Kimchi Jjigae

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This Kimchi jjigae was served with ohgyeopsal. the white in the jjigae is a piece of tofu.

In Korean cuisine there is a type of soup called jjigae.  A jjigae is a reduced soup that is thicker and full of flavor.  Here is a delicious kimchi jjigae.  Another popular jjigae is doenjang jjigae.  Other than kimchi and doenjang, there are others including budaejjigae, a soup that has many different ingredients.  Jjigae’s are very flavorful and at first they may be more powerful than expected. They are very tasty though!

Kalguksu (칼국수)

As I have mentioned, this winter I went to Gyeongju for the second time.  I had planned to take one whole day to hike around Namsan, a mountain south of Gyeongju.  Namsan is a great place, but I will write about it exclusively in another post. As I arrived at the beginning of the path I found myself hungry; I decided to try a nearby Kalguksu (칼국수) restaurant.kalguksu-147

Kalguksu (칼국수) is a special type of noodle; it is a freshly made soft noodle.  The name literally means “knife noodles”.  This type of Kalguksu was different than any I had tried before; the broth was nutty and thick rather than thin.  This is because it was a very special broth made from many different grains.  The server said that it was very healthy, and that it would be good for hiking.  Another interesting thing was that some of the noodles were made from cactus.  Cactus is not common in Korean noodles, but it was a tasty dish that gave plenty of energy for hiking!

Lunch in Seoul

About two weeks ago I went to Seoul with my co-workers; I still have tons of photos to edit and adjust.  I am busy all the time whether it is with school, after school dinners, korean lessons, birthday parties, or whatever!  I would prefer to be busy rather than not.

While I was in Seoul we had a very nice lunch that included fish crab, oyster, kimchi, soup, and many other side dishes (as usual with Korean meals).  It really isn’t a Korean meal unless the table is covered with plates.

It was delicious and very interesting.  One of my co-workers told me that it was Jeollabuk province style food.

A Different Kind of Egg

I have been enjoying almost all of the Korean food that I have been presented with since I got here; the exceptions being food I tried while I was sick and my tastebuds were all out of whack.  In my second or third week here (this is my fourth) I was offered quail eggs for lunch at school.  As with everything on my tray I gave it a try.  I am very glad I tried it too because I love quail eggs now!  Since then I have been buying them and hard boiling them to put in soup.  To hard boil them you use the same process as you would with chicken eggs, but the time is only 5 minutes.  They are small, but you can get about two dozen for about 1,200 won at the Jochiwon Traditional Market down town.    Aside from them tasting wonderful, they have a gorgeous speckled pattern on them!

Just a bowl full of quail eggs in my window sill.

Korean Food & Drink

This may be my favorite post yet; I love food!  I have been a vegetarian for about a year, but I am slowly getting back to eating meat;  I don’t want to miss out on any experiences just because of my diet.  I am looking forward to Korea in general, but I am especially excited for the food and drink!

Short grain rice is the basic food in Korea, sometimes it will be mixed with other grains to make a longer lasting supply.  Normally the rice will be eaten out of a ceramic bowl, sometimes witha lid.  One interesting aspect of Korean table wear is the spoon;  the spoon is metal and is used to eat rice.  Metal chopsticks are also normal table wear, you may find them in other countries occasionally, but Koreans use them regularly.  It is important not to leave the chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, this is reserved for when presenting the bowl to someone who has recently died.  Lastly, since the food is served precut, knives are not used at the table.

Traditionally food was served in stages, or separate portions.  When I was in China, meals would often be ordered as several dishes and everyone would share.  It was kinda fun, but it was tough when there was one thing that everyone especially liked.  Although tradition has been coming back, it is now common in Korea to order an individual meal. It was also common to have rice soup and kimchi in each meal, though breakfast has adopted the western tradition of cereal.

Table Manners: It is considered indelicate to raise the rice or soup bowl from the table to eat; eating with your hands is also looked down upon.

Kimchi is a spicy pickled cabbage seasoned with red pepper, garlic, and ginger.  While in China I had the middle country’s equivalent, Pao Cai.  I find it to be a very tasty dish myself, but to some it can prove to be too spicy.  In terms of  Kimchi there are different types that are determined by the ingredients and how long they are pickled.  Winter Kimchi begins pickling in November and lasts throughout the season; this tends to be spicier.  Summer Kimchi often made with cucumber and is much milder than the winter variety.

If you know anything about Korean food you have surely heard about Korean barbecue.  Korean Barbecue, bulgogi, are strips of beef marinated in sesame oil, ginger, and garlic.  These are often cooked over a brazier at the table.  Short ribs, Kalbi, are cooked in the same way.

Another item that I am very excited about is the raw fish.  Just as it is popular in Japan, raw fish is a highly regarded item.  I love sushi and sashimi!

I have read about two dishes that were traditionally reserved for royal courts and the like, but are now popular among the people of Korea.  The first is Kujolpan, or nine treasure dish.  This meal consists of small pancakes and eight small dishes.  One of the eight dishes is chosen and then wrapped in the pancake.  The other dish is called Sinsullo.  This dish is an individual hot pot cooked over hot coals.

One dish that is off putting to most westerners is Poshintang, or “Body Strengthening Soup”.  The reason that this is off putting to most is because this is the dish that dog is usually served in.  It is very important to understand that these dogs are not housepets or strays, but instead animals bred especially for eating.  Since it is usually off putting to westerners, these restaurants are usually not advertised in english.

Other unusual food to westerners include various plants, acorn jelly, and bellflower roots.  I am excited to try all of these things; I may not like them all, but I am determined not to let an experience slip by!

Just as meals in the west end with dessert, so do Korean meals.  Their dessert, however, does not not consist of pies, cakes or other prepared sweets.  Koreans generally eat plain fruit after their meals.  In restaurants you will also be brought a hot towel (cold in the summer) for you hands both before and after the meal.  On the subject of restaurants, tipping is not expected.

Korean drink is something I am especially looking forward to.  I should say that I am no wino or derelict, but I do appreciate alcohol in all forms (all forms that I have tried so far).  Koreans like drinking; mixed parties have become popular, but it is often men who are drinking.  In terms of establishing a bond or friendship, a few drinks shared with a friend will do you well.  When drinking, Koreans will often eat snacks called anju; we have bar food in the west, so that doesn’t seem too outlandish.  partying and drinking is used by koreans to let off steam; it would not be unusual for an employee to directly criticize their boss at a party without repercussions that would occur in the west.  When drinking, in any environment, you should not pour your own drink.  When you would like more to drink you should simply hold your glass with both hands, or with your right hand and the left hand supporting the right elbow.  Someone will be sure to pour you more; you should do the same if someone makes the same gesture.  When toasting, Koreans will probably finish the drink they are toasting.  If you are able, you should try to do the same.  I remember this custom in China; the toaster would say “Gambei!” which literally means bottom up.

Barley tea, or poricha, (non-alcoholic) is sometimes served before a meal.  This tea is served to ensure that the tea has been properly boiled.  At more formal occasions western style wine is available.  As far as wine goes, Korea has started a decent western style wine industry, the more popular wines being the German whites (I love Riesling).  Beer is also a popular drink in Korea (where isn’t it?).  Popular Korean brands include OB, Hite, and Cass; popular imports include, Carlsberg, Budweiser (unfortunately not Czech Budweiser), and Heineken.  I remember ordering Carlsberg in China pretty often; Tsing Tao is not that bad, but some of the Chinese beers that I had were a bit weak for my taste.

If you have ever traveled to an asian country, you will know that it is always much more expensive to buy western goods and imports.  This certainly, if not especially, includes liquor.  I am aware that you are allowed 5 liters of alcohol in your checked luggage as per TSA regulations and I intend to take full advantage of that regulation.  Most of that content would become gifts for people I meet in Korea, but it would be nice to not pay out the nose for western alcohol.  Another thing to note about the TSA regulation is that the alcohol must be between 24 and 70 percent.  If you do decide to bring alcohol over as a gift, it would be worth it to spend a few extra dollars for higher quality stuff.

While I will miss western food and drink at times, I am very excited to delve into the world of Korean cuisine.  This is not only cheaper, but it is also half the reason of going to a different country.  Soju is one of the most well-known Korean drinks; I have had this before and I thought it was very nice.  It tastes quite a bit like vodka, though it is usually only 20-25% alcohol.  Makkoli is a milky white drink that can be compared to beer.  I think I have seen this in import stors here in California, but it is getting less popular in Korea.  Makkoli is a milky white drink that can be compared to beer.  I think I have seen drinks like this in import stors here in California, but it is getting less popular in Korea. Chong-Jong is a rice wine not unlike Japanese Saké; It is usually served hot or, in the summer, cold.  There is another Saké-like drink called Popchu; it is a higher quality, and I am interested in trying it.

Traditionally women did not drink until they were over the age of sixty; today it is not so rare to see a woman drinking a bit.  Occasionally a woman will drink more than a bit.  Occasionally a woman will drink more than a little, but it is usually seen as bad form when a woman gets drunk.  To western standards this may seem sexist, but this is the culture.  If you are a lady and you plan on traveling to Korea, you may want to take this into account.  I mentioned before that men and women usually socialize with their own sex, but it is becoming more popular to have mixed parties.

Toasts are quite popular and you will probably experience this if you go out with a group of koreans for a formal dinner.  Toasts can take place at the beginning of the meal or during it and they can involve either the whole group, or just a few people.  Generally the toast is taken out of a special glass and the alcohol is usually scotch whisky or sometimes soju.  In an all-male party this can turn out to be quite the competition; in mixed company competition is less likely.

The hospitality of Koreans is remarkable.  If you are a guest at a restaurant or a bar, you are not expected to cover your part of the bill.  It would be a good idea, however, to invite your hosts out to a dinner in return.  Do keep in mind that the bill could become very large.  Another way to repay a host would be to invite them out when they visit your home country or invite them to dinner in your own home.

I am looking forward to all of these Korean delights very much.  Whenever I travel I love trying new things, In the past I had been slightly more reserved, but I will be sure to try everything available in Korea.  Only a few more months!