Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Street food

Korea has an amazing street atmosphere during both day and night. There are people bustling around trying to get home, brightly and eccentrically dressed old women laying down on street corners, waiting to sell their home grown onions, leeks or various leafy looking vegetables. Cars beeping their horns at every opportunity as some unfazed and oblivious woman parks right in the middle of flowing traffic to nip to the bank.
If you stop and take a look, there will be a group of people standing still with you. They spend their life watching the world go by from behind a steaming corn on the cob cooker, a sweet chestnut dough ball molder, or a big vat of slow cooked fish cake treats, neatly concertinaed on to enormous skewers. They are the street food vendors and they are there day and night, through freezing cold and boiling humidity, in the hope that they can sell you a red bean filled pancake rammed into a paper cup- too hot for even the most asbestos mouthed Englishman. If you don't like the sound of that how about a pot of silkworm lava!

I have taken a few photographs over our time here, none of which capture the true bustling atmosphere and genuine skill and efficiency developed by these vendors while they serve, heat and mould their wares.

May you be warm and prosperous over the coming winter months.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Weird and Wonderful

Our first lone venture into a Korean restaurant consisted of Tom and I apprehensively entering a small place right by our apartment. The small family-run restaurant had a fish tank outside and a few pictures on the wall. We had not met any foreigners to give us any understanding of what was going on and we had naively not actually prepared ourselves despite clutching at our Korean travel guide. We were simply Korean food virgins.
We thought this place would be safe as we could point at the fish and pictures and do the general foriegner gesturing. I don't think it was until this point that I realised being a vegetarian might be difficult in Korea. We hadn't even brought a phrase book with us. We had no Korean speaking under our belt so when the woman  came over to take our order, we both just gormlessly pointed at two different pictures of what looked like soup mounted on the wall next to us and said, 'eerr this one and this one??'.

She immediately realised how helpless we were and scurried off into the kitchen and came back after a brief moment with various samples of kimchi (fermented cabbage or radish or other vegetables of choice). We waited for our soup with excitement- what would it be? When mine came it was an almost florescent turquoise colour and one deep plunge into the bowl with my spoon revealed a multitude of black snail like sea creatures! I got the giggles a little at the ridiculousness of the situation. The good thing is, Korean's have a good humour about their food and always try to get you to taste new things or eat the Korean way, if it doesn't eat you first~

Since that moment, nothing has surprised me when it comes to Korean food. On reflection I have come to realise that on many occasions I have remained a spectator and lived my Korean dining experience through Tom. I am squeamish about meaty oddities, but living with a meat lover like Tom has meant I have usually just stared on!

I have put together my top five weird food memories which I hope provide a quick insight.

1) The first one has to be another early time when we went into a Korean bar and we were of course handed a Korean bar menu. By that time I had learned how to explain no meat but we still did not know what things were as we could not read Korean. Tom being a brave soul asked which section was chicken. He then literally spun his finger on this section and pointed at one of the options. The woman just blinked at him and said 'ooh very spicy', but Tom thought he could handle it!
Eventually, the very friendly woman brought me a rolled omelet with mushrooms, very tasty! Tom's face dropped however when out came a mound high plate of incredibly spicy chicken feet! He swallowed down a fair few mouthfuls and although the texture itself didn't really bother him, the spiciness was off the scale. He was chewing them as quick as possible and then drowning it with beer. Of course I didn't help him eat them and he didn't want to leave more than he ate to be polite. I guess the woman was right to warn him, but you would have though she would have at least tried to charade an explanation that it was 'chicken' feet.

2) We have also had the infamous live octopus experience. Our friend Zuleika took us to the local restaurant near her apartment as her family had come to stay and she wanted to expose them to Korean food. We naturally jumped at the chance to witness the unknown. The octopus itself is not actually alive, but it is killed only moments before they serve it to you and it comes raw and squiggling as the nerves fight their last battle against death. The squiggling can die down but be reinvigorated if you poke around with it. It is extremely disgusting but incredibly fascinating. Luckily it was cut into small pieces. We had seen some videos of whole octopus being pushed into a mouth as the tentacles tried to escape. It is important to kill the 'whole' kind with your teeth as they can sucker onto your throat and kill you. I just looked on in horror.

3) At our co-workers leaving lunch, we all went for dinner at an oyster restaurant where we ate delicious oyster soup with kimchi and sticky rice. For some reason though two of the girls ordered a fish stew instead. We were naturally inquisitive about their dish and as the soupy broth disappeared from the big pot to the individual serving bowls, it revealed a coagulated lump of what looked like dry noodles. Tom asked, 'what's that?' to which Lora laughed! 'It's fish intestines, you want some, it's delicious and good for you...' and again Tom said, why not!! He did say it was one of the most disgusting things he has ever eaten. I second that.

4) There is also a Korean delicacy dish named samgyetang. I don't think there is a connection between this name and our town Samgye but I may be wrong. This dish involves boiling a whole baby chicken in a vegetable soupy broth until the meat literally falls off the tiny birds bones. I think there must be something politically incorrect about eating a baby bird but the Koreans fall back on the old, 'healthy food' reasoning and people like Tom relish on it, so I guess who am I to judge.

5) One less carnivorous moment was one winter morning when we arrived as usual in the teachers room at school at 9:45am. I looked round to greet everyone and what a sight I saw! Lora and Miju were spreading strawberry ice-cream on slices of white bread and stuffing strawberries on top. They were literally going to town. This situation was wrong on many levels a) being so early b) being so wintry and c) being so savoury/sweet! When they offered me a bite, I politely refused and instead I took this snapshot.

Finally I wanted to share this cheeky extra one with you.

When we went snowboarding, these tiny crab critters were served as a side dish to our main meals. None of us could bring ourselves to drop one of them down the hatch, they looked too helpless and I cannot imagine they would have been very easy to chew through. I don't think I will ever understand people who can look a little guy in the beady eyes and then bite off it's head. Poor fella.

Thank you Korea for your colourfully carnivorous moments. They have been some of the best memories.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Tasty Geoje Treats

I have been meaning to put these recipes on here and have finally got round to typing them all up!
I noted them down while a bunch of us clueless girlies observed Helen's cooking for the first time. She took us to Geoje-do for the weekend to stay in her very generous friend's apartment, the results were fantastic! Her friend offered us the apartment for the weekend as her family were away in Seoul. It turned out though that Helen and her friend had got the dates confused, so her husband was hiding in his bedroom for most of the weekend, while we drank and ate. We were trying to be as discreet as possible but you know what it can be like when a bunch of women get together! Terrible!!! But he was very well humored and we felt very welcome!

We made a variety of delicious Korean dishes and to top it off made some chocolate chip cookies for dessert!
Here we go then! 

Helen's Dak Dori Tang (Chicken mixed stew)

This can be made using Chicken thighs and legs or tofu for a veggie alternative.

Ingredients for the Dak Dori Tang sauce.
(Amounts should vary to your taste).
Soy sauce
Chili powder and paste
Ground onion
Sweet wine

Add any roughly chopped vegetables you like such as potatoes, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower.
For extra flavor add sliced onions, spring onions, and fresh green chilies.


Simply put everything in a pan, cover with water and leave to boil on a high temperature for around 25 minutes. Serve! Pretty easy really!

When you have picked out all the larger ingredients, you can add cooked noodles to the sauce and share from one big pot. Helen also suggested that you could save the left over sauce and add it to cooked rice. You can then fry the whole lot up to make bokkeumbap (another traditional Korean dish). This is apparently extra special if you add mozzarella cheese.


Helen's  Pajeon (savoury pancake)

This is a kind of savoury pancake and is actually my favourite Korean food. It is really tasty and fresh and quite easy to make. The only bad thing is it's fried but you could use a really good oil to make it slightly healthier. It is still pretty healthy. There are numerous variations or you can make it up as you go along.

Basic Pancake mixture

2 cups of flour
1 egg
1 cup of water
Pinch of salt

Mix the ingredients into a bowl and try to make a smooth paste.
For flavour add diced onion and garlic.

Seafood Pajeon

Add your onions garlic, spring onions, and chopped seafood to the pancake mix and then fry in a little oil in a frying pan. Make sure you flatten the ingredients and be careful when turning as it can break up. Chop the pancake up with scissors and serve with the dipping sauce (below).

Kimchi Pajeon

Add the same onions, garlic, spring onions and shredded carrots or finely chopped mushrooms to the pancake mix. Take some fresh kimchi, squeeze the water out of this before adding and roughly chop into small pieces with scissors. Add to the pancake mix. Cook as before.

Vegetable Pajeon

Add the onions, garlic and any finely chopped veggies you like. Cook as above.

Dipping sauce

Soy sauce: water: vinegar ratio 1:1:1. Add a pinch of sugar and a pinch of salt.

Helen's Dwen jang jjigae (soybean stew)

Thanks to Anmri, I discovered this dish early on as one of the few staple things I can eat in a meat restaurant. It is usually served as an accompaniment to samgyeopsal (BBQ pork) so when Tom is feeling meaty, I can always order this with a degree of safety. Some times there is the odd crab floating around inside but I have got used to those little guys.


Cold water/stock, enough to cover the base of a 2 pint dish.
1 heaped table spoon of dwenjang paste.
Potato thinly sliced
green chili
sliced onion
spring onion


Dissolve the dwenjang paste into the cold water, add the potato and seafood and bring to the boil for 10-15 minutes. Add the other ingredients, and boil for a further 5 minutes.

Serve with rice. You can add hot pepper or gim (shredded seaweed paper) at the end for extra flavour but I prefer without. I take a spoon of rice and dip it into the stew as it is often served still boiling and the rice acts as a coolant.

Helen's Mandu 

Mandu come in many varieties and are basically stuffed dumplings. They can be steamed or fried, and are served with the same dipping sauce used for pajeon. At school the fried versions have been served in a red pepper paste. Most Korean mandu have gogi (meat, generally ground pork) inside, so it is refreshing being able to make my own so I can actually eat some!!

You will need to some mandu pasta circles. These are very similar to wanton discs which you should be able to find in a big supermarket or a Chinese market.

Stuffing for kimchi mandu.

1 block of tofu
A handful of Kimchi, squeezed of water and chopped up with scissors into small pieces.
pinch of pepper. No salt as this is in the kimchi.
3 spring onions.
1 egg.

Stuffing Ingredients for meat mandu

170g Ground beef
pinch salt
pinch pepper
3 spring onions
half block tofu
1 egg

You can add chopped shrimps, white fish or tuna to the kimchi stuffing if you like but be careful not to over stuff the mandu and reduce the amount of tofu accordingly.


Combine all the ingredient in a bowl until mixed well.
Place a teaspoon full of the stuffing into the center of the mandu disc. Add a little water to the outer edge and seal together. You can seal into a semi circle or try a tortellini style fold. I have tried to add some pictures for reference.

Place in a steamer and steam for 10 minutes. They can be frozen in their uncooked state and then steamed for around 15 mins. This has been useful for tired Saturday afternoons when we can't be bothered to cook.

Dipping sauce
Again serve with this dipping sauce:
Soy sauce: water: vinegar, in ratio 1:1:1.
Add a pinch of sugar and a pinch of salt.

There you have it! Enjoy!
Anyeongi gaesayo.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Dinner guests

So last week our coworkers came for dinner. It was supposed to be a leaving party for our supervisor who recently handed in her notice for various complex reasons, but in the end she didn't come.
We planned to make a curry as Tom's mum sent us a plethora of Indian spices and Tom is an amazing- shall we say 'currier'! We invited them for this specific reason and there was an excited buzz around the teachers room 'ooh we are going to the waeguk's house'!!!

Later in the week over lunch, Lucy (the youngest of the group) chirped up that they would all much prefer another spaghetti dinner! We laughed at how last time they had visited, Lucy had asked if she could take home leftovers and we had giggled as though she was joking but she had apparently been very upset we had not taken her seriously! So we were beaten into submission and changed the plan to spaghetti. They wanted to come over before we started to cook so they could learn.
I am not sure why they don't care for curry. Tom and I discussed it and I think Koreans very much like to stick to the order of things and there are only a handful of Indian restaurants in the whole area. I don't think Indian food is high on the Korean agenda, so pasta it was.

When they arrived they brought an array of fresh fruit gifts which is a traditional Korean greeting when visiting someones home. Last time they came they gave us a 32 pack of toilet roll which was unexpected to say the least but very appreciated.
We started to cook. There were five Korean women all huddled around Tom as he put the oil into the pan...ooh the anticipation. I think they find our cooking fascinating as the younger women generally don't know how to cook until they are due to be married and certainly then only traditional Korean dishes for the family. Lucy was tentatively watching as she had so much enjoyed the spaghetti before. We explained that we were going to make a basic tomato sauce which we would blend down to make a smooth covering for the spaghetti, but this time there would be no mince (mainly as last time it was so expensive).
We ate bruschetta as a starter, however the bread was not toasted due to the lack of grill or oven in any Korean kitchen. We have found a really nice local bakery where we can get fresh baguettes, so we sliced that up and they went to town spooning fresh tomato and cucumber on their bread and dipping it in balsamic vinegar. This seemed to literally fascinate them which was a strange feeling as it is something so basic to us!

When we served the pasta we were all huddled round tucking in. I was thinking... 'It could do with some grated mature cheddar, damn Korea's lack of cheese', and then Lucy said- and I laugh now thinking about it, 'It's a little bland'?!
Tom and I narrowly avoided snorting our spaghetti through our nose but no one else seemed to react. Then Miju, our lovely new supervisor, took to damage control and said 'I think what Lucy means is that normally when you eat out in Korea the food is very salty but this is a healthy food'.
Lucy however did not add any further comments but ate her pasta with some enthusiasm. I can only assume there was some kind of translation problem and she couldn't have meant that literally.

Everyone seemed to enjoy it and said they were going to make pasta for their family.
We took the above picture after dinner and everyone looks happy. Needless to say, we felt a bit put out and as though the evening was not as successful as the previous spagbol dinner. I think when living in Korea you need to learn not to take offense in any situation as not only can Koreans be very abruptly honest, they can also use very inappropriate words at the funniest of moments! This has not been the first instance!

There is a happy ending to this sorry tale. The next morning Lucy was tucking into the left overs for breakfast in the teachers room. She had not forgotten to bring her Tupperware this time! It obviously wasn't too bad after all!