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By Way of Korea

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A Korean food blog and travelogue inspired by

an epicurious New Yorker's journey around South Korea

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By Way of Mongolia: A Rare Vegan Meal at Luna Blanca (Ulaanbaatar)

Updated: May 15, 2019

Since as early as I could chew, my grandma indoctrinated me with her personal food-ology that a meal doesn’t qualify as true meal if it lacks at least one meat dish. So she might have been disappointed with my choice for my first meal in Mongolia.


Anticipating that I'd be on a very meat-heavy diet during my journey across the desert and steppe, I

hoped to go easy on my stomach with some local vegan food before it began the next day. Luna Blanca, a highly-recommended restaurant serving vegan interpretations of classic Mongolian dishes, seemed to be a promising option.


Using landmarks I had taken mental note of to guide me, I retraced my steps back to the large, white stupa that stood by the entrance to the Buddhist meditation center that I had passed twice before while circling the city. Once I spotted it, I walked onto the property to find Luna Blanca, which was located within. The restaurant was on the ground floor of the building


The great thing about traveling with companions is being able to order and sample a variety of dishes at a restaurant. But alone and unable to decide between "Flour Power" and the Mongol combo plate, I had to order both. "Flour Power" is Luna Blanca's vegan take on tsuivan, a Mongolian noodle dish typically made with mutton (which had been substituted with soy protein). The Mongol combo plate arrived with vegan buuz (steamed dumplings) and kuushuur (fried dumplings), both of which are also commonly prepared with a mutton filling (which was replaced with a vegetable/mushroom filling). Mutton, I would soon learn, is a staple of the Mongolian diet that I would have to eat in some form or another for every meal to follow on this trip.

Left: Flour Power (tsuivan) - wheat flour noodles stir-fried with soy protein, carrots, cabbage, red pepper, basil, soy sauce


Right: Mongol Combo Plate (buuz / kuushuur) - steamed and fried dumplings with vegetable/mushroom filling

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"If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel - as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them - wherever you go."

Anthony Bourdain's unmatched relish for adventure and humble approach to food, cultures, and humanity left an indelible impression on my younger self. Imparting on me the courage to veer into the unknown, he inspired me to embrace my vulnerabilities and seek adventures and growth beyond the comforts of home.

 

In July of 2017, I boarded a one-way flight to Seoul, South Korea. Within the first week of arrival, I signed a lease for an apartment and by the end of August, I had accepted a job offer that relocated me to Pyeongchang and Gangneung, where the Winter Olympics were soon to be held. From there, I had the rare opportunity to explore much of the greater Gangwon Province's beautiful mountainous and coastal regions and their distinctive foods. Once or twice a month, I'd return to Seoul or travel to an unfamiliar region to poke around alleyways, markets, and mountains in search of more good eats and adventures.

 

By Way of Korea is a storytelling project inspired by the food, places, and faces I encountered throughout Korea. By sharing my fondest memories, notes, and images of Korea, I simply hope to play a small part in piquing greater curiosity about Korean food and culture in my readers.  My content will heavily spotlight, but not be limited to Korean food and culture. 

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