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Archive for the ‘korean food’ Category

That may have been a little tasteless, but I couldn’t help it. Don’t hate me. Or judge me!

The time had come for us to try bosintang (보신탕), a soup made with gaegogi (개고기) or… dog meat. Yes, the same population that has fully embraced the Paris Hilton trend of parading around toy species in tiny sweaters still happily slurp down a bowl of dog with a side of rice. It’s been a part of Korean cuisine for hundreds of years.

I went to a nearby joint with Evan, Chris and John to pick up some bowls of soup. I had eaten beforehand because I didn’t plan on purchasing my own portion. We sat down and the boys ordered their soup while I opted for a bowl of rice. Even though I didn’t order any myself, I knew I wouldn’t leave the restaurant without trying it.

It tastes like roast beef. It really psyched me out to be eating a puppy, so I could only have two bites. Luckily, the soup came with a large array of side dishes.

Like the über-creepiness of Japanese munching on whale and dolphin as they watch water shows in Taiji in The Cove, I find it strange that bosintang exists in the country of puppy cafes, where you can grab a cup of Joe and play with Fido as you get your caffeine fix. I guess it would be akin to watching a 4-H show and chowing down on a burger or a hot dog, but its the cultural differences that skeeve me out.

It is worth noting that the sale, manufacturing and processing of dog meat have been illegal in Korea since 1984, but it the laws aren’t strictly enforced. The dogs used for consumption are bred and raised in dog farms.

Once was enough.

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Despite having delicious and nutritious lunches prepared for us daily at school, there are times when we need to get away from the workplace (or the fish head soup) and grab a bite to eat at our little neighborhood hole-in-the-wall.

Across the street from mega store E-Mart, there is a tiny Korean joint that serves up amazing food at even more amazing prices. It is our escape from the workday, our little food sanctuary where we can enjoy our company over plates of lovingly prepared food.

Every neighborhood has restaurants akin to this little place, where you can get single servings of food (as opposed to the other barbecue restaurants, where you won’t be served solo). We’ve been to different places, but this is by far our favorite. When we first started dining at this restaurant, I grabbed a take-out menu and spent 2-3 hours trying to translate it. Eventually, I had my Korean teachers help fill in some gaps :)

The menu has a large variety of popular Korean dishes, ranging from rice and noodles to dumplings and meat. Here are some of our favorites:

The kimbap (김밥) here is one of our go-to meals. It is fast, easy and cheap. Large sheets of toasted nori are filled with spinach, carrot, egg, pickled radish and ham, rolled up and sliced.

The tonkatsu (돈까스, fried pork cutlet) is another popular choice. The original and the cheese-filled option are slathered with sauce and served with a small heaping of rice. A hearty lunch for days you need something hot and comforting.

Another winning dish takes the best elements of kimbap and tonkatsu and rolls them up into a piping hot dish of deliciousness. The tonkatsu kimbap features a smaller pork cutlet topped with carrot, spinach, pickled radish and rolled up in rice and nori.

The dolsot bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥) is a top pick for me. The mixture of rice, vegetables, sesame powder, egg and red pepper paste served in a sizzling hot pot is the epitome of comfort food. After I’m finished with it, I want to curl up in the fetal position and nap. So good.

Although I’m not a huge fan of kimchi made with napa cabbage, I do quite like dishes that use the fermented favorite. Kimchi bokumbap, a simple plate of rice fried with spicy kimchi and topped with an egg and toasted nori.

I also love kimchi jjigae, a stew filled with tofu, bean sprouts, bits of beef and kimchi, served boiling in a hot pot with a bowl of rice on the side. It is hot and spicy, but has a refreshing, cleansing effect on my head. This is the ideal soup for when you feel congested!

All the dishes come with the standard sides of kimchi, pickled radish, julienne cut greens and (my favorite) daikon radish kimchi (kkakdugi 배추).

Nom. Is it lunch time yet?

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I’ve been spending a lot of time in on the weekends, hiding out from the cold weather and trying to get things in order before we leave in less than a month (eek!), so I decided that I needed a night out with one of my best friends here in Korea, Chansong, and one of her friends from church!

We met in Cheonbukdae to chat and exercise our chopstick skills over a meal of shabu-shabu at a local Japanese food restaurant. Shabu-shabu refers to thinly sliced beef dipped briefly in boiling broth, then enjoyed with vegetables that also simmer in the same pot. The food trend, which began in Osaka, Japan has quickly caught on all around Asia and has taken on variations in each country.

In Korea, it is customary to serve the beef with a plate of vegetables (ours included three kinds of mushrooms, cabbage, carrots, squash, and a single mandu as well), with a tiny nest of fresh noodles to one side, and a small bowl filled with rice, nori and an egg to make jook at the end of the meal.

To begin, the girls and I dropped our veggies in our personal pots as soon as the broth began to simmer. While they bubbled, we dug into a complimentary salad of crisp cabbage, a ripe, juicy orange and tangy kiwi dressing. Yum! I practically licked the bowl clean. Once the vegetables began to soften, we began dunking our meat our pots and enjoying the combination of the produce and the beef.

I traded Chansong some of my mushrooms for her squash, since she isn’t a fan.

Once the meat was gobbled up (trust — it didn’t take long as I was starving after a long day of work), we plopped the fresh knife-cut noodles into the pot to make a mini version of kalguksu. After slurping up the noodles with the two delicious sauces (one was soy sauce based, the other a kind of gochujung) the broth had reduced quite a bit in the pot and it was time to drop in the rice.

The resulting dish was a creamy type of congee — a rice porridge called jook that combined diced vegetables, nori, rice and a single egg to produce a rich, satisfying bowl of comfort (especially on a night with temps in the 50s). I wasn’t able to finish all of the jook due to my bulging waistline at that point, but it was the perfect end to a perfect meal. My only regret is that I didn’t come to this restaurant sooner!

It was more than a steal at 9,000 won (under $9). I felt like I robbed the place blind!

Afterward we headed to Art and Travel for a night cap and more girl talk.

A few weekends ago, I was lucky enough to be around to celebrate Chansong’s 22nd (21st American age) birthday. Even though she has been able to drink legally in Korea for years now, I felt like this was a milestone that couldn’t go unnoticed. So, we spent a lively Saturday playing cards and drinking at Deepin.

She was a trooper and even accepted the shots of whiskey I bought her — the first ones she had! Happy times with a bestie who I will miss dearly when I go home…

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Last Sunday, the weather was gorgeous (we’re talking in the 60s), so we decided to take a trip to Hanok Village for some souvenir shopping and to eat some of the food Jeonju (and especially the traditional village) is so famous for. ^_-

After a little bit of research, we opted to try Veteran (베테랑), an unassuming restaurant that is famous for its wild sesame knife-cut noodle soup (kalguksu) and dumplings (mandu). People reportedly drive from around the country to eat at this fast-paced, jam-packed restaurant — and I can see why!

Evan and I decided to play it safe and order one of everything on the menu — and judging from the fact that the menu only had three things on it, we were sure we wouldn’t be disappointed.

We began our meal with a dish of jjolmyeon (쫄면) cold noodles slathered in cabbage, cucumber, a spicy red sauce and topped with an egg.

The noodles were chewy, and perhaps I would have liked this bibimguksu (mixed noodle) dish more if the sauce was a touch less sweet. Either way, it was nice, but completely forgettable by the time our next plate arrived.

The mandu (만두) were up next, and they were tiny explosions of flavor wrapped in thin, chewy shells. All too often I find that the wrap, especially with steamed mandu, is too thick or overpowering to enjoy the filling. Not so here! These soft dumplings were stuffed to the brim with sweet potato noodles, pork, and a multitude of spices. Even Ev, who generally doesn’t like steamed dumplings, couldn’t get enough of them. Definitely the best mandu I have had here!

The last dish to arrive was the kalguksu (칼국수) and my only regret is that this soup didn’t come first so we could actually finish it. It was so delicious. The thick, chewy noodles (cut with a knife, not spun, hence the name) had a texture reminiscent of Japanese Udon noodles, and sat in a rich, egg-laced broth. They were topped with soft egg whites, roasted seaweed, red pepper powder and wild sesame seed powder, which I had enjoyed in bibimbap before but never knew what it was!

The resulting dish was a hot, spicy, salty, comforting soup with a broth similar to egg-drop soup. The powdered sesame added another nutty flavor, elevating the umami elements of the dish. It was excellent, and very deserving of it’s country-renowned reputation.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a meal in Jeonju if it weren’t served with pickled radish rounds and a type of kimchi. This particular one is made with daikon radish (kkakdugi 배추) instead of the normal napa cabbage.

I happen to prefer kkakdugi to normal kimchi, because I enjoy the flavor but can’t get past the texture of the fermented cabbage leaves *shudder* It reminds me of wilted lettuce that has sat in the crisper too long and has begun to brown. Eek!

However, this particular kimchi was fermented in a sauce that was — wait for it — way too sweet for my liking. Note to any potential future Korea residents: if you don’t like sugar or everything with a sickeningly sweet twist, don’t bother getting on the plane. Now, I love me a Snickers Ice Cream bar every once and awhile, but the culture here has such a massive sweet tooth that they load the white stuff into everything from pizza sauce and bread to ramyeon! Enough natives… enough.

The kkakdugi at our neighborhood kimbap spot, however, is perfection. Gimme gimme.

The shopping part of the trip was considerably less successful than the eating — despite poking our heads around various shops, we didn’t find anything to satisfy our souvenir wish list. We are off to Seoul this weekend to finally visit the DMZ (yay!) and we plan on taking a look in Insadong for Korean gifts for our loved ones.

Wish me (and my Korean flag, compliments of the tourist hordes in Hanok Village) happy hunting!

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Korea’s answer to Valentine’s Day. You see, that hallmark day for lovers here in the East is reserved especially for females to go gaga over their guys, showering them with candies and chocolates. Now, the day has come for prince charming to woo his women — White Day has arrived!

White Day, a holiday celebrated in Korea and Japan, marks the day when it is the men’s turns to dote on their lady friends. It’s like having V-Day part deux, spinning companies such as Lotte (who runs approximately half of Korea) into a chocolate-pushing frenzy. Only one month after celebrating Valentine’s, the stores are once again chock full of candies and goodies used to make ladies swoon — but the presents don’t stop at treats. Jewelry, lingerie and marshmallows are also popular gifts for Korean men to give today.

Family Mart and GS 25 were fully prepared for the rush of ill-prepared men who are panicking for a last-minute gift to buy their loved ones.

Now, normally I don’t condone these ridiculous, made-up holidays where people feel obligated to buy cheap candy and dote on each other… but since I’m a woman, I will fully embrace this girls-only holiday! :P

At school, a kindergartener named Jin handed out goody bags to the teachers to celebrate. Score! We made out with two lollipops and about 8 packets of instant coffee — which begs the question, is Jin’s mother (who is a constant fixture in the mornings) trying to tell us something? Zombie reference or no, I’ll take it!

My elementary students gave me gifts as well, including a gaggle of lollipops and a delicious truffle-esque candy. Nom nom.

First Pepero Day, then Valentine’s Day, now this? I should move to Korea and start a chocolate manufacturing plant. For real.

Next up is Black Day, where all the sassy singles get together to eat jajangmyeon 짜장면, a delectable Chinese/Korean fusion dish that features thick wheat noodles, meat and vegetables slathered in black soybean paste. Evan and I prefer jajangbap (same dish, just made with rice instead of noodles). Seriously, jajang sauce is so good. SO good. We’ve frequented a Chinese fusion eatery in our ‘hood for months now — for pickup and eat-in. A post with food descriptions and drool-worthy pics to come!

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Okay, this may sound blasphemous, but I have found a new pizza joint to love with heart and soul. Goodbye Pizza School, hello Pizza Maru!

Evan and I have been faithful students at the School since we first came for their delicious and affordable pies — but that all changed awhile ago, when I was introduced to Pizza Maru.

First, the menu at Maru is more extensive and less frighteningly exotic than Pizza School’s. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some variety, but I don’t think that things like mustard and tortilla chips belong on pizza. Ever. Period.

Also, I really do love me some pineapple pizza, which Pizza Maru offers for the same price I was paying for my usual bulgogi pizza at the School.

The thing that really hooked me however, was the crust at Maru. It is a wheat crust, made with all sorts of crushed up seeds and herbs, bursting with fresh, nutty flavors. It is delicious, and quite unlike any pizza crust I’ve had before.

Maru is about a five minute walk from our place, down the street from Pizza School, so we decided to give it a shot. We have been trying lots of new eateries as of late, and its been paying off. So why not be adventurous?

Evan ordered a combination pepperoni and vegetable pie, while I went with a pineapple/herb pizza. I’m hooked on the new joint, but Ev has yet to be convinced of Maru’s superiority.

The second time we visited, I opted for the vegetarian ‘za, while Evan ordered his staple — pepperoni. Mine was delicious, and the boy’s was good too, although he was not feeling the onions, which I would have to agree with. Who puts onions on a pepperoni pizza? Koreans do, that’s who.

So after much deliberation, we decided that we may have to *gasp* hit up the different restaurants to get our pizza fix. Luckily they are right down the street from each other, which makes ordering at different places somewhat more convenient.

There’s a new pizza king in my life.

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For weeks now, the staff at school have been prepping things for the first big party of the year — the Halloween bash! The mid-morning soiree included the parents of our kindergarten classes — who pay more every year to send their kiddies to a hagwon than the tuition at UCSB post-tuition hikes. So naturally, the posh parents had high expectations, and I feel confident we delivered.

First, the school was covered with decorations. I mean, every inch had a smiling jack-o-lantern, or a cobweb, or a fluttering bat. It was the most amazing decor display I have seen at any school, anywhere. For the past three weeks, we have been making Halloween decorations to put up, and the end result was quite impressive.

I handed out pamphlets and schmoozed with parents as they entered, while my fellow foreign teachers got to work carving pumpkins with the children as parents chatted, sipped coffee and tea, took videos and snapped photos of the tykes. During this mingling period, two professional face-painters also gussied up the kids’ faces with whatever their hearts desired.

Once everyone was assembled, the show began. Two of my students acted as the emcees of the festivities, reciting a script written by Evan. They were so good (and looked adorable in their costumes, I’m just sayin’). Abe and Da Yeen introduced another one of my students, who had to recite a speech on her dreams (I wrote it, but she said it well). Two of my other students also got through speeches I had written, about Halloween and healthy eating.

The first group performance were the songs Skidamarinka and The Bear Went Over the Mountain — complete with accompanying exaggerated choreography. We sang with the children, and I just tried not to laugh at the little ones (about 2 years old) who would just wander around, jumping, doing their own moves, or bawling and calling out for their mothers in the audience. Since we had some downtime between sets, we took some glamour shots.

Greg wrote a play for the students to perform, The Ugly Pumpkin, which tells a story similar to that of the ugly duckling. The children all memorized their lines beautifully, much to my delight. They did a great job.

Two more songs, Down By the Bay and John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmitt, made up the finale. We bounced and smiled and shouted along with the students. It was silly and fun.

Afterward, the children “trick-or-treated” by knocking on the classroom doors and receiving goody bags assembled by us the previous evening — and when I say “assembled,” I mean we spent four hours decorating oranges as pumpkins, making suckers into ghosts, counting stickers and pencils, and basically giving each child enough sugar to cause the equivalent of a major caffeine kick. It worked too, the kids ran around like banchees during the following potluck lunch, zipping around and screaming indistinguishable jibberish as they climbed on bookshelves. It was nuts!

The only benefit of the kids basically turning into wild, crazed monkeys is that when I dialed the students for phone teaching later that afternoon, four were sleeping off their sugar rush, giving me a bit of free time. Good stuff.

Now, it’s Saturday and I am feeling well-rested and fully prepared to celebrate Halloween the adult way.

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