Friday, November 30, 2012

Bulgolgi to Berlin: Melbourne Day 1

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Figure 1: This view never gets old 

Gliding over the clouds with nothing but a never-ending colour of blue above you, it becomes so clear that freedom is not something we are given. Freedom is a choice. All too often, we make excuses for not travelling: you can't get time off work, it's too close to exams, too much effort to plan, your pot plants need care and attention, et cetera. But up there, where a city of one million shrinks to a collection of specks, all the stresses and responsibilities of the daily grind seem so insignificant. Exam study can wait. Work can suck it. Your pot plants can deal. Because there's a whole wide world waiting for you out there, and it ain't just gonna explore itself.

But before I get stuck into detailing every single morsel of food I ate during my week in Melbourne, a little thank-you is in order. This one flew me over there and was my tour guide, shopping consultant (albeit a reluctant one, particularly in the Wittner store), assistant food stylist, makeshift pillow and even my paramedic at one point (specialising in alcohol-related injuries).

Thank you, for an amazing trip. 

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Toodouri Korean BBQ
260 Victoria Street
North Melbourne
(08) 9329 5556
www.toudouri.com.au 

Toodouri Korean BBQ on Urbanspoon


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Figure 2: A meat menu? Yes please. 

After checking into our hotel, we were picked up by Swee, our scuba-diving, marathon-running, Mercedes-driving Melbourne expert. We set off into the bustling Friday nightlife of Melbourne city in search of dinner and decided on Toodouri, a Korean BBQ joint just down the road from the Queen Victoria Markets. It was probably the first restaurant I've been to that permits waitresses to wear leather short-shorts, but the service was terrific: attentive, prompt and polite.

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Figure 3: Ssamjang and sesame oil 

I hadn't eaten since leaving Perth (foodies don't eat airplane goo), so it was a sight for sore eyes when they started bringing out all the mini side dishes. Jer goes mad for the bean paste in particular, and for good reason. Ssamjang is a thick, spicy condiment made from fermented soybean paste (doenjang), fermented chilli paste (gochujang), sesame oil, garlic, onion, and sometimes brown sugar. You grab a lettuce leaf, fill it up with meat, smear the flavour-packed ssamjang on top, wrap it up and chow it down. 

I personally have a thing for Korean purple rice. The first time I had it was at Mingi's house when she threw a birthday dinner (her mum is the goddess of Korean cuisine). Coming from a traditional Chinese family, it completely blew my mind that rice could be anything else but snow-white.

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Figure 4: Wholesome, nutty taste 

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Figure 5: Barbecued pork belly

Then came the meat, and lots of it. I think we continuously barbecued for about an hour, and were on our third round of pork belly when the boys finally admitted defeat. It was just so morish - when you left the pork belly on for long enough it would caramelise and go crispy on the edges, so with every bite you got a bit of crunch before sinking your teeth into the sweetly salty, juicy pork. There was just enough fat on them to make them succulent, but not enough to make you want to stop. The bulgolgi was equally good, with a smooth, rich flavour and ample marinade.

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Figure 6: Oink oink

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Figure 7: Oink oink moo moo

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Figure 8: All or nothing

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Figure 9: Simple, yet delicious!

Also on the side was some seriously good japchae, which is a dish of potato noodles (dangmyeon) stir fried in sesame oil with thinly sliced vegetables, soy sauce, sugar and sometimes beef. I couldn't stop eating it. The flavours in the oil were just so tasty, and the noodles had this bizzaire elastic texture to them that made them challenging, yet way more fun to eat. 

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Figure 10: The beginning of the end

We rounded off our first meal in Melbourne with a cheeky Soju-bomb (or four), then left to embark upon the most ridiculous night of barhopping in my life. Over the course of 5 hours, we were whisked round and round the city through winding alleyways, secret backstreets and twisting staircases to the most amazing, unexpected places. We did eight bars that night, each one of them unique, featuring different concepts and ideas. 

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Figure 11: Syringe cocktails at The Croft Institute

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Figure 12: Graffiti art at every turn 

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Figure 13: Manchuria

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Figure 14: Manchuria cocktail menu - first time I've ever seen a limit assigned to a cocktail

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Figure 15: Melbourne by night 

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Figure 16: The Workshop

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Figure 17: Cookie


Berlin Bar
16 Corrs Lane
Melbourne 
(03) 9639 3396 

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Figure 18: Derp?


How to get into Berlin Bar

Step 1. Find the alleyway entrance.
Step 2. Make your way up a dark flight of stairs, until you find yourself at a black door with no handle.
Step 3. Press the doorbell.
Step 4. Wait.
Step 5. Look around at your friends cluelessly.
Step 6. Wait some more.
Step 7. "Are you sure this is it?"
Step 8. "Shut up, press it again."
Step 9. A pair of eyes will suddenly appear in the slot in the door. Play it cool.
Step 10. The door will open.

You are in Berlin.
The year is 1961. 

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Figure 19: West Berlin

Berlin Bar has cleverly recreated the chasm between West Germany and East Germany during the Cold War, when the Berlin Wall divided the Allies from the Soviets; the wealthy from the poor. "West Berlin" is opulent, decadent, decked out in white leather and gilted mirrors. But in a few steps, you can cross over to the other side of Germany through "Checkpoint Charlie", and enter another world altogether. "East Berlin" is made to look like a dark, derelict bunker complete with bunk beds, weaponry, socialist street art and even an emergency exit.

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Figure 20: East Berlin

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Figure 21: "World traveller, first class"

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Figure 22: Kürbissupe, anyone? 

We were seated in East Berlin, and presented with boarding passes which folded out to reveal a long list of cocktails, each with an intriguing little description of their origin and flavour profile. I was dying to try the butternut pumpkin & rum one, but unfortunately it wasn't available that day.

Instead I opted for the Bulleit in Figs, while the other two got that-cocktail-I-can't-remember-the-name-of which came served with a bit of chocolate cream on the side, and the fruity-red-one-in-a-tall-glass. In defence of my terrible descriptions, by this time we'd been to four bars already, so quite frankly, I don't remember exactly what they all tasted like. I do however, remember being delighted at the tangy sweetness of the dried fig in my drink, trying to steal all of Jer's cocktail and slurring French at the French bartender while he laughed and secretly judged me.

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Figure 23: Drinks in the dark

If we hadn't been on such a jam-packed drinking schedule, I would have loved to stay for a martini on the West side. But as the night was still young, we downed the last of our cocktails and stepped out of Berlin, back into the real world to continue our adventure. 

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Figure 24: If you squint, it says my name! 

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