Tuesday, 31 August 2010

My lovely Korean teacher.

I have been taking private Korean lessons for around seven months. My wonderful teacher Helen, teaches Korean language skills to most of the 외국인 (foreigners) in the Samgye-Jung-ri area. She also offers us advice whenever she can, just because she is nice like that! She is somewhat famous around these parts and rightly so! We all love her!

Despite her modesty, Helen is a talented Korean cook and has previously taken a bunch of us girls on a cooking weekend. We learnt lots of delicious recipes and had a wonderful time discussing all the foods we miss and little eccentricities about our own countries cuisine. There was also a lot of gossiping and wine drinking. (I will include the recipes another time).
Therefore, food has been something of a talking point between us. I could not hide my happiness when Helen read my blog posts and began thinking about what new vegetarian food she could introduce me to. This resulted in the discovery of a very simple but delicious Vietnamese style snack- rice paper wraps.

I was spoilt rotten at my recent Korean lesson discovering these little beauties. You prepare any fresh vegetables you like and cook a simple omelet- perhaps some fried mushrooms. You then take some pickled radish slices or an intriguing rice paper which you soften in boiled water, as an outer wrapper. The paper turns into a sticky clear film which you lay out on your plate. You then fill it with the veggies and egg and wrap it inside any which way you choose. It’s kind of like an Asian fajita. We then dipped ours in some sweet chili sauce which was delicious. What a refreshing and healthy snack! I was pretty happy when Helen insisted I take the whole package home to sample some more. Yum, yum. The little dog is Bompil, he is my good friend too and he stayed with me and Tom one week- quite the handful but we love him too! 감사합니다 헤른 선생님 (Thank you Helen teacher!!).

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

School dinners... yuck or yum!?

I have been trying to recall my first traditional Korean eating experience. When we arrived, one of the first things we did at the school was sit down with our co-workers and sample the school lunch. We are very lucky in that we get a freshly cooked lunch provided every day, prepared by three lovely Korean ajummas (married ladies). They grow various leafy looking things outside and harvest tomatoes and other root vegetables week by week (see below). I marvel at the rate some of the greenery grows and wonder how many schools in the UK grow their own produce for cooking. Food for thought one might say.


Luckily, when I rocked up all bambi eyed and ignorant of any problems that would stand in my meatless way, our predecessor had done all the vegetarian ground work for me. The cooks therefore had already battled through a year, figuring out what could and could not be eaten. Despite this, I have sampled various ‘special’ versions of stir fried noodles which are quite obviously cooked in the same pan as the meat alternative. I invariably find the odd little chunk of meat in amongst. Quite often they have said ‘there is meat in the guk (soup) but it’s only tiny?!’. I think they think if it is small it doesn’t count! Sometime I have been left only with rice and kimchi, (fermented cabbage-the Korean national dish) especially on days I am praying for a good feed.

Eating fish to me at home, only ever left a dull reminder that it was indeed still an animal. Here, all the fish is served un-filleted with loads of bones, all hacked into chunks with the heads left to glare and it can sometimes be a grim awakening. I once stuck my chopstick in a bowl of soup and pulled it out with the stick rammed down a fish head’s throat! I went white!

We sit to eat with our lovely coworkers around a table in the teachers room where we spend most of the day. Generally they speak in Korean and I spend my time guessing what they are talking about. This skill has developed over time! My lunch today was rice, kimchi, dried squid in red paste, dried vegetables in a sweet black paste, and stir fried sweet potato noodles with vegetables. Plus the daily yacult! The topic of discussion was something along the lines of "Lucy, your diet plan to eat over twenty minutes is not working, it has only been five minutes, slow down!” Tom had a meatier version- rice, kimchi, beef in ginger, stir fried pork and sweet potato noodles and the token yacult.

One of the delights of lunch at school is seeing all the tiny Korean kids trudge massive stainless steel terrines through the hallways, filled with rice or soup. I am amazed by how they managed to hike them up two flights of stairs to the kitchen!! The kid in the picture is 5 years old Korean age so maybe between 3-4 western age! Priceless.

Monday, 23 August 2010

My new foodie blog

After much musing and deliberation, I have finally concluded that my well overdue travel blog should consist of what I know and love best. Being an Ellory, that of course boils down to food (excuse the pun)! I hope to document an insight not only into traditional Korean cuisine, but into the eccentricities of Korea's interpretation of western food in all it's amusing glory. In addition, as my life in Korea opens up more and more opportunities to explore, I will widen my foodie inspiration and amazement and hope you will be as excited as me! I have seen the sweet, the confusing and the downright weird in this country and hope that your cyber belly will be as full as mine!

Now I am in an unusual position and part of the fun of this adventure, is that most Korean's have not the foggiest why or how you would choose to be a vegetarian of sorts (in my case a pescatarian- I eat seafood and fish but no meat). There are many of us in Korea, for the most part expats like myself. Despite this there is a huge lack of commonsense and a whole lot of ignorance to the subject which resulted for the millionth time this very weekend past, where I was left holding the meaty plate! I shall elaborate.... Now I don't go round eating pizza everyday, this was a special occasion as a new western style restaurant had opened in downtown Masan. I asked for a 'pizza' with no meat. The guy behind the counter spoke good English and I felt a lull of security that there was indeed a pizza with only a sprinkling of beautifully fresh seafood delights on a toasty pizza base. I ordered and waited with giddy anticipation as my stomach grumbled for some tastes of home! However, what I and my unsuspecting buddies were served was a kind of runny cheese quiche and of course mine came with ham. I was feeling particularly veggie that day as some times I have been known to be held incommunicado through language barriers or too tired to bother and have just picked through the food, but not today. To my surprise when I took it back and explained that we had agreed no meat, the young guy and his crew of eighteen year old coworkers, seemingly full of youthful and culturally educated pioneering spirit, looked at me like I was an alien and said.. 'well ham is not meat?!' I protested that indeed ham does come from a dwejji (pig) and indeed in my culture equated to an animal. The guys looked very much embarrassed to have mistook ham for a vegetable and this obviously made me feel super guilty and so I ended up apologising for being so awkward. We agreed I would settle to exchange my meal for a tortilla topped with grilled cheese and dairylea type squares on top! Now, one less experienced may have been alarmed but alas, having spent ten months in Korea already I have learned that I am in fact an alien in a meat loving country and I must let bygones be bygones!

I feel these stories must be shared with the world at large. I hope to share some highs and lows of genius foods and awaken a few tired taste buds along the way.

So for now,

Anyeongi gesayo.