Food and drink

I’m lucky enough to have a job that has taken me to several different countries and one of things friends keep asking me is how each trip was. This is a really tough question for me to answer since I’m really not much of a tourist, I have no interest in visiting the local monuments and museums which means that I generally dont get out much when I’m at conferences etc… And this isnt restricted to business travel either – my vacations usually involve visiting people rather than the places they live.

The one thing I do like doing on trips is sampling the local food and drink. I’m willing to try a good number of dishes and an even greater number of drinks. If you were to ask me how my average trip went I will give you a monosyllabic answer, ask me about the cuisine and its quite possible that I’ll bore you to death. As a sample I’m going to list some of the more interesting things I tried during my last two trips to Finland and Korea.

Finnish Meatballs
Finnish meatballs
If you’ve ever been to IKEA with me you’ll know that I am a big fan of the Swedish meatballs they sell there. So when we ended up going to a traditional finnish restaurant (the famous Seahorse restaurant) for lunch I absolutely had to try the “Finnish meatballs”. The dish itself was awesome and I am now even more impressed at how good the Ikea version is.

Vendace fish in brine
Vendace fish
Vendace fish is a another traditional finnish delicacy which consists of these small headless (decapitated really) fish pickled in brine. A sweetish flavour and an interesting texture make it something I will definitely recommend.

Reindeer burger + steak
Reindeer for dinner
This was one of the things I tried just to see what it was like. The burger was excellent though to be honest I wasn’t that impressed with the steak which was a little to tough for me.

Tar Schnaps
Tar schnaps
This was probably the bravest thing I had on my trip. The drink is made by actually dissolving tar – the same tar used to make roads – in alcohol. I wasn’t sure if I should try it but when the finns who were taking us around told us that it was a local delicacy I had to try it for myself. The most surprising thing is that it is actually a very mellow shot and totally not what you’d expect when someone describes it to you.


I finally got to try Absinthe for the first time. My favourite part of the drink is theatrical production involved in actually making the drink (in the video above). The bartender starts with placing a shot of absinthe in a bath of water and soaks a sugar cube in the drink. He them places the cube on a spoon over the glass and pours the drink over the sugar cube. He then sets the cube on fire and lets its caramelize before dropping it into the drink.

Drinking absinthe
The drink itself has a 70% alcohol content and is served with a jar of water so you can dilute it to . Once you add water to it the drink becomes cloudy and supposedly releases the flavours though I really couldn’t tell any difference. I have to admit that in the end the drink was too strong and I gave up with about 20% left ๐Ÿ™

Koskenkorva 60% Vodka
Koskenkorva 60%
I bought a bottle of this to make some more homemade Salmiakki Koskenkorva. The 60% alcohol content should make it a very interesting batch. ๐Ÿ˜€

This is another drink I picked up at the duty free shop. I was trying to get some Fisu but since they were out of stock the attendant suggested I try Leijona instead. Having tried it I have to say its in a similar vein, has more menthol than fisu but not as much as white opal, definitely worth trying.

Korean multi course meals
The menu
While in Korea I didnt really try anything too out of the ordinary. I did get to have a couple of multi-course Korean dinners which are long sedate affairs and give you a chance to taste several different things. The first one was a 9 course version at the official dinner reception for Ubicomp 2008. As you can see it consisted of a variety of different items including the ‘5 kinds of side dishes’ as a separate item. Most of the items contained meat which meant that vegetarians didnt always get to eat their fill.

After the end of the conference a group of us decided to try out vegetarian version of the same meal. The restaurant consisted of private booths that had paper walls and sliding doors. You had to take off your shoes before entering and sitting cross-legged on the floor. It was a six course meal that was so incredibly filling that I barely even touched the desert. I was so busy eating that I forgot to photograph the food ๐Ÿ™

Geumsan Insamju
Geumsan Insamju
This is a ginseng based korean folk liquor which actually has a real ginseng root in the liquor bottle. The company claims to have been making it since the Age of the Three Kingdoms (1399) and says it has medical properties. The smell reminds me of cutting grass on a wet day while the 43% alcohol content really does hit home.

Bok Boon Ja
Bok Boon Ja
Bok Boon Ja is a sweet raspberry wine which is staple at korean celebrations – I haven’t opened this bottle yet so I cant really comment on the drink.

Masu box souvenir
Masu boxes from Ubicomp 2005
And finally I cant talk about all this liquor without mentioning my all time favourite conference souvenir – these wooden Masu boxes (sake cups) that they gave us at Ubicomp 2005 in Tokyo.

Update: I have since tried the Bok Boon Ja and I have to say that it is spectacular. I’m usually not a big fan of wine but I really like the fruity smell and aftertaste from this wine. I highly recommend it especially to people who like sweeter wines.

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