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Posts Tagged ‘korean food’

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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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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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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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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One of the best perks of our job comes from the kitchen, my favorite stomping ground. At 12 noon every day, the kindergarten classes gallop to the bathroom to wash their hands, and we — the teachers — get a waft of our lunch for that day.

Two women — Mrs. Han and Mrs. Chai, affectionately referred to as Imonim (aunties) by the Korean teachers — whip up an organic, delicious, nutritous, authentic Korean meal for us to enjoy. The ladies are always busy prepping when we roll into school around 9:30. Everything is freshly prepared, seasoned nicely and usually delicious.

The meals vary from day to day, but always include rice (the school uses a combination of black and white, we call it purple), laver (green tea seasoned seaweed), and a soup of some sort.

I have plucked 5 sample lunches from our menu, all of which we’ve eaten more than once and I have throroughly enjoyed.

Day 1: Pulled beef, egg with vegetables (similar to an omlet), kimchi, purple rice and a spicy soup.

Day 2: White fish cooked with egg and vegetables, spicy cabbage, marinated cucumbers and mushrooms, purple rice with laver and seaweeed soup.

Day 3: dak doritang (spicy Korean dish of chicken simmered with potatoes, carrots, onions and lots of spices — sooo yummy), marinated cucumbers, kimchi, greens, purple rice and egg drop soup.

Day 4: Pork bulgogi (usually served with beef, it is a spicy Korean specialty sauce), purple rice, steamed cabbage with hot pepper sauce and garlicky greens.

Day 5: The school’s version of bibimbap, a popular Korean dish (especially in Jeonju) made with rice, egg, vegetables, laver, meat and bean paste. I paired that with a sort of spicy kimchi and bean sprout soup.

None of my friends that work in other hagwons or in public schools have free lunch cooked for them daily — that I know of, anyway. It certainly pays to be the teacher at a school where students’ parents demand top-notch grub for their kiddies!

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After a couple of batch of failed dumplings, and a dinner in which I almost put a packet of poison into our fresh noodles, Evan and I are starting to get used to our pots, pans, and that tricky burner that only burns on one side at a time. We’ve made successful meals the past two days!

Monday: fresh noodles, oyster mushrooms, bell peppers, frozen spicy chicken (maybe? we don’t know, we can’t tell), soy sauce, sesame oil, and lots of garlic

Tuesday: Pork dumplings (again, we can’t be sure of the meat — we just taste-test at E-Mart, and hope for the best), fresh oranges, fresh strawberries, and bok choi with garlic and sesame oil

Today, we took a break from the kitchen to join John to Pizza School, for delicious pies that cost around $4.

Kamsamnida, to all my culinary fans! Now — time for LOST.

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