Sunday, 23 October 2011

Jinju Lantern Festival

We recently went to the Jinju Lantern Festival and I was really impressed! Usually festivals in Korea can be a little bit of a let down. The internet can play up the size of the events, I always just miss the activities or all the tents are packed up and empty. But this festival was really cool! The river running through the center of Jinju was filled with lanterns. They were huge in size and characterised a variety of Korean fables and Disney scenes. There were also miniature world monuments and huge mythical animals.

Tunnel of sponsored lanterns

There was an impressive and really long lantern tunnel. The canopy was made from thousands of identical, individually sponsored lanterns. Each one was labeled with a name of a business or family.  Another tunnel was filled with the efforts of local school children. There were so many sponge bob square pants and angry bird lanterns, the latest crazes in Korea. There was even a toilet shaped lantern which depicts Korea's general obsession with toilet humour! It was a feast for the eyes. Everywhere you looked there was an interesting and creative lantern. Some were made with kitchen strainers or other household items.Also fish, insects and traditional styles.

School children's lanterns

When it was time to eat, we avoided the arm grabs from the ajummas (old ladies) selling the outdoor hog roast. They were really pushy which is something I have not seen before in Korea. The language barrier helped a bit when we tried to ignore their temptations. The lantern festival must be a tourist hot spot and don't these women know it! My co-worker actually visited a few nights before us and she got bullied into eating at these open-air restaurants. She said the Korean table next to her got a huge plate of pork, but the foreigner table seemed to get half portions and it was very over priced. Watch out for that little scam!
Luckily we bypassed them as my Korean friend Hazel, wanted to take us to the Jinju Hikers' food tent. This was a tent, funnily enough, run by the Jinju Hikers and their food was anything but amateur. We enjoyed a couple of the vegetable pancakes (전), and some delicious mussels in a garlic broth. We also went for a couple of cups of makkoli rice wine and had a gorgeous view of the river, although the lanterns were a little further along out of sight.

Delicious food from the Jinju Hikers

Squid stuffed with their own legs.

 We wandered around the long market stalls. It was a strange hotchpotch of all kinds of traditional souvenirs, rugs, shampoo, phone covers and socks! There were various other food vendors selling corn dogs, cinnamon crisp breads and squid stuffed with their own legs until they looked uncomfortably full! We took a stroll back down the river. On approach to the rhino lantern, I was convinced it was an elephant. But Steven knew better. I guess his skills in identification of animals from the rear are better than mine.

There were some really intricate lanterns and the traditional Korean lanterns were great! There were also the usual photo opportunities. Hazel and I couldn't resist! Thanks Hazel for taking the time to drive us over to Jinju. The evening was very laid back and relaxing. So much so, that I slept in the car all the way home! :)

Hazel and I

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Autumn Fruit

Last year, we arrived in Masan on November 6th and everything in Korea was new and exciting. The streets had a mixture of Asian and American influences and the leaves on the mountains were turning a golden shade. We are now back in the swing of Autumn and Samgye is looking fresh and beautiful. The weather has cooled down over night. The summer heat has given way to warm afternoon sun and chilly evening air and everyone is breathing a sigh of relief as the humidity of summer has come to an end. When Autumn arrives, I always start to reminisce about harvest festival at primary school. It was fun taking mini hamper baskets to all the old people and generally enjoying the conker fights, pumpkin carving and leaf throwing in the cool weather...all wrapped up and lots of fun to be had!

In Korea, the season comes to an end so rapidly that leaves fall off the trees over night and the bitterly cold weather will be here in no time. The window of opportunity is only short lived, but at the start of October you begin to see the seasonal changes on the market stalls. One orange delight is the persimmons fruit (or Sharon fruit as it is known in the UK).

Before Korea, I had never seen one of these sweet treats. Persimmons look like an orange tomato, but they have a very unique texture on the inside. The squishy pulp is almost jelly-like. There is so much juice in the ripe ones that you almost have to use the skin like a cup. Last year my coworkers threw away the skin like you would a kiwi, but it is edible and I quite like eating the whole thing. This can be messy!  The orange really makes me feel filled with the spirit of Autumn!  Seriously delicious seasonal produce. Why not give the persimmons a whirl!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Just desserts... whadayamean?

I forgot about this little cafe Jamin, we stopped in one afternoon while in Osaka. We were really surprised by the sheer volume of coffee shops, dessert cafes, bakeries and tea houses in the downtown shopping area of Osaka and I wish we could have visited them all! They all had cute shop fronts with tempting menus and tasty looking displays. We decided to head into this one served desserts, cakes and cocktails and it was right by our hotel, Hearton Minami Senba.

It was a little strange sitting right by a small drinks cabinet in the center of a coffee shop. There were quite a mixture of people in there, too. We didn't look out of place, there were some rather stiff looking business types having a meeting and another couple with one pudding and two spoons. We decided to order one each and share! We actually skipped the cocktails because I needed a sugar and tea fix. We chose a drink and desert each from the seven pound fifty set menu or 850 yen. This was really a steal as we had seen a tiny french cake in a bakery window earlier for 35 pound!

The ice cream sundae and New York cheese cake were a dream! Although, the sundae did come with a corn flake layer - not just Koreans who eat cereal as a dessert then. But the Japanese really know how to create interesting and different atmospheres. Amongst the desserts, tea and cocktails were a collection of English children's books. I had never seen ''Whadayamean'' before but it was alongside classics such as ''The Snowman". It made me chuckle because ''whadayamean", said in a Yorkshire accent, used to be Tom's catchphrase.

One thing is for sure, Osaka knows how to please its customers with clean, inventive and delightful food experiences on every corner!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Saturday tea and bibimbap in the countryside.

Last weekend, our friend Judy took Leslie and I to a small Korean restaurant in the Masan countryside. We pulled up outside a quiet place and the only sign of Masan was the lonely bus stop and the train line running by a derelict looking Rosa Italia cafe.

Walking into our lunch time destination, we were greeted by a friendly woman who chatted to us, well Judy acted as translator. She told us about her husband's plans to take a trip to New York. He would go there on business related to the restaurant's soybean soup- Dwenjang jiggae 된장찌개. She said she was very jealous and wanted to go there too! I can't blame her and it made me feel good about the food we were going to eat. I am sure that was the idea.

Judy ordered us three bibimbaps. Bibimbap is a very traditional rice based meal in Korea. It is literally a mixed up bowl of rice with seasonal vegetables finely sliced. A dollop of hot red pepper paste is used to combine all the elements together. It is really filling and usually comes with a fried egg on top but this place seemed really traditional and came without. Instead, we were served the usually variety of fermented kimchis and a surprise korean style vegetable pancake, my favourite. The food came in earthenware bowls along with rustic cups of water and small bowls of dwenjang jjigae.

Leslie and I


The dwenjang jjigae was delicious and definitely worth an international business trip. I enjoyed chatting with Judy and Leslie and generally enjoying the decor. There were some pretty cool sofas with gothic shapes. These finished off a really unusual interior. One table top was filled with dried flowers and there were shelves of ceramic pottery and huge vats of infusing red berries.

When we finished our bibimbap, we were served sexy tea. Now, I am not sure if that is the real name but Judy seemed adamant!  Omija cha (오미자차 5 taste tea) is a tea made from the vats of infusing red berries. Omija cha is named simply because the tea has five flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and spice and it really does! It's quite interesting to taste all those things at once. It's incredibly refreshing, too. I think I had tried this one time last year when our lovely supervisor gave us some homemade tea.

Omija cha / Sexy tea / 5 flavour Korean tea

We settled up and set off back to the high rises of Samgye. First though, we tried to get into the wrong car! Ha! Thanks Judy for a lovely lunch of good conversation and sexy tea education!

A gorgeous picture of Judy

Monday, 3 October 2011

Birthday Bash - Let me eat cake!

What a wonderful birthday weekend I have had. I woke up on Thursday to a table of pressies from thoughtful friends and family and a delicious pancake treat from Tom. He has some skills! I sat and ate the coconut pancakes with honey, cream and peaches while bopping along to Take That live in concert- a nice surprise prepared by Tom. My favorite number being the old school remix and the moving elephant puppet. Man, I love Gary Barlow! I was secretly happy it was raining as it meant our morning hike was postponed and Gary helped me get through it.

That day at school I got a gorgeous bunch of flowers from my new coworker, Jane, a signed picture of the cutest dog in the world from Kez and an ice cream cake from my director. I tried to round up a few people to eat the cake after work but with only 20 minutes notice that just meant more for me! We gave some to the waiters in the restaurant and they gave me a bottle of plum wine to toast with!
I felt a little guilty as all but one of my students from the debate class I teach everyday are currently taking time off for their tests. Poor Katie has to come in and study one on one, but that day she brought in a roll cake so we sat down to have a nibble together while reading an article on William and Kate's wedding and their role as modern royals. Korean Katie will be visiting London, Paris and Barcelona in December on a trip with the YWCA and it was so exciting talking to her about her plans. She will watch the Lion King Musical, visit Oxford University, The Eiffel Tower and The Louvre and watch flamenco dancing in Spain. I am so jealous of her and it was lovely spending time with such a thoughtful and interested young woman. She really loves asking insightful questions about England and Europe not just in preparation for her visit this winter. I wish I was going!

My coworker- Kez and her boyfriend Mark- taking the picture, Helen, Dajeong the dog with Tom and I sharing some Korean pancake and dumplings before ice cream!

 Delicious ice cream cake, Baskin Robbins style!

It was an almond and chocolate flavoured cake. Yummy!

Then on Saturday we had a pot luck party and quiz. Everyone brought a delicious dish; there was curry, Indian meat dishes, Greek salad, taco salad, oriental salad, sushi, bread pudding and a huge lemon drizzle cake with candid lemon slices made by Leslie Campos! There was so much cake it was unreal! Everyone did a grand job! We got stuck into the quiz, I didn't do so well. Helen Si and her team won! We came last place :( Jesse did an excellent job of the quiz although at one point it got a little competitive. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and it all came good in the end.

Me and Hazel

Thanks to everyone for an excellent birthday celebration. It made me think about my wonderful friends and family at home and abroad! What a lucky lady I am! The diet starts today as this weekend I have mostly been eating... cake!

Apple Pie and Egg Tart - Korean Style

Last weekend was round two at the Masan Shinsegae Cookery Academy. This time we were making apple pies and egg tarts. There were five of us foreigners, Helen came along to translate and two of my coworkers joined us alongside three or four other ladies. The teacher seemed pleased to see us and she said she was happy to see some familiar faces. She's a lovely lady and the language barrier did not prevent her skills as a helpful and practical teacher.
We cracked on with the hands on aspects and began to mix the pastry. There was a short word on the difference between pies and tarts more info here if your interested. We made the same pastry dough for both desserts to save on time. The recipe involved mixing flour, salt and a little sugar and lightly rubbing cold butter into the dry ingredients. We added some cold water and placed everything into a plastic bag to be cooled for 30 mins in the fridge while we prepared the fillings. The key to the pastry is apparently to keep the butter cold.

Betty adding the cold butter

Kez and Tina my coworkers

Me slicing my apples

 We began slicing the apples into small pieces and then cooked them in butter. We added sugar, cinnamon and rum to the pan and waited for the water from the apples to reduce into a syrup. I was really enjoying the class at this point. Although I have made a fair few apple pies and have watched my Nana make them for years, the challenge was making it in a Korean kitchen which made me feel like a complete novice! The Korean recipe instructions, some added surprises like a dash of rum and the practical hints and tips we were picking up definitely made things interesting as did cooking with my coworkers Betty and Tina! They are so funny!

We prepped the tins and then rolled out the pastry. I was a little surprised when the teacher told me to roll it out inside the plastic bag. I think this was a mess saving approach but quite frankly I did not agree with the plastic bag and it did not agree with my pastry. It was a very frustrating and it seemed to make the pastry stick more! What I would have given for a wooden rolling board and some flour! But when in Korea.....

Ready to bake
We cut the pastry disks and laid them into the tin cases, spiking them on the bottom with a fork. We filled them with the cooled apples and decorated them with the extra pastry. We also made the egg tarts using a sugar water, egg yolks, vanilla and milk mixture which we had watched being made during a demonstartion. The teacher added a little salt in there, too. The excess pastry was rolled out as shortbread. Delicious!

My finished pies

My finished tarts

I was happy with my results, we sat around for an hour waiting for the pastries to be baked in two batches and it was nice to natter about our experience! Ruta and Betty made some delicious tarts, everyone seemed pleased. It was a morning well spent.

I will definitely be looking into more cooking classes, right now Helen and I are discussing a tailor-made Korean cookery class for the foreigners like myself and Helen is going to be contributing to classes as translator for some time to come which is great news!

 If you are interested in taking classes at Masan Shinsegae Cooking Academy or want more details about the recipes in this blog then please drop me a comment. :)