Ssanghwatang (쌍화탕)


South Korea has a great deal to offer in the way of herbal medicine.  Here, you can find Korean traditional medicine hospitals (한의원) as easily as you could find any western clinic.  You don’t have to go to a hospital to try Korean medicines though, instead, you can stop by your local convenience store and try some ssanghwatang (쌍화탕).  To be honest, most people don’t like it’s flavor; Korean medicine is known for being bitter, even with added sweeteners.  I don’t favor the convenience store fare, but if you go to some cafes (such as those in insadong), you can find a nicer version of ssanghwatang.  I liked this more authentic version so much that I decided to enlist my wife to help me track down a recipe.

The first difficulty was that the herbs required were entirely foreign to me, and not just because they were written in Korean.  Mia gave me a list of herbs and roots and sent me down to the traditional market in town.  I went to the herb shop that I usually go to buy ginseng and asked him to fill the list.  Here is what I bought for making ssanghwatang:

  1. 황기 Hwanggi
  2. 당귀 Danggui
  3. 감초 Gamcho
  4. 백작약 Baekjakyak
  5. 칡 Chilk
  6. 천궁 Cheongung
  7. 숙지황 Sukjihwang
  8. 계피 Gyaepi (cinnamon)
  9. 대추 Daechu (jujube)
  10. 생강 Saenggang (ginger)

For about 100 grams of each, the total came to 16,000 won (about $15 USD).

The recipe that my lovely wife found was approximately the following:

  • 황기 Hwanggi (12g)
  • 당귀 Danggui (12g)
  • 감초 Gamcho (9g)
  • 백작약 Baekjakyak (30g)
  • 칡 Chilk (one piece)
  • 천궁 Cheongung (12g)
  • 숙지황 Sukjihwang (12g)
  • 계피 Gyaepi (cinnamon) (12g)
  • 대추 Daechu (jujube) (six pieces)
  • 생강 Saenggang (ginger) (20g)
  1. Measure all ingredients and add to a boiling bag (except Sukjihwang).
  2. Add bag to boiling water for 30-60 seconds (for cleaning).
  3. Remove bag and dispose of water.
  4. Add 3 liters of water and the bag to the pot.
  5. Cook on high until boiling.
  6. Once boiling, reduce heat to half. (Should be just barely bubbling).
  7. Reduce to half of original volume (to 1.5 liters).
  8. Drink immediately or store in the refrigerator (once it cools).

So, if that wasn’t clear enough, let’s look at some pictures!

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Here we have all of the ingredients and my dear wife.
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Cleaning for 30-60 seconds.
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After cleaning, refil to 3 liters and add boiling bag.  Boil down to about 1.5 liters.  Remember to use half heat once it starts to boil. 
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Serve in a nice tea cup with some candied ginger.  You can also add dried daechu and pine nuts to the tea (they usually do that at the cafes).  

I really hope that this entry has been helpful, or at the very least, interesting.  Another time I will write about how to make a different tea called Shipjeondaebotang (십전대보탕) as well as how to make that candied ginger.  Happy boiling!

Licorice Root Tea


As I mentioned last year, I had surgery to fix my vocal cords.  The problem began most likely due to the amount of talking I did and the amount of caffeine I was drinking.  It wasn’t really so much that I was drinking lots of caffeine, but rather that I was not drinking regular water to keep hydrated.  One very helpful discovery I have made is Kamchocha, or licorice root tea.  This tea is very sweet and it tastes nothing like licorice. In Korea it is fairly easy to find in the open markets, just look for a place that is selling other herbs.  Kamcho tea can be made simply by boiling the root in water for about 30 minutes or so.  I’ve also made it using the slow cook option on my rice cooker; I would set this up before bed and it would cook over night.  The latest method I have been using to make this tea is the easiest of all.  I take about 5 pieces of the root and put it into a 500ml thermos.  I then put boiling water in and put the cap back on.  After an hour this tea is ready and the thermos can be filled up one or two more times.

I am not sure of any medical benefits of this tea; some websites say that it acts as a demulcent to protect your throat.  In my experience I find it to be helpful to drink before a class, and soothing to drink after.

Surprise Cake


Today I was met with a pleasant surprise other than that most of my classes were canceled due to career day.  Actually, all of today has been great!  The day began as I woke up from a full eight hours of sleep; these days more sleep is necessary due to my doctor telling me to lay off the caffeine for a while.  Once I arrived at school I found that the first three classes were canceled due to career day, and later I discovered that my fourth class was canceled due to some assembly for the students.  Next, I had lunch; Wednesdays have a lunch campaign of “clear your tray” to avoid waste.  cafeteria finds that the best way to make this campaign effective is to serve a delicious meal.  So today we had some tasty bibimbab. During lunch I was invited to take a survey for KOSTAT (Korean Statistics) concerning foreign workers.  As a thank you, I was given a 5,000 won gift certificate.  As I was walking back up to the office I had no idea that the best part of the day (that I yet know of) was yet to come.  I arrived at the office with one of my co-teachers to see that the other co-teacher had prepared a cake for celebrating my second year in Korea!

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It was a delicious mocha flavored cake with macaroons on top! I am very grateful to have such kind and fun co-teachers! Once the candles were lit they began singing a pieced together version of “Happy Birthday”, but changed to “Happy Two Years”.

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By the way, Korean cakes tend to be very well decorated.

White Day


A group of girl students run up to me, point at me, and say “namja”. They then point at themselves and say “Yeoja”. The last piece of this puzzle was placed when they then begged “Satang!”. (namja: boy; yeoja: girl; satang: candy)

White Day (March 14) is a holiday in South Korea, Japan, China, and other Asian countries where boys give candy to girls. On Valentines Day the expected roles are switched and girls give candy to boys. Later, on April 14, there is a holiday called Black Day where single people go out together and have jajangmyeon (noodles with black soybean paste).

My Wonderful Landlady


My landlady is a prime example of Korean kindness; any of the foreigners in my building can attest to that.  She treats us with such care and consideration and I am very touched that she takes the time to look out for us.  In some ways she is very motherly to us, and that quality does not go un appreciated.

Today I was walking home from the grocery store and I heard an “annyeong” from behind me.  I turned around to find that she had turned the corner just after me.  First let me say that my conversational Korean is very lacking; I am doing well with vocabulary, but putting sentences together is still somewhat challenging for me.  My landlady is always interested in talking with me when she sees me around, and I try my best! Unfortunately I usually play most of my conversational role as a listener, but that is still good practice!

Today we talked a little about what I had bought; I told her I was going to make some jajangmyeon (a korean/chinese noodle dish).  She asked me if I liked jajangmyeon, and I told her that I did.  I must say that I make a pretty tasty jajang (the sauce that goes on the noodles). After a couple blocks she starts on the topic of Kimchi, asking me if I like it.  I told her “Ne, kimchi johayo” which means “Yes, I like kimchi”.  After that I was not able to fully understand what she was saying due only to my need for improvement in Korean.  I do recall her saying something about “not spicy”; this made more sense to me later.

After I got home I had a thought.  It was not news to me that she was a very kind lady, for chuseok I was given some seongpyeon (rice cake).  So as I was chopping onion for my dinner I was thinking that she was probably going to knock on my door and give me some kimchi.  I was entirely correct. Not even five minutes after I got home, I heard a knock on the door.  I answered the door, after putting the knife down, and greeted my smiling landlady.  She handed me a styrofoam container and told me that it was kimchi! I of course gave her my thanks and she went back upstairs.

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The kimchi that my landlady gave me.

Later that night I had some of the kimchi and I realized why she was saying something about “not spicy” earlier in our conversation.  The kimchi was very mild and delicious (though I enjoy spicy kimchi as well).  It is so wonderful to have such a kind and caring landlady!