Korean food (so far)

This is now the second in what will (hopefully) be an ongoing series on Korean food. The first post was dedicated to my first experience with makgeolli (and beondegi), and you can read about it here. This one is more of an overview of the things I’ve been eating. Food is often very inexpensive in Korea. While it is true that you can get meals for $3-5 USD, most meals are slightly more coming in at the $7-10 range. Still VERY inexpensive! I still try to cook at home a good deal (because, if I eat vegetarian, it is cheaper to eat here), but I certainly eat out much more here than I did back in the States. This could also be due (in part) to the fact that Korean food is just so GOOD! So, here is a fairly incomplete list of things I’ve eaten recently, in order from least to most formal meals.

Hotteok in Seomun market

Hotteok in Seomun market

First up, we have the street food. Korea is well known for having some great street food culture and there is no keeping me from it! Above is the hotteok (Korean doughnuts, but waaaaaaaaay better) cart in Seomun market. They average 1,000 won/each, so it’s a pretty good deal (especially on a cold day)

Below is my favorite twigum lady. Twigum (pictured just out of frame, on the left) is fried food. I don’t know if it refers to anything specific, but I typically see peppers, squid, eggs, squash, and kimbap pieces. Prices range from 500-1,000 won/piece, and many places have specials if you get 3 or 5 pieces. Her stall (which is, conveniently, set up right outside my office) also has odeng (the squiggly fish cake in the center), grilled chicken hearts and intestines (I’ve had the hearts; they’re a little iron-y), and a variety of other meats on sticks.

My twigum lady

My twigum lady

Next up, we have the more cafeteria-style foods. The two major stores near me, Emart and HomePlus, both have lovely cafeterias and I’ve always been very impressed with my meals. Below is my udon (thick noodles) set with kimbap (just plain rice with seaweed around it). The food was good, but the real star was the ojingeojeot (dried squid kimchi). The dried squid gave it a slightly sweet taste and really helped to round out all the spice. The whole meal set me back about 3,000 won

Emart lunch; I think this was a kimbap and udon set

Emart lunch

Emart’s main competitor, HomePlus (owned by the British company, Tesco) has, in my opinion, a slightly better cafeteria. I went the other day and got a bibimbap (rice with stuff on top) set that was very good. They gave me enough food for two people and the rice was perfectly cooked. The toppings were generous and well seasoned. My only complaints are that the egg was fried through (I like a runny yolk) and I was turned down when I tried to refill on the fishcake kimchi. This lunch set me back 5,500 won, so it was still VERY budget friendly.

HomePlus lunch; bibimbap with soup

HomePlus lunch; bibimbap with soup

Next up is tent-food. Maybe this one would better fall between street-food and cafeteria food, but I’m also including atmosphere. I’ve posted this before, but after a somewhat cold, rainy day of hiking around town, this meal really hit the spot. Big bowls of udon and some bulgogi (marinated beef) made for a lovely meal, despite the drunk high schoolers near us. This meal was maybe 5,000 won (again, so inexpensive!)

Tent dinner! Udon with bulgogi

Tent dinner! Udon with bulgogi

And now, onto the restaurants! I get out of work at 10 pm, so sometimes I’m really too tired to cook. Enter Okaduk. Koreans do chicken like you wouldn’t believe. I typically like their oven-roasted chicken (the skin is super crispy and a little sweet, whatever they put on it is MAGICAL), but they also have really good fried chicken. A typical meal is between 8,000-10,000/person, and they always give enough to share. Add in the cheap pitchers of beer, a convenient location (literally right around the corner from school), and it’s not hard to see why we frequent this place. My biggest complaint is that the meal is usually only chicken. No rice, no veggies, nothing. They do give out sides of moo (daikon radish), but that still doesn’t feel particularly healthy.

Okaduk chicken, a work favorite

Okaduk chicken, a work favorite

One of my favorite parts of Korean meals is that they come with banchan (side dishes). Typically these can be refilled as many times as you want (and you will want to refill them), but sometimes they bring out a special dish and you only get one. I went out to sushi with a friend a while back and they brought us out a whole grilled fish before we got our sushi! The sushi itself was “meh” at best, but the banchan fish was incredible. Very fresh and grilled to perfection, we ate every single bit of that dish.

Some banchan before a mediocre sushi lunch

Some banchan before a mediocre sushi lunch

I went on a bike ride last weekend and afterwards was quite hungry. Luckily, I was in an area primarily populated by students, so cheap eats were easy to come by. I sat down and ordered what I thought was one soup, but turned out to be another (probably better) one.Yukgaejang is a Daegu specialty. A thick soup with lots of pepper paste, bean sprouts, and shredded beef, it is simmered for hours so the flavors really meld together. Add in the generous portion of rice (or use the seaweed to make mini wraps) and you’re in business. This meal set me back a staggering 7,000 (including the soda). I’m pretty sure this is what Korean dreams are made of…

Yukgaejang, maybe. If it is, it is a Daegu specialty

Yukgaejang, maybe. If it is, it is a Daegu specialty

And finally, my newest love; shabu-shabu. I always love hotpot meals, but Korea has Vietnamese style places that take it to a whole new level. Shabu-shabu is a Japanese dish that has spread around the world (for a very obvious reason; it’s delicious). So I’m eating a Japanese dish in the Vietnamese style in Korea. Confusing, right? BUT SO GOOD. There are three rounds to shabu-shabu, so come hungry. Round one is the wrap round. They bring out a plate piled high with veggies and you can add some into the pot of broth (especially the mushrooms and greens), and start adding meat very slowly. Once everything is nicely cooked, you take a rice paper wrapper (the circle things), dip it in hot water or broth, set it on your little plate, and start adding uncooked veggies, sauces, and finally a piece of meat. The key is not to add too much, because then your roll won’t close! I’m guilty of this all the time…

Shabu shabu, aka the new love of my life

Shabu shabu, aka the new love of my life

After you’ve eaten your fill of rolls, they will bring some more broth to add to the pot (it gets low, some people like to just eat the broth as soup) and dump in the noodles. Sometimes rice noodles, sometimes delicious homemade buckwheat udon, they create a soup that is to die for. Remember all the meat and veggies that were thrown in earlier? They have now cooked down and imparted their flavor into the broth, so it tastes a little like heaven.

I really really love the noodle part.

I really really love the noodle part.

Round three involves the host pouring out most of the remaining broth and adding in rice, more veggies, and an egg to create a porridge-like ending to the meal. Usually I can only eat a few bites of this, but the rice is really delicious (I need to remember to save room for this!). And there it is, a three course meal for about 10,000/person.

This concludes my essay on Korean food (so far). I’ll make sure to update on things I eat in the future, since I clearly like to eat 🙂

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Korean Delights

There are lots of amazing things about Korea. The underground shopping, the mountains, the food…and if you know me you know I’m all about the food. I’m attempting to do a better job of cataloging what I’ve eaten here (the chicken intestines I accidentally [didn’t realize what they were until too late] ate the other night are a good example of foods I will not be trying again but wish I had gotten a picture of), but we all know how I am with these sorts of things.

THAT BEING SAID, I did pretty well documenting my most recent culinary adventure; makgeolli! Makgeolli is a Korean rice wine that was traditionally fermented by farmers but is now coming back into style in cities. Hipster appeal!

Our makgeolli setup; soup, beondegi (silkworms), sauce for the pajeon, two bowls of makgeolli, and our kettle

Our makgeolli setup; soup, beondegi (silkworms), sauce for the pajeon, two bowls of makgeolli, and our kettle

Traditionally, makgeolli is served with pajeon, a rice flour pancake with green onions (and in our case, octopus). My makgeolli drinking friend (Angelica) and I dove into the pajeon so fast I didn’t take a picture of it, but it was great. Nice and greasy to help absorb the alcohol, super tasty (if you like green onions), and with little bits of seafood as a nice surprise in some bites.

Cold soup, beondegi, and dipping sauce

Cold soup, beondegi, and dipping sauce

It wouldn’t be a Korean meal without side dishes, and the makgeolli house we went to did not disappoint. We were served a soup, a dipping sauce for the pajeon, and beondegi, or fried silkworm pupae. I have a “try most things once” philosophy in life. Who knows if I’ll ever be able to eat these again? The picture below shows the apprehension on my face before I tried these. I’m sure they are very popular for a reason, but I can’t figure out what it is. I did NOT like these at all. It might’ve been the texture (crunchy, but with a juicy center) or the smell (like they’d been in the trash for too long and then covered in dirt), but these come pretty close to my least favorite food ever (#1 is natto).

About to eat, and then spit out, beondegi

About to eat, and then spit out, beondegi.

All in all it was a lovely post-work meal, and I would absolutely go back again (but not for beondegi). The makgeolli (we got the “house” one, but they also have bottled varieties) was 5,000 Won for about 6 servings and the pancake was 4,000 Won for more than enough for two people. That’s around $9 USD for a meal for two with drinks…pretty good. The menu also had ramen, udon, and other types of soup, as well as fried chicken, and other things we couldn’t quite figure out.  We also noticed the guy at another table was eating whole fried fish. I’m going to need to really get my Korean up to speed so I can order that next time!

Angelica enjoying her makgeolli

Angelica enjoying her makgeolli

Makgeolli houses are all around Korea. They usually have the gold kettles outside or hanging near by. The meals are cheap, the food is good, and the makgeolli is delicious. I want to try some flavored ones in the future (chestnut? berry?). Do you know of any really great makgeolli houses in Daegu? I’d love to hear about them!

Settling in

Apparently, if the emails, gchats, and questioning over Skype from my father are any indication, I am a bit remiss in my blogging responsibilities. Sorry! I’ve been getting settled in to my apartment, my new job, and a whole new country.

I will do an update on my apartment once I can find a cord for my camera. I left mine at home back in the States and need to buy a new one here (relatedly, isn’t “home” an odd notion? I’ve moved a number of times in the last few years and only the last place I lived ever really felt like “home.” Now I’m trying to make this place my new home and it is really hard work!). My apartment is quite large (I have a bedroom!), but there was A LOT of cleaning I needed to do when I first moved in. I’m just finishing up the last of it and once I do that and put up a few more things on the walls, I will photograph/record it.

I’ve been spending a great deal of time getting to know my new city. I’ve been to the big EMart (like a super Target, but better) a few times, I found a local supermarket I like for my everyday groceries, I’ve been out to eat a few times.

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Yes, that is an octopus. Yes, it was delicious. Yes, I ate a ton of this for dinner one night. AND IT WAS CHEAP!

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BBQ on Monday nights is a thing. SO MUCH GOOD FOOD ON THAT TABLE.

Ok, I’ll be honest, I’ve been out to eat a few times. It’s just so GOOD. And the prices aren’t that bad. That soup, split between two people (there was a ton of soup…we each had 3-4 bowls) was about $6/person. BBQ is more expensive, at around $12/person, but still totally reasonable for a large group. It’s also a fun meal, since you get to mix the meat with all sorts of yummy things (see all that stuff on the table? It’s all there to accompany the meat!)

I needed to work some of that food off, so this past weekend a few of my fellow teachers and I went to climb Palgongsan (Mt. Palgong). The mountain is amazingly beautiful and only about 40 minutes outside of Daegu. If you want to visit, just take the 1 bus (the red regional bus) out there. Once you see mountains, get off, or wait a little longer and the bus will take you about 1/2 way up. It’s really cheap (1,600 Won, or about $1.60 US) and very convenient. It does tend to get crowded on weekends, so get to the stop early.

We started our afternoon by wandering around the Temple area. There are many different temples and shrines, each constructed to best suit the type of prayer or offering one is making. The buildings were quite beautiful and the whole Temple complex had the scent of incense wafting through the air to really add to the ambiance. The highlight of the Temple area is a 50 foot tall Buddha. The area around it is covered in intricate marble carvings and statues with beautifully manicured gardens. It’s quite a peaceful setting.

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This 50 foot Buddha is one of the highlights of Palgongsan

After the Temple area,we decided we were too tired to hike up the mountain so we headed down to the main road and around to the cable car area. Thank goodness we did that; that cable car was one of the longest rides up a mountain in my LIFE! I swear it took us almost 10 minutes to get to the top. However, it was totally worth my nerves being rattled (such a tiny car and the door kept almost coming open. AHHH!), as the view at the top was breathtaking. The fog created beautiful layers and really highlighted the mountains in the distance. I’m sure it would be great to see Daegu and the surrounding areas from a distance on a clear day, but this was beautiful in its own way.

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A view from the top. This is pretty much what I saw while eating dinner in the restaurant at the top.

After our cable car ride, we headed back down the mountain, past a street full of these cute (and sometimes weird) statues, and tried not to fall asleep on the bus ride home.
034I‘m working on making friends (I am part of a knitting group!) and figuring out how to do everyday things (how the heck do I mail a letter?). I know that it will take time before I feel completely comfortable (how do I even order food in a restaurant without just pointing and hoping for the best?), but this is the exciting part and exactly why I wanted to travel. ADVENTURE!

I’m here!

Well, I’ve been in Korea almost 24 hours! Between Thursday and right now (Sunday afternoon in Korea), I think I’ve slept about 10 hours, and most of those were last night after I arrived. I was just too excited 🙂

My plane food; mostly for my sister because she wanted to see what it looked like.

My plane food; mostly for my sister because she wanted to see what it looked like.

After a little trouble getting from the airport to the hotel (I tried too hard to follow instructions and didn’t use my common sense), I got in at 11ish local time last night and almost immediately crashed. Unfortunately I was up at 6:30 this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. It was fine, but I’m exhausted now. I just got back from a nice walk around town and I need to try and stay awake…we’ll see how that goes.

Today I ate some breakfast and then went out for a few hours. I walked around the Gangnam neighborhood a little (where I’m staying) and then braved the Seoul metro to get over to Meyong-Dong. My original intention was to walk straight to the Namdaemun Market, but I got side tracked by Namsan park and even stumbled into Shinsegae.

Gangnam is a nice neighborhood, but it seemed a little quiet when I left this morning. Maybe because it was Sunday? I’m not sure. On my way back it was hoppin’, but it was nice and empty this morning.

My lunch today; tuna kimbop with soup and kimche

My lunch today; tuna kimbop with soup and kimchi. This was 3,000 Won (about $3 USD) and filled me up for the rest of my adventures!

For my dad: KEBAB! Sadly they were closed

For my dad: KEBAB! Sadly they were closed. I’m sure I’ll find another place in Daegu 🙂

After Gangnam, I got on the subway and headed towards the downtown area of Meyong-Dong. I was headed towards the market when I saw this amazing view of the mountains from the subway exit. One of the reasons I love “unscripted” travel days is that I get to do things like go wherever I want! I headed over to what ended up being Namsan Park. It was a little crowded with tour groups, but the snow made everything incredibly beautiful. Also, MOUNTAINS! Being from the midwest, those are something totally different for me…

A woman making hotteok on the street- cinnamon and sugar filled pancakes

A woman making hotteok on the street outside of the subway- cinnamon and sugar filled pancakes fried in oil.

Bukchon Hanok Village

Namsan Hanok Village

Bukchon Hanok Village

Namsan Hanok Village

Pots of kimche brewing on someone's roof!

Pots of kimchi brewing on someone’s roof!

I then wandered towards the market (FINALLY!) and was a little excited. There were stalls upon stalls of food, clothes, homegoods, etc. I really think they had everything a person could ever want. Of COURSE I was interested in the food. I saw a ton of people eating fried fishcakes on sticks, hotteok, filled pastries of all sorts…everything! There were even snails 🙂 It was almost overwhelming with the mixture of all the different smells, sounds, and things to see. Markets are probably my favorite places to visit in foreign countries and Namdaemun did not disappoint. I would definitely love to go back on a weekday, just to see it when it’s REALLY open.

Snails to eat!

Snails to eat in Namdaemun Market!

Along one of the alleyways in Namdaemun  Market

Along one of the alleyways in Namdaemun Market

A food vendor with all the raw ingredients you could ever want.

A food vendor with all the raw ingredients you could ever want.

I ended up exiting (completely unintentionally) right in front of a large Korean department store, Shinsegae. The part I really enjoyed was the bottom floor with the food! There were little areas of the store, almost like different vendors, specializing in various things. There was a fish area, a meat area, a kimchi area, a pastry area, etc. It was great to look around, but unfortunately the prices were a bit high for my tastes (or maybe my tastes are too high for my prices?). If I were super rich and lived in Seoul, this is totally where I would shop.

Fish in Shinsegae

Dried fish in Shinsegae

Also, since I didn’t snap a ton of pics there, I did make this short Shinsegae video to show you a little of what it looks like. Yes, I’m in the pastry section 🙂

Alright, I’m going to try not to fall asleep and then head out to dinner with some of the other people who are here for training. This week will probably be quite busy, so I don’t expect to blog much more. I hope this is enough to hold over until I get to Daegu!

Korea Bucket list

I’ve been reading up on Korea since before I knew I would be working there. I’ve read many many blogs start to finish, I follow a number of Korean culture and travel (ok, and FOOD) blogs…I’m feeling at least a bit prepared for my move. In preparing, there are a number of things I have come across that really piqued my attention. I’m sure I will add to this list once I’m actually IN Korea, but, for now, this is my “to-do” list for Korea (in no particular order).

63 Building in Seoul– a skyscraper with great views and lots to do.
Sannakji– eating live octopus (probably when my parents come to visit)
Jagalchi fish market– the largest in Korea
Jjimjilbang- Probably Spa Land in Busan, but I imagine others. I just need to get over my fear of public nudity…
Shinsegae Centum City– If I’m going to Spa Land, I might as well check out the world’s largest department store, right?
Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain– This seems so pretty!
Boryeong Mud Festival– Health benefits and mud? Count me in!
Hwanseon Cave– Largest limestone cave in Korea, one of the largest in Asia
Seorakasan National Park– one of Korea’s 21 national parks, and a UNESCO site. This looks amazing.
Dongdaemun Fabric and Craft Market (Seoul)– to feed my love of all things crafty…Although Daegu also has some great craft markets, so that might do it for me. We’ll see!
Gyeongju– in the south eastern part of Korea, I really want to visit Mt. Namsan, but the whole region looks amazing.
Baengnyeong Do (Pangyeong Island)– this island looks great for a short vacation, as well as all the FOOD!
Shabu Shabu- Yes, this is a Japanese dish, but there is a strong tradition of variations of this meal in Korean culture. I WANT IT!
Seomyeon (in Busan)– for when I want to shop shop shop…
Duck in Pumpkin (호박오리, hobak ori)- A traditional Korean dish, especially in the fall. YUM!
Samcheok and Haesindang Park– WARNING, THIS IS NSFW!!! The legends that surround this park are interesting, to say the least, but mostly I want to go for the kitsch factor 🙂
Jindo Sea parting festival– The real name is the “Jindo Miracle Sea Festival.” The miracle is that the sea parts enough to let people walk across land to another island. HOW COOL IS THAT?
Hwacheon Ice Fishing festival- Fish! Frozen stuff! Hokey festivals! I LOVE IT.
Makgeolli House- makgeolli is a fermented rice drink that has a hint of sweetness. I tried some recently and I think it is a bit of an acquired taste (I was the only one in the group who liked it). This drink is native to Korea and traditionally was a farmer’s drink. It’s typically served with pancakes (pajeon) and I can’t wait to try it in a specialty shop!  (Done! Read about it here)
Nami Island– a small island created by the damming of the river, this place looks picturesque as can be.
Boccaccio Brau in Daegu– This is a local brewery in Daegu. Maybe not as exciting as some of the other things on this list, but I think it’ll be neat!
Tripitaka Koreana at the Haeinsa Temple– a temple library housing the most complete collection of Buddhist texts from the 13th century CE. The true nerd comes out 🙂
Baseball game- I love live sports, especially baseball. Asia, and Korea in particular has really taken to baseball, and I’m excited to see a live game there.
StarCraft live match– Yeah…this is more about the cultural experience than any actual interest in StarCraft (yes, I’ve played, but only a few times). Apparently watching this happen (I’m hesitant to use the word “sport” here) is a national event in Korea. It should be very interesting.

And that’s my list! If you have any suggestions on things I MUST do while in Korea, I’d love to hear them!

Also, I just want to point out that the Korean Tourism Organization’s website is INCREDIBLE. Many of the links above direct to there; it’s a really really great resource.

2 DAYS!!