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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Wherever you go, there you are*

*The title of this post is meant to reference the works of the Buddha and not a 1980’s movie.

I couldn’t tell you the exact point in my life when I decided I wanted to come to Korea. There was no single moment where I said “Yes! This is where my life is headed.” It was certainly on my radar for a number of years before I took the dive and flew over, but there was never one of those “ah-ha!” moments for me. I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling, especially amongst my fellow expats. Korea seems to be full of people who are searching for something. We come here with the intent of escaping any of a multitude of sins back home:debt, ex-loves, responsibility, etc.

I don’t know if I knew I was running when I left. Maybe I thought I was simply leaving something behind, but, then again, maybe we spend most of our lives running: sometimes away from one thing, sometimes towards another. I want to think that, after years of running away, I’m finally running towards something. There is not, as of yet, a way to tell what I’m running towards, but I feel a definite shift in how I see the world these days.

A lotus blossom handed to me by a monk on my way in

A paper lotus blossom handed to me by a monk.

One of the most noticeable changes is that I am learning, slowly, to be happy with myself. Most days, I am content to keep my own company. While there are the bouts of homesickness, loneliness, and those hollow, empty days that are (inevitably) part of life (and the experience here), I don’t spend time dwelling on those feelings as much as I did my first few weeks (months) here. At 27, it feels like I am finally learning to be happy with me (my hope is that this growth will continue, and in 10 years I’ll look back on what I wrote here and go “WHAT WAS I EVEN THINKING?!”).

I don’t know if there is a point to the above rambling, except as a way to say that a few weeks ago, after having every weekend scheduled to the brim with events (all good! But still busy), I needed some down time. I intentionally planned to spend some quality time with myself and had nothing on tap except maybe heading to a park to partake in the Buddha’s Birthday celebrations. I spent a better part of the day just wandering around in Duryu park.

Around 5 p.m, I headed to the outdoor amphitheatre to take part in a floating-lantern ceremony for Buddha’s birthday. The event was combined with a memorial for the victims of the Sewol ferry-boat disaster, and it made for a very moving and beautiful evening.

Lanterns and candles to celebrate Buddha's birthday and commemorate the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster

Lanterns and candles to celebrate Buddha’s birthday and commemorate the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster

Lanterns lined the park and there were various choirs performing on the large stage up front. As people filtered in, they handed out rice balls (a sign of generosity and peace) for people to snack on, and each person was given a lantern and candle.

This girl and her mom were so sweet together

This girl and her mom were so sweet together.

As the sun started setting, a performance group took the stage and brought offerings to the idol on stage. There was more singing and chanting, some speeches (to acknowledge the deceased, I think), and then they dimmed the lights for the lantern send-off.

Another little girl who kept waving at me and singing with her friends.

Another little girl who kept waving at me and singing with her friends.

Group after group of people around me started to send of their lanterns; each inscribed with a message of peace or love. It was quite a sight to see 5,000+ lanterns heading off into the night sky.

Lantern send-off.

Lantern send-off.

A lantern floating off into the night.

A lantern floating off into the night.

Lanterns rising past Woobang Tower

Lanterns rising past Woobang Tower

Korea is never what I expect, but (slowly, slowly) I’m finding my way. Thanks for sharing this journey with me 🙂

The Daegu Stamp Trail (part 1 of ???)

Let me start by saying that the internet is an amazing place. Yes, there are all sorts of horror stories and crazy websites, but as someone who travels, it can be a really great resource. Last weekend, for example, I got connected with a group of people who wanted to check out the Daegu Stamp Trail, a mini-tour of the city where you get stamps at various locations and enjoy the variety of things the city has to offer. I was thinking of doing this on my own anyways (it seems like a really easy way to hit all the major points of interest in the city), but doing it with people who have been here a little longer made it a little easier (navigation!) and I got to meet new people, which is always a plus 🙂

Outside the museum; the stone path around the fountain is supposed to massage your feet (you walk barefoot around it)

Outside the museum; the stone path around the fountain is supposed to massage your feet (you walk barefoot around it)

We started out at the Yangnyeongsi Oriental Medicine Museum. The area surrounding the museum is a bit more historic looking than some of the other parts of downtown that I’ve seen. The whole area smells like ginseng (which we saw quite a bit of) and the surrounding shops are full of barks, roots, and animal parts that I assume cure various maladies.

One of the little scenes in the museum. This one depicted a traditional village market with the various medicinal products for sale.

One of the little scenes in the museum. This one depicted a traditional village market with the various medicinal products for sale.

I’m very glad the museum was free, because it was slightly disappointing. I’m sure it would’ve been better if I spoke Korean, but even the Koreans in our group didn’t seem all that interested. I think the museum was geared very much towards little kids. They did have samples of the various medicinal herbs to smell, which was interesting, but that was about it.

Also, I got a chance to dress up in hanbok.

Also, I got a chance to dress up in hanbok.

After the museum, we walked over to Sang-Hwa Yi‘s old house for a visit. Sang-Hwa was a nationalist poet who actively resisted Japanese rule. The house was left to deteriorate until the late 1990’s when a group of citizens restored it. It was dedicated to the city in 2005 and now serves as an educational center on his life and work. The house is quite beautiful and is decidedly pre-war in style. The contrast between the short, intricately carved, wooden structures and the cement buildings which surround it is startling. The house compound was very quiet and peaceful; it was a nice break from the city and I would really like to go back and spend more time looking at the houses and just enjoying the quiet.

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From here, we walked to a tiny neighborhood where we wound down many narrow alleys and finally found ourselves at a Confucian Academy. The academy is situated slightly up on a hill and provides a nice view of the nearby cathedral. I imagine in the later spring and summer seasons the gardens are very beautiful, but when we were there, the soil was just being turned for planting.

One of the buildings at the Confucian academy

One of the buildings at the Confucian academy

Old/new architecture. This is a view of the cathedral from the school.

Old/new architecture. This is a view of the cathedral from the school.

One of the many front gardens of the homes surrounding the academy

One of the many front gardens of the homes surrounding the academy

My favorite part was wandering the alleyways around the academy. The homes were so old and really took me back in time. Peeking through the gates was always a surprise, as most people have very nicely manicured yards. I wonder if they have a garden tour here like they do back in Ann Arbor…

After the academy, we headed over to Seomun Market (which I’ve been to before) to wander around, drink some rice punch, and generally get lost in the chaos that is a Saturday afternoon at the market. The only notable difference was that this time we found a few yarn shops! Now that I know where they are, I just need to figure out a time to go back!

The last stamp trail stop of the day was Dalseong Park. The park includes part of a castle wall (I’m not so sure we saw that; by then I was a little tired and it started to rain). We grabbed some pumpkin taffy (NEVER. AGAIN.) outside the park from a man dressed like a depressed clown and headed in to explore.

The park entrance. The topiary and landscaping continued throughout.

The park entrance. The topiary and landscaping continued throughout.

The first thing we came upon was the most depressing zoo I’ve ever seen in my life. I couldn’t bring myself to take any photos, as the animals all looked miserable. It broke my heart to see them in such cramped and dirty living conditions. It’s a free zoo, and they clearly do not get sufficient funds to maintain the habitats.

Once we got away from the zoo area, it was a little easier to enjoy the park (though the animals’ living conditions  still weighed heavy on my mind). The cherry blossoms were just starting to bloom and I got my first proper view of them.

Yes, a selfie. It was a bit rainy, but look at how happy I am in the cherry blossoms!

Yes, a selfie. It was a bit rainy, but look at how happy I am in the cherry blossoms!

Cherry blossoms and a pond

Cherry blossoms and a pond

At this point, we were tired, cold, wet, and hungry. If you travel at all, you know that this can be a deadly combination. One of our group members suggested an udon place nearby and we headed in for a lovely meal. It was one of the famous “red tent” places that only locals seem to know about. As soon as we walked in, we instantly felt better. The warmth and light provided a great contrast to the dark rain outside and we were greeted like old friends. The owner immediately brought over two bottles of pepsi and our food was out to us in a flash. After walking in the rain, the udon and bulgogi warmed us up and we thoroughly enjoyed the meal and company (even the high schoolers getting drunk at the table behind us).

Inside the red tent

Inside the red tent

Our dinner! Only 6,000 won/person

Our dinner! Only 6,000 won/person

All in all it was a great day and I am really looking forward to seeing more sites on the trail. Hopefully I can go with the stamp trail group again, as they really seem to know what’s going on.

Seomun Market

This past weekend, after a morning of work, a friend and I decided to pay Seomun Market a visit. Seomun is one of the many many many traditional markets in Daegu. They specialize in silk products (especially fabrics by the bolt and hanbok) and dried fish, but have many many many other products, too. The market is winding and easy to get lost in. When I think of “traditional market” this is exactly what I picture. Stalls overflowing with items to buy, strange and wonderful smells coming from street food vendors, and people crowded into tiny spaces to bargain for the best deal of the day.

The entrance for Seomun market

The entrance for Seomun market

The market is divided into sections loosely based on what is being sold; fabrics are in one area, seafood in another, etc. However, there are other vendors interspersed throughout.

We started with the dried fish and kitchen goods (pots, pans, dishes, etc.). There were stalls upon stalls filled with every size and type of dried fish imaginable. I think most of the dried fish is sold to be put into soups, but I’m sure the smaller ones are for snacks (probably as anju, or food to be consumed with alcohol). In addition to the fish, there are mounds of dried seaweed and kelp. Some of the packages are over 8 feet long! That is more than you or I might ever use in a lifetime, but when you live on a peninsula surrounded by the ocean, it makes sense to eat it.

I have no idea what this is. Anyone want to help ID this fish?

I have no idea what this is. Anyone want to help ID this fish?

More dried fish. These were about 8'', but they got bigger (up to about a foot and a half) and much smaller (tiny ones about half an inch  long!).

More dried fish. These were about 8”, but they got bigger (up to about a foot and a half) and much smaller (tiny ones about half an inch long!).

A view down the street when you first enter the market.

A view down the street when you first enter the market. Those are all packages of dried fish and sea vegetables of various sorts.

After the fish/kitchen area, we headed inside to take in the sights  at one of the more central market areas. Inside was filled with people eating, buying, meeting friends…the hustle and bustle of life. While there were clearly tourists at the market, on a Saturday afternoon it was mostly locals buying their groceries or running errands.

The fried bun station was one of the most popular street foods. I nearly got knocked down trying to take the picture below because someone thought I was trying to line jump. I just wanted a picture!

This fried bun station was BUSY! I didn't get a chance to try one because the line was so long, but I'll be back next time!

This fried bun station was BUSY! I didn’t get a chance to try one because the line was so long, but I’ll be back next time!

Seomun is known for selling pig feet, and they were everywhere. The market is set up so there are two sets of stalls, one behind another, and a central aisle. The front stalls are usually food and the back ones are dried goods. The food stalls all have very similar products in each aisle. The little benches in front of each stall were nearly all full and people seemed to be enjoying their meals. I think I’ll pass on the pig brains, but it was an exciting sight to behold.

Pork products, for my dad :) I think intestines, feet (for which the market is famous), and...butt? Unclear to me, but very very popular.

Pork products, for my dad 🙂 I think intestines, feet (for which the market is famous), brains, and…butt? Unclear to me, but very very popular.

A view of one of the market's aisles from above.

A view of one of the market’s aisles from above.

Seomun market is a delight for all the senses (ok, sometimes the smells are a little much, but that’s part of the experience!) and I highly recommend a visit if you’re in Daegu. I love markets and my next adventure is the traditional herbal market in town. I can’t wait for next weekend’s adventures!

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!