harbour Island where a singer they used to follow at the Jazz club “The Fox” was spotted by a friend singing. Being the food critic guy that I am, I started researching the place before I got there and found many negative reviews around Urbanspoon and Yelp. We cautiously headed to the restaurant unsure of what to think about it.

When we got there we were greeted with a pretty spectacular view of Downtown Tampa and complimentary valet parking. Upon entering we heard the piano and found a few seats by the door. The place was pretty busy, but the entertainment had yet to really start. We ordered some drinks and we noticed that the waitress was swamped, her ability to keep up with our table and many others was quite impressive. I think the restaurant should probably look into getting her some help during these busy nights, she seems to be managing…but a little too slow and you could get one of those angry writers. After taking a look at the menu my parents ordered a Veggie Pizza and some wings.

My Step-Dad was pleased with his wings and we discovered that one of my family’s favorite bartenders was also working in this place. The pizza arrived and looked quite unique. I had a slice so I could add it to my pizza tour. The sauce was made from marinara and not from your regular pizza sauce, it gave it a fresh and powerful taste. The toppings were all on thin crust and it almost tasted like something you could whip up in the oven, but much better. All the toppings were pretty good and the pizza actually had a slight kick of spice to it as well, which my family loved, and although I am not much of fan of spicy food fan, I still liked it.

After the pizza I decided to give some of their dessert a shot. I ordered a Tiramisu ($8.95). It was decent, although a little too much liquor for my liking. It stayed true to the taste, but I think I prefer the Olive Garden when it comes to this dessert.

If I was just going to review this place based on food and service, I would probably say that it is a mediocre experience and that it has a nice view (like many others have said). However, once the main Jazz singer for the night Cleo Heart (visit her website) hit the stage it was clear that all these critics had missed something. Vibrant and full of energy, she brought the crowd to the place and really brought that restaurant to life along with her on key pianist. She brought the experience from okay, to I’ll be back for sure. Extremely friendly to any stranger in the crowd, she was witty and her songs all had pizzazz. To be able to kick back to her singing while having a meal or some drinks, now that is worth coming here. She performs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturday nights so I would recommend visiting during these times.

A restaurant that advertises itself as a “romantic Italian restaurant” has made the right move to have her sing there. The view of downtown waterfront, some interesting food, a bar, and live music combined makes this place a pretty cool spot to be at in Tampa.

That's Amore on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: That’s Amore

Address: 700 Harbour Post Dr. Tampa, FL 33602

Phone Number: (813) 221-9889

Website: http://www.thatsamorerestaurant.com/

Carlos Eats Pizza Tour Stop 2: Pomodoro Pizza

My second pizza tour brought me to Pomodoro Pizza. A small pizza place recommended by some friends. A simple setup. A few tables, a soda machine, and the pizza chefs counter and kitchen are in visible view. While dining in I saw a number of people come in and get pizzas to-go, must be pretty popular in the neighborhood.

Pepperoni Pizza by the slice was a little too greasy. That is probably the price I pay for ordering by the slice. The pepperoni was much higher quality than at Wize Guyz Pizza, though it got a little drenched by the rest of the pizza. The cheese tasted average, I needed to add some Parmesan to give it a stronger taste. The dough was crunchy. It was a filling meal, but a little heavy.

Nephew opted for this type of pizza instead. After seeing my slices though he wanted mine instead. An employee there was nice enough to cut the pizza up before giving it to my nephew. They seem to have a number of different types of pizza, and I would like to try another kind on a different visit.

Overall, I would say this place is pretty average. Nothing worth really bragging about, and at the same time not a bad pizza spot. I would try some other types of pizza if I was in the area, but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to have their pizza.

Pomodoro on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Pomodoro Pizza

Address: 1076 E. Brandon Blvd. Brandon, FL 33511

Phone #: (813) 662-9500

Carlos Eats Pizza Tour Stop 1: Wize Guyz Pizza

It has done in the past and now I will be reviving an old tradition to search for the best pizza around Tampa Bay. No location will be overlooked in the search (even that spot you drive by all the time, but never stop to check out). I will report on my findings in different neighborhoods (starting with my own) and hopefully find the best pizza spots around Tampa Bay in the process. If you would like to recommend a spot to me feel free to e-mail me or leave a comment.

Our first stop in this tour: Wize Guyz Pizza

Located right next to the AMC Regency 20 movie theater in Brandon, I have been past this place a million times, but never stopped inside. Holding an impressive five star rating on Yelp with pleased reviewers I decided to give it a shot today. Upon entering I was greeted by the cashier with a smile. I decided to order a slice of pepperoni pizza with a small fountain drink ($1.50) with the total coming to $4.50. The place was pretty empty with only one other customer inside. The fountain drink was pretty good quality, it did not taste like seltzer but like real Coca-Cola.

The pizza was not screaming eat me by looking at it, but smelled pretty good. It was slightly greasy, with some spots here and there, but nothing too bad. The slice was pretty big, I think two slices of this would get a hungry person full. The crust was soft and just right to me. The pepperoni was not very appetizing, I think the pizza would have been better as a plain cheese pizza. The pizza also was not very warm, maybe it would have been better if it was fresh. Overall the pizza was just decent, but I have certainly had better. I have heard their calzones are good, but this is not a calzone tour is it? I left pretty disappointed.

Wise Guys Pizza on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Wize Guyz Pizza

Address: 2498 W Brandon Blvd. Brandon, FL 33511

Phone #: (813) 643-1200

Website: http://www.wizeguyzpizzeria.com/

Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/wize-guyz-pizza-brandon