Sunday, April 17, 2011

McCol (맥콜)

A couple weeks ago I saw a band called The Mad Cannons play at a local bar. I did some research before seeing them and learned that they are a local band that, according to their facebook page, plays "very, very twisted hard rock covers and originals that make you twitch, shake and jump." They also mention that they "punch soft rock in the NO-NO place!" Very cool, guys. Very hardcore. I browsed through their pictures, and saw that the group is mostly made up of 30 or 40-something men, two of whom wear beanies while they play. Now, I don't want to make a blanket statement that older people can't make good music, because there are plenty of examples to counter that argument (Wilco, Paul Simon, Radiohead, Neil Young, this guy). I also don't want to suggest that it's impossible for men in beanies to make good music. Although I don't have any examples of good musicians who perform frequently in beanies, I'm sure there are some. But the pictures combined with their professed love of twisting hard rock and having contact with something's "NO-NO place" (which just isn't an okay thing for grown men to say; please use the phrase "swimsuit area" next time, you guys) tipped me off that I probably wouldn't like their music. However, the show was free, and all of my friends were going, so I went.

I know I said that I already had the impression that their music would not make me "twitch, shake and jump" in a good way, but that doesn't mean I went to their show determined to have a bad time. If anything, my low expectations and desire to be anywhere but work gave them an advantage in winning me over. But they didn't win me over.

The evening started off pleasantly enough. I got to talk with some friends and meet some new people. A band called Eerie McLeerie opened, mostly playing acoustic versions of 90s songs (for whatever reason, the only two I can remember right now are Blind Melon's "No Rain" and some song by The Verve that wasn't "Bittersweet Symphony"), and they did a decent job. Then The Mad Cannons took the stage. I actually stood up and wandered into the crowd to get into the spirit of things. They opened with Green Day's "Warning" and it was un...great. Although it was far from being their worst song of the night, the band's take on "Warning" taught me that their idea of putting a twist on hard rock songs is to add a violin and a couple of time changes. What makes it worse is that the guys would always have these smug grins on their faces after every flux in tempo. Now, I have no problem with the idea of covering songs, and I think that covers are often executed very well. So, while playing "All Along the Watchtower" faster than Hendrix played it is okay, looking out at the audience as if you deserve a blue ribbon on your brain for doing so is not okay.

So my initial impression of The Mad Cannons was right--they weren't my thing. Much of the blame rests on the violinist, who was usually off tempo, out of tune, and just too present in general. Songs don't need a constant, epic violin solo, full of 16th notes, to be interesting. The other members, although competent at their instruments, aren't blameless either. I feel like them trying so hard to give the impression they are hard rockers who like to mix things up made the fact that their music is actually bland and uninventive even more apparent. Like when Tobias Funke buys a leather outfit to make his daughter think he's cool, but ends up choking on one of the outfit's many ridiculous chains. If he would have just been a normal dad who does normal dad things with his daughter, he might have won her over. Similarly, if The Mad Cannons would just own up to the fact that they are not a bunch of bad-ass-genre-benders, but are basically in a neighborhood-dad-garage-band, they would be much more tolerable. Also, they shouldn't touch Neil Young or The Beatles.

The whole time I was watching The Mad Cannons, I couldn't stop thinking about McCol. McCol is a soft drink that looks like this:

The sprig of wheat (or barley maybe?) on the can isn't just a design flourish--it is essentially wheat-flavored soda. I consider myself an open-minded snacker, always trying to expand my snacking horizons, but even I was wary to try McCol. Based on everything I knew about the soda, I figured I wouldn't like it. The idea of wheat soda just doesn't appeal to me. Before I tried it, I thought, "You know? This is probably going to taste terrible. But it's cheap. And it's everywhere, so someone must like it. I'll give it a shot."

And you know what? It was terrible. Somehow, McCol is both too sweet and too wheaty--two things that I thought would be mutually exclusive. McCol is also too fizzy, which is something I feel weird saying about a soda, especially given my obsession with the hyper-carbonated Pop Cola (the Filipino version of Coke). The most demonic part about McCol, though, is the aftertaste. The stale wheat flavor seeps into taste buds and makes your mouth feel clammy and gross, like you just woke up.

For the sake of my reputation as a snack blogger, which we all know is hard to build and maintain, I wish I could say more about McCol. Sadly, I think I said it all already while recounting my night at The Mad Cannon's show. I went into both experiences with low expectations and the hope that my low standards would make me so easily impressed that I would enjoy myself despite my initial misgivings. Also, both the Mad Cannons and McCol took things I normally like--music and soda--and tried to put a little twist on them: the band added a violin to rock songs that didn't have string arrangements before, and the drink added wheat to the normal soda base of sugar and carbonated water. Unfortunately, not only did both the violin and the wheat flavor fail, they failed while completely drowning out everything else. I left the concert during the extended violin solo in "Kryptonite" (I'm not making that up--a band full of older guys really did play "Kryptonite" in the year 2011), and I didn't finish my McCol (nor did I finish the one I started today in preparation for this post), but my ears still rang the morning after the concert, and I could still taste the McCol even after eating a meal.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bob Stick (밥스틱)

I was planning on writing about a Korean soda this week (which I won't name now because I want it to be a surprise when I do write about it), but I ended up getting a bob stick on Thursday during my break from work, and I decided to write about bob sticks. Now, I almost wrote that I was "inspired" to write about bob sticks, but "inspired" would be a poor word to use, because it would imply that I had some sort of epiphany about bob sticks that I felt like I had to write. The fact is: I sat down to write this post without any real direction. My lack of direction doesn't mean I don't like bob sticks, because I do. I like them a lot. I just have a mild case of writer's block. Nevertheless, I decided to write about bob sticks and, dammit, I'm going to write about bob sticks. I knew when I became a snack blogger that I would have to blog even when I didn't feel like it, or was running low on ideas, because that's what snack bloggers do. We persevere. We lick the Cheetos® dust from our fingers and we type.

So here's what I have to say about bob sticks:

My first work day here in Korea was both adventurous and unadventurous. It was adventurous because I was in a new country, meeting new people, and seeing new things. It was unadventurous because I was at work, meeting my coworkers and students, and seeing new classrooms. The mundane fact that I'm primarily here to work, and not just to play, sank in when I was sent to teach my first class. At that point, I had only observed one class and read some notes that the previous teacher had written about the job, but my boss told me to start teaching and I started teaching. After fumbling through my classes that afternoon and into the evening, my workday was over. My coworker Eric was on break when I got off, so he took me out to get a snack. It was dark outside, and we walked across the street to a food stand shaped like the front of a cartoon bus. "Bob Stick" was written in English on the front of the red and yellow bus. Eric told me that "bap" (which is pronounced almost how we would pronounce "bob") means rice in Korean, and so bob stick means rice stick. (I couldn't get a good photo of the stand where I go, but it looks almost exactly like this.)

I stood shivering and watched the vendor make our snack. The pan she used had four indented rectangles, maybe six inches long and an inch deep, and she put a thin layer of batter into two of them. The smell of the batter cooking reminded me of waffle cones. Then, she packed sticky rice into the rectangles, on top of the batter. After a minute, she put chicken with a curry-orange sauce on the rice, and then sprinkled strips of dried seaweed on the chicken. I was hungry, and was honestly feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the smells. The sweet smell of the batter lingered just enough to compliment the savory scents of the chicken, sauce, and rice that were now on top of it.

Then the vendor (whose kindness reminded me that I needed to learn the Korean word for thank you, which I did after we got back to the school) gave us our bob sticks.

The first thing I noticed is that bob sticks are ingeniously packaged. As you can see in the picture below, they come in a little cardboard tray with sides to hold the stick steady and tinfoil underneath. The tinfoil is the brilliant part. Not only does it keep the batter from sticking to the tray, it also allows the snacker to pull the bob stick out, bit by bit, and eat the bob stick without making a mess. It's like a push pop, but with pulling.

(Once again, my photography skills undermine the deliciousness of the snack. I will consider using a proper point-and-shoot camera rather than the camera in my laptop from now on.)

I mostly mention the packaging because I was very thankful for it that night after I said goodbye to Eric and started the wintry walk home. Because of the pull-and-eat method, I could snack while walking--while the bob stick was still hot--without making a mess. And snack I did. I took my first bite and coughed out the steam that filled my mouth and tickled my throat. The chicken and rice were still very hot, and I moved the food around in my mouth while breathing quickly in and out to try to avoid burning my tongue. I stuck my face out in front of me incase any bits of rice or chicken fell out due to my frantic efforts to cool the food. After a few seconds, the mound of bob stick in my mouth was the right temperature for me to really taste it. And it was delicious. The chicken and sauce were spicy, and cleared up my sinuses. The taste of the batter stayed on my tongue for just a moment before subsiding to the saltiness of the dried seaweed strips (which are very tasty, by the way, and not as exotic as they might sound. They're almost like super thin potato chips. But, you know, smaller.) The rice was perfectly cooked--sticky but not mushy, and it tempered the bold flavor of the sauce.

I walked home with my shoulders hunched and shaking against the cold. My hands barely had enough feeling to keep pulling the tinfoil out for the next bite. My nose was running, probably onto my bob stick. But I was happy. Even though I felt directionless--I was unsure whether I'd find my way back to my apartment, or whether I'd like Korea or my job--I was content to be eating something delicious.