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!

Here we have all of the ingredients and my dear wife.
Cleaning for 30-60 seconds.
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. 
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.

Student Loans

It’s no secret that many English teachers in Korea have at least some student loan debt, I am no different.  Because I went to a private university for my bachelors, I probably have a decent bit more than most.  That being said, I find that my loan payments are fairly affordable.

When I first considered coming to Korea to teach English I was certain that I would not be able to afford my loan payments and be able to eat.  A few years later I did some more math and discovered quite the opposite.  I am able to afford to pay my loans, plus a bit extra (so they go down faster), and still maintain a budgeted yet comfortable life.

One of the difficult parts about planning a budget in a country that you have not lived in before is that you may not know what to expect.  Here I will list the most common bills and fees that one might encounter in Korea (all prices are in Korean won per month).

Apartment: With most contracts in Korea, the school will find and pay for your apartment unless you wish to find your own living space.  In the case of the latter, the school should give you a stipend to pay for your housing.  This works well if you want something other than the one room style apartments that they usually choose.  In the current EPIK contract I think it states that 400,000 will be given as a stipend if the teacher wishes to find their own housing.  In Korea, it is very common for a landlord to ask for a large deposit before allowing you to move in.  This can sometimes affect the rent that you pay. For example: one landlord may ask for a 5,000,000 deposit and charge 400,000 per month, or ask for a 10,000,000 deposit and charge only 350,000 per month.  This money, known as “key money”, is considered to be a deposit, and will be returned at the end of the lease.  If you allow you school to choose and pay for your apartment, you should not have to worry about any key money or rent payments.

Cellphone:  Your phone bill will vary depending on if you have your own phone or if you need to buy a new one.  If you do not need a new one you will probably be paying 35,000 – 50,000 per month for a data plan.  The lower end will be for a 3G network, and the higher will be for faster networks. The 3G will probably be unlimited data, but the faster networks may be limited. If you do need to purchase a new phone, there are a couple of options available.  The first option is to pay for the phone straight up at the beginning of the contract.  The second option is to pay monthly installments presumably with some  interest. This second option is only available if a contract of at least 2 years is signed.  To calculate the cost per month of the installment method, divide the price of the phone by 24 (two years of contract).  The price of the phone, the data plan, and any other options will appear on your phone bill.

Gas:  In Korea gas is commonly used for heating water as well as the floor heating system.  Gas will be fairly cheap in the summer and expensive in the winter as the amount used will vary.  Gas may cost as little as 10,000 in the summer and as much as 90,000 in a cold month of the winter.  The price will also depend on how big the apartment is; these prices are aimed at a one room studio.

Electric:  Electric runs the opposite as gas; in the summer it will be more expensive and in the winter it will be less.  Summer rates may run as high as 70,000, and winter as low as 15,000.  This mostly depends on how much the air-conditioner is used.

Maintenance fee:  Many foreigners are surprised by the maintenance fee for their apartment. This maintenance fee covers a number of factors that the landlord or landlady takes care of.  This often includes internet, water, building electricity (anything not in an apartment), elevator, and other maintenance.  From what I have gathered, 30,000 – 40,000 seems to be the normal rate these days, but in a more metropolitan area it may be higher.

School lunch:  If you work at a public school you will likely be paying for your school lunches once a month.  The lunches here compare favorably to my school experience in the United States, so this may be something to look forward to.  Payments for these lunches are charged once a month and are usually 60,000 – 70,000 (about 3,000 per meal).

Teacher activity fee:  This fee will most likely be optional.  At some schools, usually public, the teachers like to get together and have a social time.  This often includes some sports, food, and sometimes trips. The money paid goes towards the food and other costs of having these events.  A reliable number would be about 30,000 per month.

Christmas savings:  Now we are getting to the non-essential, but it is always good to plan.  If you are one who celebrates Christmas, it may be wise to save a bit throughout the year rather than putting a decent dent in your November/December pay. However much you want to save, divide that number by 12 to find your monthly payment. Remember to also include shipping into your savings.

Groceries:  Groceries are difficult to calculate due to everyone having their own tastes and preferences.  One thing to note is that Korean food (or native food wherever you are) will almost always be cheaper than foreign imported food.  It would be good to find local foods that you enjoy. That being said, a teacher can live on a humble budget of 100,000 per month (not including lunch), or add to that budget until they are satisfied.

Travel:  This is another item that is entirely up to the individual.  Some people like to travel every weekend, and others find that they are too busy to travel often. Most subways and buses cost about 1,100 – 1,500 per trip (including transfers), and the base cost of taxis has been edging closer to about 3,000.  Trains are harder to calculate, but a one way trip from Daejeon to Seoul costs about 10,000 for Mugunghwa (slow train), 16,000 for Semaeul (faster train), and 22,000 for KTX (fastest train). All prices are listed as economy seats.

Lets add these numbers together:

  • 35,000 – Phone
  • 40,000 – Gas (monthly average)
  • 35,000 – Electric (monthly average)
  • 30,000 – Maintenance
  • 60,000 – School lunch
  • 100,000 – Groceries

We come to a total of 300,000.  This does not include travel, doctor, or any emergencies, but it is a basic list of bills and costs of living in Korea.  When subtracted from the lowest bracket of the EPIK provincial pay scale (2,100,000), 1,800,000 is left for restaurants, clothes, apps, and any other sensible purchases.  Most student loans are going to be a fairly affordable payment in this budget.

Shell fish in Korea


One of my favorite meals in Korea is grilled shellfish!  It is not cheap, but it is very delicious if you enjoy shellfish.20131029-212512.jpg


First, these are grilled, not boiled.  You can order a boiled dish, but I like them grilled.20131029-212455.jpgAs you can see, there is a wide variety of shellfish! The big ones and the half shells are my favorite.

20131029-212523.jpgHere is the first round of shellfish.

20131029-212535.jpgAs the shells cook over the grill, the clams start to open. Once they do, the meat can be eaten or added to a sauce that also cooks on the grill.  The juice from the shell fish can also be added to the sauce.

20131029-212545.jpgIt is also tasty to add chili pepper paste to the sauce! 

It is a fairly easy dish to cook, once you are done with the shells, you just toss them into the trash can.  Be careful though, if some of the shells get to hot, they tent to crack and throw some of their shell fragments.

S’mores in Korea

While I was at Costco last month I found that they sold large bags of marshmallows! I normally don’t like them, but it had been a long time, and I wanted to try s’mores again. Not only did I want to try them, but I wanted to share them!


The only problem was that Graham Crackers are a bit difficult to find here.  I made do (wonderfully) with a Korean digestive cookie (Diget) that already had a coating of chocolate on one side. Using the convenient microwave method, I had s’mores ready in seconds. 20131029-211846.jpg

I also have a portable gas range that I tried roasting marshmallows on, and that worked pretty well too.  So if you can manage to find marshmallows, the rest of your s’more journey is easy!

Also, since marshmallows go stale, I decided to use them as rewards for my students, they love them!

Ginseng water (인삼물)

This weekend I went out to the traditional market and I bought bought some fresh ginseng (인삼).  I had heard about some of the benefits from eating and drinking it, and I thought I would give it a try.  20131006-134910.jpg

This ginseng (인삼) cost 1,4000 won for 300 grams.  Converted to US currency and measurements, that is about $14 for 2/3 pound.20131006-134922.jpg

When you buy fresh ginseng, it comes with the dirt still on it.  Ginseng (인삼) is a root after all. 20131006-134934.jpg

So the first step in using ginseng is washing it.  You can either cut off the little bits and wash them separately, or leave them on.  The important thing is to get rid of the dirt.  20131006-134946.jpg

What a difference! 20131006-134959.jpg

Next, add the roots to water; one liter of water per root is a good rule of thumb.20131006-135010.jpg

Turn the heat on and wait for it to boil. 20131006-135021.jpg

Once it boils, put a timer on for 30 minutes.20131006-135032.jpg

Turn the heat down to half.20131006-135046.jpgThe water may still boil; that is ok.


After the timer goes off, turn the heat down to about 1/4.20131006-135113.jpg

Set the timer for another 30 minutes20131006-135128.jpg

When the timer goes off, remove the ginseng and set it out to dry.  You can use it a total of 2-3 times (1 or 2 more times).20131006-135139.jpg

And you are done! pour a cup of tea and add honey if you like.20131006-135149.jpgAs for the left overs, you can store them in bottles and put them in the fridge.  You can also eat the ginseng once you have used it for the last time.

This can be taken hot or cold and can be used any time in place of regular water. To make a stronger drink, add more roots or subtract water at the beginning.