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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Korea living + hummus love = not compatible

It's rare to have a conversation with fellow ex-pats that doesn't at least once include the phrase, "You know what I miss...?" It might be a global marketplace but even if you can find a taste of home in Korea, be prepared to pay for it.

When the question is thrown my way, the only really 'American' thing I crave is a good salad. You don't realize how hard it is to find amazing salads until you're living in a country that considers acorn jelly a vegetable.

So what do I crave?

Middle Eastern food. Lebanese, Iranian, Greek (yes, I realize Greece isn't in the Middle East but bear with me), Turkish... the common threads among these cuisines is a delicious medley of pita and lavash, fatteh and moussaka (Lebanese, not Greek), baba ghanoush and tabbouleh. Yummo.

And the thing I miss most is hummus. I'm not even picky. A cheap container of Tribe or Sabra makes me a happy camper. Costco actually has really fantastic hummus in bulk size -- what could be better?!

But even in a cosmopolitan city like Seoul, hummus is difficult to track down. Chickpeas and tahini are available at high prices at foreign markets but ready-made hummus is virtually nonexistent.

So the first question to my Lebanese seatmate at the Arab Festival a few months ago was where to get good Middle Eastern food, and he recommended Salam in Itaewon.

Located near Seoul Central Mosque, Salam has an extensive menu of Turkish treats. The first thing that caught my eye was one of my favorites, moussaka.

And then, on the back page... hummus! Expensive hummus, to be sure, costing the same as an entree, but my friend agreed to split it and orders were sent back to the kitchen. After a short wait, out came the food.

A feast, for sure. I'd never had Turkish moussaka before and it was good, if bland. I jazzed it up with some hot sauce to add a little kick, but was disappointed that this usually flavorful dish was so... boring.

The lavash was delicious and perfect for dipping -- no Middle Eastern meal is complete without some bread to sop up all the yummy sauces.

And then, the pièce de résistance: the hummus. Considering how long it had been since I had hummus -- a staple in my American diet -- there's nothing to complain about. The portion seemed small in relation to the price, and an excessive amount of olive oil coated the top, but it wasn't the worst I've ever had.

(The worst was Alton Brown's Turbo Hummus that suggested substituting peanut butter for tahini. Two bites and I felt completely nauseous.)

Will I go back to Salam? No. There are six weeks left in Korea and plenty of other places to eat, even if that means six weeks before another taste of hummus. Airport --> Lebanese Taverna --> Trader Joe's. The agenda is set for six weeks from Thursday.


Do you love Trader Joe's as much as I do? Check out Heather's blog to win some amazing goodies like Lara Bars and Puffins. Mmm...