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Archive for September, 2010

Yesterday, I read this terrifying article in the New York Times about how Americans refuse to change their anti-vegetable ways, and it got me thinking about what is in our fridge. Bad timing too, since then I remembered Evan and I have nothing in the fridge after our sweet potato/egg/everything in the fridge hash for dinner last night.

So then, being who I am, convinced myself I would die of malnutrition or some nutrient-deficient disease before the age of 30 unless I bought fresh fare TODAY on my lunch break. So that’s exactly what I did. Less than a block away from mega-chain “everything” store E-Mart, Jeonju locals set up tents on the sidewalk to sell the veggies and fruits of their labor. This produce is straight-from-the-garden fresh, in season, cheap and delicious. We have our very own Farmer’s Market Street!

I have frequently strolled down this street, fascinated at the selection of fruits and vegetables, both foreign and familiar, and grown in plot community gardens around the city.

This farm fare is usually sold by ajummas, or middle-aged women, perched carefully on upside down crates, peeling garlic or washing carrots, watching you as you eye their goods.

Since the BF goes crazy for itty-bitty cherry tomatoes, and I’ve been having a hankering to invent a autumnlicious dish with crisp apples, squash and onions, those fruits and veggies were on the top of my shopping list. No squash in sight, but I did find a large bowl of red apples for W 5,000, alongside a blue bowl bursting with tomatoey goodness for W 3,000. Perfection!

I would have gone crazy picking up more fall favorites, but I only had W 10,000 on my person — damn you financial constraints! Still, I wanted to give you a taste of our convenient option as a way of supporting local farmers in the area. Plus, most vendors stay open until about 9 PM every day, so we really don’t have any excuse to be one of those Americans who consider their french fries (considered a “vegetable” in some circles, what a joke) a decent alternative to healthy food.

After school, we hit the ATM then the friendly neighborhood monster-store to pick up a few more essentials. We got beautiful green peppers and a few onions to complete our daily salads:

We also got chicken breasts (protein), green olives (deliciousness), lettuce (base veggie), eggs (protein), and sweet potatoes (beta carotene!)

Worry absolved, dilemma averted.

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Hot days have melted away to milder, breezy weather. My standard flip-flops have been replaced with Nike Airs and tall boots, paired with sweaters, and the last of the mosquitoes are dying off — fall has officially come to Jeonju.

Although the Korean culture believes that eating HOT food in the summer helps to regain the loss of stamina in the heat, I had to wait for the temperature to drop to make a delectable dish part of my regular restaurant rotation. Gamjatang is a spicy soup made with pork back, vegetables, green onions, wild sesame seeds and lots of hot peppers. There is a tiny spot in Chonbukdae that we go to get this meal — along with tons of other people. The place is always packed — it’s no wonder though, seeing as this is pretty much the only dish they serve, and they do it soooo well.

We went for a hearty, pre-drinking meal on Friday with a few of our friends. As soon as you walk in, the workers rush over with wet napkins, plates, bowls for the bones, and a pair of tongs to help you separate the juicy pork from the spine. Soon after, we each receive boiling hot-stone bowls of the soup. Normally, I’m so hungry that I rush to separate bone from meat, but this time I remembered to take a picture of the original product:

This picture does it no justice. This fragrant, hot, spicy stew is probably my favorite Korean dish at the moment. When I’m not eating it, I am definitely thinking about it.

Next, I began to grab chunks of meat from the soup, and use the chopsticks and tongs to pick off the pork, discarding the bones in a community bowl as I go. As soon as your soup is relatively bone-free, dump in your rice and get to eating! It is a decent amount of work before your meal is ready to be consumed, but every minute you work for it makes your meal taste that much better.

Since Jeonju is the food capital of Korea, and this establishment is well-known as one of the best in the city, I’m confident you would be hard-pressed to find a better pot of this soup anywhere in South Korea!

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Since Evan and I (with our bank accounts’ help) decided to stay home for Chu Seok, we figured that last weekend we deserved a one-day trip to Busan to celebrate the birthdays of Glen and Niall, two buddies on his soccer team. On Saturday morning, we caught the 8:00 AM bus to the beach-side city, alongside Ev’s football friends, for two days of fun in the sand and surf.

We arrived in Busan three hours later, and took a cab directly to Fuzzy Navel — the Mexican restaurant that has now become a sort of vacation staple every time we go to Haeundae Beach. After devouring a meat and avocado burrito (two things that aren’t widely available or affordable), and watching Glen consume this rainbow birthday beverage…

…the group grabbed some beer from a mini-mart and scoped out a spot on the sand. The weather was perfect for being at the beach — high sun, no clouds, and lots of friends.

I splashed around in the warm salt water, exiting only when we spotted a relatively large jelly fish. Having been stung before during a fateful surfing trip in San Diego, I wasn’t too enthusiastic to relive the experience, complete with a hunt for vinegar or worse — someone willing to pee on me. Gross! Luckily, no one was harmed.

After the sun sunk below the tall buildings that surround the beach area, we headed to a nearby hotel to shower, change and get ready to go out to dinner. The hotel, found by two impressive bargain hunters in the group, had a double bed, TV, clean bathroom/shower, and a water cooler — all for W 40,000 (less than $40). Nobody does a deal like Korea.

The group headed to Fuzzy Navel for some pre-dinner beer, but Evan and I opted for dirty martinis because most places don’t have them and since we could get them, why shouldn’t we? It was vacation!

After we all wet our whistles, we walked to a nice Indian restaurant called Namaste, which ended up having delicious food — much to the delight of everyone, especially the English folk, who quite missed their curry from back home!

Even Evan, who was no fan of Indian food, was won over by the garlic naan, chicken tikka and samosas. Yummers. Even better? Dinner was accompanied by red wine, which you don’t have much of in Korea.

Outside the restaurant, chicken fighting ensued on the way to Thursday Party, a local bar.

Things got quite silly there.

Eventually, we decided to make our way to Rock something-or-other, a club on the 14th floor of a building in Haeundae. The hotspot turned out to be a frat party transplant, complete with 19-year-olds, beer pong, and more foreigners than I have seen in one place during the past 5 months in Korea.

We stayed for a brewski, then chatted with friends at Burger King before turning in for the night.

On Sunday, we enjoyed burgers, fries and the view at the oceanfront TGI Friday’s down by the sea. After relaxing in the sand a bit, we headed home to Jeonju, refreshed from our mini-vacation.

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Last week, Evan and I went out for our first trip to a proper makgeolli restaurant, where they serve the popular Korean rice wine in tea kettles. We joined our friend Chris, a university teacher, and his student, who is studying the effects and culture of wine and makgeolli on Koreans versus foreigners. Naturally, we jumped at the chance to be guinea pigs!

The rice wine is milky-white, with a tangy taste and is about 6.5–7% alcohol by volume. We met Chris, our buddy Dave, his student and her pal at a hoppin’ joint in our neighborhood. After only a few glasses, I began to get giggly. Each kettle comes with a number of side dishes, and they get better with every kettle you earn. We snacked on everything from egg and a pancake with octopus, to fish and raw crab mixed with rice (I skipped that, I won’t lie).

After ordering kettle number three, the waiter brought out sannakji, a unique Korean dish that is considered particularly healthy by locals. It consists of a live baby octopus that is chopped up at the table, and is meant to be eaten as the tentacles writhe and wiggle around the plate. Ours was accompanied by laver. The tentacles gripped the plate as you tugged with your chopsticks. The little legs didn’t stop moving, suctioning themselves to the inside of your mouth as you chew them up and swallow them.

PETA certainly wouldn’t approve, but it was a novelty dish and an experience to eat!

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Starting today, Koreans around the country will pack their bags, leave their offices and return to their roots to spend time with their families for Chu Seok, the country’s largest holiday that celebrates the fall equinox. During the holiday, it is common for people to visit the graves of their ancestors, and make wishes to the full moon.

My kids and I have been discussing the upcoming festivities at length for days, and when Friday came around, I knew that I wanted my students to make hats that celebrated the season for their craft.

I cut up brown construction paper into strips for the base of their hat, then found pictures of Koreans in hanboks (traditional clothing), fall harvest fruits and leaves for them to color and decorate their hats with. The craft took longer than the time allotted, so I ended up eating lunch with the kiddies to help them finish. When everything was colored, we cut out the pictures and taped them to pipe cleaners to make a sort of antennae-type head gear.

They were a scream!

Yesterday, we had a Chu Seok celebration with our kindergarten classes, who all wore their hanboks to school. They looked so precious! After doing our reading and writing for one hour, each foreign teacher had the opportunity to make songpyeon with their class — traditional rice cakes filled with a variation of sweet fillings, which could be anything from honey and sesame seeds or red bean paste to chestnuts. We filled ours with a type of roasted bean, which was delicious, then gently folded them into different shapes.

My class got really creative :)

After a lunchtime feast, it was time to play organized games with the children. First, they started by competing in a sort of relay-race, where they had to pop a balloon, crawl through a tunnel, do a somersault, go down a slide, and hop over a series of blocks before the next person on their team could go.

Now, this game would have been a little easier had these girls not been in full dresses. They scurried around the room in their elaborate hanboks, struggling to complete the maze. It was hysterical.

After a failed attempt at a sort of hackey-sack game, the kids moved on to “chicken fighting,” which here is basically hopping on one foot, attempting to knock down your opponent who is also on one foot. Of course, we needed to demonstrate just how to do this by “fighting” Greg and Rachel, as the kids screamed in the background. It was like they were watching a UFC match!

I wish I could share more of the millions of pictures and videos I took during the celebration, but I would like to keep the children relatively anonymous in the photos, out of respect for their parents.

All in all, the day was a really nice way to start the week, and a good transition into a THREE DAY HOLIDAY! As I write this, I’m curled up on the couch with pink fuzzy, wondering what I should eat for breakfast (it’s 11 AM). Ah, the good life :)

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Last week, the school hosted a “welcome party” for newbs Rachel and Greg at our “place” — a samgyepsal restaurant down the street that Evan and I frequent more often than any other eatery ’round the neighborhood. After a delicious meal with our co-workers, our director challenged our vocal cords to a stint at a Norebang near school. How could we say no after he told us he sings a mean Celine Dion? (Which he does).

So we hopped into a couple of taxis, picked up some Hite and brought the party to the private karaoke room. Here are a few highlights from our sing-alongs!

Evan and Greg worked it to the Backstreet Boys anthem “I Want it That Way.”

Rachel belted it out to Queen’s “Somebody to Love.”

Evan and I harmonized to CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.”

Trust me when I say there is nothing more fun then throwing back a few and singing your heart out in the privacy of a closed room with your pals — especially when you can stay there all night if you wish!

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Korean cuisine is obviously fabulous — from grilled galbi and rich dak galbi to hearty gamjatang, light samgyetang, and robust bibimbap, this country is a perfect fit for a foodie like me.

Here comes the BUT — Beondegi is a popular snack food when you’re out drinking with your pals, which doesn’t sound so bad unless you know that beondegi is boiled silk worm pupae. Being the adventurous eater that I am, my pal Rachel and I decided to both eat one at a soju place in Chonbukdae.

As you can see from my gagging, I didn’t particularly enjoy this delicacy. The silk worms are soaked in a briny fluid, when you crunch through their outer shell juices squirt out everywhere. I get a terrible taste in my mouth just thinking about it. Ack!

At least the Hite was nearby to help me wash it down.

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