Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sipping in Style in Seoul

Birthday celebrations are great over food, particularly when added with a touch of the exotic, and Seoul now has a wide diversity of foods and atmospheres to have an unusual but very memorable dining experience. An all-time favorite is Taj Palace. The food is Pakistani by name, delightful in flavor from the middle-eastern blend of spices and herbs, but the memorable experience tonight was the owner adding his native Kashmiri heritage in a pot of tea brewed specially for the birthday party: a rich mix of Darjeeling tea, cinnamon, cloves, possibly anise, pods and other seeds and spices.
The samovar he used was copper cast with silver overlay, which was then hand-carved, and has been transported on trips from Kashmir to the Himalayas on horses, yaks or whatever transportation they used in order to serve warm drinks on the cold journey. Being unable to build fires en route in such cold conditions, the Kashmiri samovar evolved into a giant tea pot with built-in burner, a hollowed space for two or three small pieces of charcoal to be burned, which brings the tea to a quick boil from internally generated heat. And because of the hollowed compartment for the charcoal, the Kashmiri samovar is unique in the world.
The downside of the internal combustion system is the wear on the inside where the tea is being boiled, and so every four years the silver coating inside the samovar must be replaced, otherwise the copper bitters the tea, making it what can be guessed as a very un-holy tea-drinking experience.
The samovar in the restaurant easily could serve 10 guests, but is nothing in size to the family samovar back in Kashmir, where tea was made in the morning but no one started drinking tea until two hours after breakfast and then it was drunk throughout the day. The owner had another samovar in the restaurant, and it would serve only two cups of tea. The picture here is of the two-cup samovar and two water pitchers made of equally heavy metals.