Entries Tagged as 'South Korea'

A Pop-up Dinner in Suwon

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Thirty kilometers south of Seoul, next to a rice paddy or two, on the roof, under a starless black sky. Bullfrogs and acoustic guitar. Infused liquors. Two chefs. Eight high school culinary students. Twenty-nine lucky diners. It was too dark to get a decent shot of the grilled stuffed flounder or grilled lamb chops, though I’m not sure I would have had the willpower to wait. Thanks Ryan, Zayd, Farah, and everyone else involved for such a memorable occasion.

Good Things

Sunday, June 9, 2013

I have a new dream to one day own a garden. It could be small, it could be in the middle of the city on a roof, but ideally it will be part of a yard with grass soft enough for barefeet. Since moving to our new apartment, we’ve acquired rosemary, lemongrass, basil, and mint. Our cherry tomato plant died a quick death, but the rest are thriving. Why is this exciting, you ask? Because for the first time, I’ve kept a plant alive for more than a couple of weeks (includes cacti). !! I feel like a proud parent.

Let’s move to Seoul and summer and a few exciting things happening in and out of the city. Here’s a very short list of local favorites, some from friends and some from strangers, all good. We’re lucky to live here. If you don’t, you should visit. I know a place you could stay.

500 Bingsu, or the dessert of summer in Korea.

Good beer hunting.

Seoul through the eyes of Jun.

In praise of gochujang, Korea’s most beloved condiment.

Stock up on cherry tomatoes while they’re in season and make some semi-dried.

Beat the heat.

Fresh, homemade Mediterranean foods, same day shipping to Seoul and Suwon, overnight shipping to the rest of Korea.

Egg salad sandwiches for picnics, y’all! Kimchi frittata for brunch!

Itching to get out of Seoul for a day? Buamdong looks like the perfect day trip destination.

A summer musical not to be missed at Haechi Hall in Myeongdong. Go here for ticket info.

Fell + Cole has a fresh store in Hongdae!

Mipa and Yona are opening a baking studio!

Never stop playing. Never stop creating.

75 posts and lunch for 1

Friday, May 31, 2013

I can’t believe it, but this post marks my seventy-fifth. Seventy-five! The number always makes me think of my grandma’s birthday when all the children and grandchildren pooled together to make her a book. As I think of it now, that might have been for her seventieth. Anyway, today was her birthday. She would have been ninety-two.

There is a simple place in my old neighborhood that caters nicely to the solo diner. Most of its patrons are men who go alone for a quick bowl of haejangguk, or hangover stew, and during the weekend morning hours, an open seat is hard to find. Many varieties of hangover soup exist, but this restaurant serves only sunji haejangguk, called so for its inclusion of congealed cow or pig blood. Served in individual earthenware bowls, the soup arrives bubbling. I took MJ and our friend Richard there last summer, and it was the first time for each of us. We had spent the night and the better part of that very morning dancing in Hongdae, and we each needed our own bowl of stew once we woke up, to say the least.

Usually when I go alone for lunch, like yesterday, I order bibimbap. It is the only other option. I sit down at a long wooden table on a short plastic blue stool. A woman standing in front of the kitchen window asks me what I’d like. I tell her, she tells the kitchen, and then she dips a ladle into a gigantic vat of kongnamulguk, or beansprout soup, also known to be good for a hangover. No matter my state, I finish my bowl of it.

In another minute, she calls out my order and delivers a sizzling bowl that sears the steamed rice inside. Crowned with a single fried egg, this hot pot is all I really need, save for a final dousing of hot pepper paste. Nevertheless, I’m here for bibimbap, so I meet her at the buffet of namul, or seasoned vegetables where I will do the rest.

“Don’t touch here, it’s hot,” she warns. I obey and slide the bowl by the cradling carrier. A pair of tongs leans at the ready in each metal tray of namul. There are ribbons of dried and seasoned seaweed, matchsticks of cucumbers, radish salad, seasoned bean sprouts, and bracken fern made tender by hours soaked in water. I add some of each, beginning at the top and moving clockwise until the rice and egg are both buried. At the end of the line are five plastic squeeze bottles of gochujang, a few pairs of scissors, and a giant electric rice warmer for extra hungry lunchers. I squeeze the hot pepper paste in an outward swirl. By the time I sit down, the rice that touches the bowl has begun to get crispy in true dolsot fashion. Bibimbap, this way, is magical.

I am one of two women in the whole restaurant. The place is full of men who watch Korean baseball and hover over their bowls. I look up and see a guy snipping the contents of his bowl with scissors, and I realize I forget this step again. This means I end up fighting to get the long strips of vegetables from spoon to mouth in a way that doesn’t cover my face with red sauce. I don’t fight too hard, though. I am, after all, dining solo, surrounded by older men who are slurping their food and burping with great satisfaction. I head back to the buffet line for more gochujang, and my lady laughs with surprise.

“You like it spicy?” she asks. I nod, and I reach for a napkin to wipe my nose.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lately the news has painted South Korea to be a place of imminent danger, and while I was home in the States, it was easy to become concerned, too. Reeled in by the collective paranoia that the media inspires, it takes a great deal of care to strike a balance between staying informed, or at least feeling informed, and reacting rationally. It’s difficult to address the situation without knowing more than what the news says and how it seems here, but if you’re wondering what current life is like in Seoul through the eyes of an ordinary ex-pat, one thing appears to be true: it is as it was. Seoul feels safer than many other parts of the world, though everybody has a different threshold.

I moved recently from the basement bedroom in the home of one of my surrogate mothers to the top floor of a brick building owned by a grandmother/grandfather duo. Mimsie and I looked at seventeen apartments around Seoul in one day. We fell for the charm, the space, and the owners, and two days later we moved in. Our new neighborhood is eclectic and alive, with quite possibly the most independent burger joints on one block of any other neighborhood in the city. The jewel of the apartment is in the kitchen, smack dab in the center beneath a window looking over a courtyard. It’s an oven, and from what we can tell, it works. If I don’t seem as excited as I ought to be, it’s because there’s a gentleman roasting coffee straight ahead, and the ensuing fumes have rendered me high. Not that I’m complaining.

We’ve scrubbed our fridge free of little black hairs, cleared the corners of cobwebs, buffed the biff and aired out our bedrooms, and the place is beginning to feel like home. Last night we cracked open a bottle of Rioja and sopped up heaps of Shakshuka with hunks of baguette. Shakshuka is a frittata that’s been widely adapted but is originally found in traditional Sephardic Jewish cooking. The version here is common in Israel, made with tomatoes, peppers and onions, loads of cumin, and eggs poached over the top. I got the recipe from my ever-amazing friend Jen, who got it from her friend Shahar, and though I can’t confirm it turned out how it was supposed to, I can confirm it was delicious, and absurdly so. This is a one-pot meal, warming and delightful, and you’ll probably want to make it two days in a row. You could even eat it cold, which might be especially good during the coming months.

Shakshuka adapted from Adventurous Appetite

4 tomatoes

1 onion

1 red pepper

2 tablespoons tomato paste

4 eggs (Shahar and Jen’s recipe calls for 5-6 eggs, but I used a narrow, deep pan and only had room for 4)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 heaping tablespoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon sugar (if your tomatoes are sweet, use less sugar or none at all)

salt and pepper to taste

Chop onion into cubes, set aside. Chop pepper and tomatoes into cubes. Heat a wide pot on medium-high and add the olive oil. Add onion and caramelize, stirring frequently. Add salt. Add red pepper and tomatoes, and cook until softened. Stir in tomato paste, cumin, sugar, and more salt and pepper. Taste, and if you’re satisfied, break the eggs over top, taking care to keep the yolks intact. Go for an even layer of eggs over the whole. Put a lid on it. When the egg yolks are barely set, it’s ready. Serve warm (or cold) with bread.

never say never

Sunday, February 24, 2013

When I was young, I wanted to be a teacher. When I got older, I said I could never teach kindergarten. Next week, I’ll wrap up eighteen months of life as a kindergarten teacher.

What started out so foreign but became so familiar will soon seem like a past life – the three minute walk from door to door, the mandatory watered-down Americanos from the only cafe open early enough, the one-story stair climb to the entrance of the school, muffled squeals of early arrivers behind the doors, kids occupied with water cooler talk too busy to say good morning, the smells of mini sweaty feet from the shoe room and steamed rice from the kitchen at 11:45, like clockwork – all of it.

In the beginning, no teacher in history was more awkward. If the kids asked their parents for an exchange when they got home, I would not have been surprised. Ship her back to 미국, Mom! You said English school was going to be FUN!

If I were to do it all over again, I would be more prepared. I would read more about education, in general and in Korea. Time was what I didn’t have, and I was on a plane before I could change my mind. Though the learning curve was steep, the whole process was game-changing, and I’m anticipating a loss I’ve never felt at the end of a job before.

Last Tuesday, I bit my lip and told my students they’d be getting a new teacher soon. Jed cried on my lap for six minutes, but the rest took the news pretty well. They shrugged their shoulders like yeahwell, nice knowin ya. Can we please color now? Larry put his finger back up his nose, Philip asked if it was time for gym, and it was back to business as usual.

My kindergarten teacher was Mother Theresa. She never yelled. She was patient and fair, and she glided from one end of the room to the other in her long denim skirts with the grace of an Olympic figure skater. Her taste in classroom pets, however, was questionable. One morning when we came to school, there was a cage on a table with a  black and white spotted rat inside. We quickly named her Honey Huggles Phyllis II, and then we took turns holding her. I was terrified that she’d escape while in my custody, so I squeezed her so tightly her little eyes bugged out a bit. That was the only time Miss T ever scolded me, and I cried. When summer vacation came and Miss T needed a home for Honey, my mother volunteered to take her in. Honey died at the end of that summer, and I cried again. Because she knew, my mother replaced her three times within the next year. Some people had dogs. We had domesticated rats. Whenever I tell this story, I try to sell off Honey as a hamster, just with a longer, scalier tail.

A RAT?! they all say.

Well, not like a cat-sized subway rat. A domesticated rat. It’s different.

Like children, they’re never easily fooled, but they usually give me the benefit of the doubt, if only to switch subjects.

One extraordinary effect of teaching is that you get a peek of what you’d be like as a parent. You see your weaknesses and insecurities with glaring acuity. On good days, you handle anything thrown your way with grace, humor, and agility. Your job is the best in the universe, and to your bewilderment, you are a damn fine teacher! On bad days, you feel no more equipped to rear children than Mama June. Bad days rain, and when they do, they pour. I can’t say I’ve never yelled, and I’ve lost my patience once or twice. When the best pet I could give our class was a baby bird made of cotton with a paper beak and googly eyes, they went along with it like champions. But maybe they’ll remember our blindfolded taste tests, how to sing to Barbara Ann, and the difference between a hug and a bear hug.

Tomorrow is my last Monday, and though I’ll probably forget what it feels like to be near the end, I won’t forget how it feels to love these kids.

All names changed to protect the innocent, except Honey’s.