The journey begins - Arrival in Seoul

I arrived in Seoul at around seven in the morning, nursing a relatively mild hangover from an evening at the Wishbeer  Home Bar in Bangkok (which was my eighteen-hour layover en route to South Korea). Why did I choose South Korea for my first proper vacation in a year? Well, it honestly wasn’t my first choice. My initial list had Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia and Japan. Considering the costs, the weather, the ease of getting a visa, I wasn’t particularly confident about any of the options. In a moment of serendipity, South Korea presented itself as a viable travel destination by one of the travel vloggers I follow. In a matter of a few days, I got my visa and had my nearly three week itinerary planned out.

My gear for three weeks

My gear for three weeks

So here I was at the Incheon airport in Seoul, visa stamped, sim card loaded, public transit card in place and all set to find my hostel . ( NOTE – It’s really easy to get the sim card up and running, and do not forget to pick up your public transport card at the airport itself. Also, they have buses from the airport that take you to almost all the major destinations in town, use those) For those of you worried about the language barrier, most of the folks at the airport speak English. I was taken aback by this one Korean lady behind the help desk who spoke English with a perfect Australian accent.

View from the wings - first glimpses of Seoul

View from the wings - first glimpses of Seoul

No Panda to greet me, but these two will do.

No Panda to greet me, but these two will do.

I had booked a bed at the Trick Art Guest House in Hongdae. Hongdae, located in Mapo-Gu in Seoul, is an area that’s known for its youthful, underground culture with tonnes of art galleries, quaint cafes, beer bars, shopping, street performers and more, predominantly thanks to the Hongik University that’s located in the area. It also serves as a major hub from where to take the subway to various parts of the city. ( NOTE – the subway is your biggest friendin Seoul when it comes to getting around. A fabulously planned system ensures you get to almost every location in the city, quickly, and at very inexpensive rates. Make sure you get a map, I had a tough time reading the app).

The beautiful park that runs through Hongdae

The beautiful park that runs through Hongdae

The park is built on either side of an abandoned railway track

The park is built on either side of an abandoned railway track

Quaint streets, this was the view from my hostel door

Quaint streets, this was the view from my hostel door

Grafitti lines the streets of Hongdae

Grafitti lines the streets of Hongdae

MUFC <3

MUFC <3

After grabbing a quick nap and shower, I went hunting for a restaurant for lunch. My first experience with food in South Korea was at a posh(ish) neighbourhood restaurant where some sort of television serial shooting was going on. I nearly left, but the staff was all too happy to have a foreigner in their restaurant. Somewhere, on some channel in Korea, you’ll probably see the Happy Panda struggling with his food. The menu given to me was all in Korean, and requesting for an English language menu using Google Translate was of no use.  The menu didn’t even have pictures for me to refer to. Fortunately, almost all restaurants in Korea have only a handful of options on their menu. I pointed at one of the five options and waited to be surprised.

What arrived was one of the most intimidating meals that I had ever seen. It  was a rather large soup bowl in which, sitting in a bright red broth was a heap of baby octopuses, shrimps, clams and a few other meats I couldn’t quite recognize. While I am not easily intimidated, the sight of a ( yet to be confirmed) dead octopus on my table was a bit intimidating. The meal was a spicy yet hearty noodle soup, with a lot of boiled seafood thrown in. This meal was accompanied by the world-famous kimchi, and a few other pickled veggies on the side. I was also given a rather large pair of scissors which I just sat with in my hand, pondering what to do. It turns out that scissors are given with every meal, to help cut up the meat and kimchi. There could not have been a better introduction to the portions and complexity of meals I would be indulging myself in over the next few weeks.

The first of many large meals

The first of many large meals

It took me about forty five minutes of struggling with slimy bits of octopus leg and scissors to complete my meal. Partially jet-lagged and completely full, I made my way back to the hostel to grab some more sleep before hitting the town in the evening. But this was not before I stopped at this quaint chocolate themed café called 17 degrees Celsius ( which is apparently the optimum temperature to keep chocolate). The café sells a wide variety of hand-made chocolates, a hot chocolate where the amount of chocolate you put in can be changed to anywhere from 40% to 80%. Needless to say, I went with the 80% on a subsequent trip. My favourite was the chocolate softee which offered a delightful bitter flavour as opposed to the much sweeter variant available back home.

DSC05377.JPG
DSC05376.JPG
Chocolate Bonbons

Chocolate Bonbons

Addictive stuff

Addictive stuff

Those were my first few hours in the city of Seoul. I caught up on a few hours of sleep before hitting the streets. More details on a subsequent blog post.

Kimaya Brewing Company, Pune's First Nanobrewery

A few weeks ago, I had travelled to Pune on work and to spend some time with family. As luck would have it, my timing couldn’t have been better. John Eapen (Tales of Froth) introduced me over Facebook to the good folks from Kimaya Brewing Company, who happened to be having a one day pop-up near where I was. For the uninitiated, Kimaya Brewing Company is Pune’s very first nanobrewery. 

If this is a new term for you, a nanobrewery is a scaled-down microbrewery that produces beer in significantly smaller batches. I have come to understand that, a nanobrewery is one that produces less than 2000 barrels of beer a year. Based on my approximation, Kimaya is doing about 350 barrels. ( PS - Pardon the math here if it’s incorrect; it was never my strong point )

The team from Kimaya had a one-day pop-up set up at the Origin Bistro in Pune with five beers on tap. I started off with the Kimaya Witbier, a delightful wheat beer with the wheat flavour being quite prominent. This is their signature beer, and is brewed using locally sourced wheat and coriander seeds. I must confess that I didn’t pick up much of the coriander flavour, but that didn’t make this beer any less enjoyable. The Kimaya Red Ale put me off a tad bit owing to a bit of funk I was picking up at the end of each sip, almost like that one off-note you hear because one string on the guitar is just slightly out of tune from the rest. I understand that they switched the malt from an older recipe; hence the flavour wasn’t quite there. Some of the folks present, who had tasted the older recipe, had similar feedback. (Phew, I was beginning to doubt myself there)

Kimaya Witbier

Kimaya Witbier

Kimaya Red Ale

Kimaya Red Ale

The highpoint for the afternoon was the Kimaya Hoppy Wheat. While the beer offered delightful citrus and wheat flavours, the bitterness of the hops added quite a punch to the overall flavour. While wheat beers tend to stay on the milder end of the beer spectrum, the addition of quality hops pushes this closer to the bitter IPA styles that I’ve grown fond of. Two thumbs up for this one. 

Kimaya Hoppy Wheat

Kimaya Hoppy Wheat

Kimaya Red IPA

Kimaya Red IPA

The evening closed with the Kimaya Red IPA; a crisp, sufficiently hoppy, wonderfully balanced beer. I did rush through this one, so I’d like to go back and savour the same the next time I am in the city. I got to spend a wonderful afternoon discussing beer with co-founder Saurabh Patwardhan and some of the other beer enthusiasts in Pune. I’m sincerely waiting for Karnataka to fix their kegging laws so that the guys from Kimaya Brewing Company can set up something here. Or else, I’m hoping they bottle that hoppy wheat beer. Kudos to the team for keeping the revolution alive!

Fish Amok and Angkor Beer, Phnom Penh

For all those of you who’ve been wondering why it’s taken me a month to post anything on the blog, I was backpacking through Cambodia, experiencing the beauty of their temples and culture, their gruesome history, meeting fellow backpackers and interesting residents…. And most importantly, experiencing food and ale. Over the next month or so, I’ll be sharing a lot of posts on my travels in the hope that it inspires you to get out of your homes and go see the world.

When I arrived in Phnom Penh, my first question to the tuk-tuk driver was regarding what the local ‘must-have’ dishes were. Something that he and a few other folks recommended was a dish called the Fish Amok. Needless to say, my first stop before going anywhere was to head to a restaurant to try this out.

Food doesn’t go without a decent ale for company. As I waited for my dish, I ordered a mug of the Angkor Beer. With a bright golden colour to it, this is a light bodied lager with no particular aroma, except that of the grain. The beer lost carbonation very easily, not much of a head and was quite bitter in taste. Except for the price point of 75 cents, the beer was a mere thirst quencher for the sultry weather of Phnom Penh. While the vacation wasn’t off to the greatest of starts with this beer, the food was yet to come. I had a lot of hope pinned on this dish.

Fish Amok is a classic dish from the Khmer region (now known as Angkor) and is probably the only prominent cuisine style in Cambodia. The cuisine is largely based around meat and ingredients found nearby lakes and rivers of the region. This would include fish, pork, snails, shrimp along with limes, lemongrass, coconut, mangoes and chilli. Beautifully capturing all these elements, the Fish Amok I had championed lemongrass spectacularly. Both the aroma and flavour of lemongrass put together made me salivate as I quickly clicked pictures before I gorged through the dish. 

Served in a banana leaf, the bite-size pieces of fish (I wasn’t able to understand what fish it was when the waitress told me) had a lovely lemongrass, coconut and kaffir lime flavour on the outside with the natural flavours of the fish coming through on the inside. Dressed with a light chilli on top, I got a mild hit as the fish went down my throat. The flavours started to intensify as I went through the dish as the bottom had a higher concentration of the curry paste. Accompanied with plain boiled rice, this dish hit the spot immediately.

Here's a quick video review - 

I tried out various versions spice of this dish throughout my stay, each with a slight difference in terms of more coconut, or gravy or spice. This version, at the On the Corner le resto du coin in Phnom Penh, located on the river front, was my favourite.