Adventures of an American Seoul-Sister

Adventures and Observations of an American Seoul-Sister

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cooking in Korea: Ojingeochae Muchim

One of the biggest shocks in Korea for me has been the food.  I don't recognize a single item at the grocery store except ramen noodles!  Not a single vegetable is familiar, and besides that, all of the food labels are in Korean. 

So, unable to recognize any foods in the Korean grocery stores, and unable to stomach the spicy-albeit-very-affordable restaurant food, I am inspired to learn to cook Korean food.  I cannot, after all, eat ramen three times a day for the next ten months.

I'm starting with a simple dish that is popular as a lunch box food and is a common sidedish at Korean restaurants: Ojingeochae Muchim.

This recipe calls for:
One pound of dried shredded squid
1/2 cup of Korean spicy red paste
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
1/3 cup of corn syrup or rice syrup
4 cloves of minced garlic
2 TBS sesame oil
Optional: Toasted sesame seeds

1.  Make sure the squid is properly shredded.  Cut it into bite-size pieces if necessary.  Korean kitchens don't often use knives, so use some kitchen scissors for cutting with an authentic flare.

2.  In a large bowl, mix the spicy red paste, veggie oil, corn syrup, garlic, and sesame oil.  It's take a bit of coaxing to get the oils to combine with the paste, but keep at it.  You should end up with a glossy red sauce of even consistency.

3.  Add the squid and mix well, making sure all the squid gets coated with the sauce.

4.  Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve as a sidedish with bulgogi (Korean barbeque / grilled steak) or as part of a lunch box meal.  Refridgerate leftovers in an airtight container.

Yum!  Chewy and sweet, but not too spicy. 

Since, I'm traveling tomorrow, I've decided to use my ojingeochae muchim as part of a lunch box meal.  My ojingeochae muchim will accompany wild brown rice, sweet clover sprouts, seasoned seaweed snack, and dried jujubes.

Stack it all up.  Add a couple of locally-grown apples and some water in my Korean-style water bottle and I'm ready to go!

Mashikke tuseyo!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Korea's Got Talent!: The After Party

After Pyrotechnic Boy managed to slide his prize off stage and the show officially ended, I witnessed the group collective consciousness of Korea kick into action.  If I'd ever felt like a termite in an ant colony, this was the moment.  Slightly larger and off-color, I did my best to fit in when, as if moved by an invisible force, all the Koreans, all at once, stood up and began putting away the chairs they'd been using for the show.  This was a surprising activity for me since, as an American, I just assumed someone would come along later and put the chairs away for us.  Neverless, I joined in the removal.  

With all the chairs neatly stacked along the edge of the field, all that remained was a large rope-bound bundle of branches at its center.  I recognized the bundle because it was the same I had visited early in order to tuck my wish-filled paper under its ropes along-side those of several children.  I now watched the bundle be doused with gasoline by one group of men while another group of men carried and placed a maypole nearby. 

Once the maypole was in place, several people rushed to grab the red, yellow, and blue ribbons.  On stage, hanbok-clad women appeared and began singing folk songs.  On the field, still moving in unison, the crowd (termite included) formed a large circle.  I was encouraged to hold hands with my neighbors.  Circled and hand-clasped, all Koreans were neatly in place when...

Surprise! A ball of fire shot through the air, across the field, and set the wishing-stick-bundle into an explosive flame.  The children at the maypole began their ribbon twisting.  Everyone in the circle, still hand-holding, began moving around the circle to the right.  Then, suddenly, to the left.  Then, the right.  Then, the left again, all moving together and changing direction in perfect unison (except for the termite who was mostly confusedly dragged along).  Then, the circle stopped and let go of each others' hands and began massaging the back of the person on their right.  Then, they turned and massaged the person on their left.  After that, we faced center field and again clasped hands which were happily swung to and fro while singing a song which, of course, everyone between 2 and 92 knew by heart (but not the termite).   

Then, making a deep mutual bow towards the center, they all at once decided that it was time to go home, and just like that they were gone. Good night!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Korea's Got Talent!

Saturday afternoon, just home from a long bike ride, I am intrigued by loud-speaker voices coming from somewhere in the neighborhood.  This is not the typical loud-speaker meant to announce the offerings of a passing fruit truck or a van spouting political jargon.  So, deciding to investigate, I follow the sound to a nearby park that I pass daily on my way to the academy.  Usually populated with bicycling children, strolling moms, and little old ladies selling veggies, I find the park totally transformed.

In the central dirt soccer field, a stage has been set up with rows of white lawn chairs in front.  On the stage, a couple of teens are singing their hearts out.  Behind the seating, vendors are busy stocking their stands with Hello Kitty and Pokemon balloons and heating up faire food (toasted grubs, hotdogs filled with corn kernels, tiny suck-em snails, and pseudo-meat kababs).

It turns out that I've lucked onto a community talent show.  I join the audience.  This is too fantastic to pass up! Throughout the afternoon and into the late evening, I see many people sing, a few taekwondo routines, and several acts that call for dedicated blog space  Most of the video is taken from the distance, but you'll still get the point.

One of the first acts of the day is a group of teen girls.  They are not particularly good, but they do stand out for me because they're rapping in Korean.  Surprise!

A group of housewives wearing homemade, brightly-colored, very weird, Anne-of-Green-Gables dresses and wide-brimmed straw sun hats has a bit of trouble proving their talent: the Mexican hat dance!  (I will try to get video of this for a future post.)

In one of the acts, I find my mom's Korean counterparts:  older (sorry mom) women, wearing silver sequence tops, and banging away on drums.  Sadly, however, these mums with drums could have used a bit more practice.  I've spared you the devastatingly off-beat finish.

This little guy's talent: Super Cuteness

Later, as the sun goes down and the air cools, the park fills with people of all ages.  The latter part of the show consists of acts that can actually claim talent, and thank goodness for that!  The show kicks into overdrive with a light show, fog machine, bubble machine, pyrotechnics, and fireworks.

This duet is pretty good at singing the kind of music considered popular in Korea.

One of the best and youngest acts of the night is this boy. He's super; I like to refer to him as Pyrotechnic Boy.

This couple pays homage to American songwriters, covering Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind and Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Pardon--song entirely in Korean, of course.

And the winner is...

...Pyrotechnic Boy!  His prize comes in a box so big, he has to drag it off stage inch by inch.  Oops!  I mean centimeter by centimeter.  Lucky kid!

In my next installment:  Korea's Got Talent!: The After Party

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lost in Translation: Episode 1

Koreans have a funny way of translating English that is sometimes, well... not quite right and usually hilarious.  Here are just some examples of "Engrish" that I've been able to photograph so far.

"Twonkle twonkle" instead of "Twinkle twinkle."
Granted, if a blue donkey were to sing this tune, it just might say, "Twonkle."

These moon pies have an expiration date of 11/2/15 BC.
Hmmm...they did seem a little stale.

This badmitton racket case...needs no is so very wrong!

Stay tuned for more Lost in Translation...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rainy Day Woman

Just when I thought I'd escaped the rainy weather that I had come to expect in Northern California, I arrive in Korea during its rainy season...

Three weeks of mostly rainy days have turned promising weekend excursions into less promising movie-download sessions.  Luckily, the weekends have not been without their charms (not the least of which have been a Jane Austen-themed movie marathon companioned with the actual reading of Jane's books).

All Jane aside, I did manage to venture forth into the greater Korean unknown, armed with umbrella and not-so-trusty phrasebook.  I made it, in mostly-dry condition, to the intercity bus stop.  It's just a couple of blocks from my apartment.  As I am becoming wise to the ways of Korean time-keeping, I was not surprised when I had to wait nearly 90 minutes for a bus scheduled to arrive every 30 minutes.  I boarded the bus after my awkward how-much-does-it-cost? and is-this-enough? hand-signal communication system (my new language) and rode from central Chungju to the very outskirts of town.   

The bus ride was lovely with views of forested hills and tiny Asian-roofed houses interspered with farmland.  The smells were not so lovely.  One man smelled very strongly of old cornflakes (probably his naked feet), and many people had the smell of kim-chi-induced flatulence.  I guess bad bus smells are a universal grievance.  The good news is that the bus ride did allot enough time for the rain stop (temporarily).

I took the bus to Jungwon Mireukrisaji, which promised a charming many-hundreds-of-years-old Buddha statue.  Fair weather holding, I followed a path toward the temple site.  The path led me along a thriving apple and peach orchard, and all my faith in beautiful scents returned on breezes sweetened with freshly bathed wild flowers and fruit trees.  The path also basked in the gorgeous views of Woraksan National Park.  Even the swiftly moving black-as-coal rain clouds were a sight to behold as they swept across the Suess-ian mountain tops.

The temple was small but ancient and, therefore, impressive.  Greeting me at the bottom of a stone pathway was a large, ancient stone tortoise.  Passing a few stone pagodas (yes, there is a lot of stone here), I stopped at the only vender braving the weather and purchased a bamboo contraption with which to blissfully beat myself on the back in true Buddhist-monk fashion.  It also makes a really cool noise!  A few more steps and I'd made it to the statue.

The standing Buddha was carved in stone around 900 AD and has remained in the same spot since its creation.  A small and modern offering-shrine rests at the Buddha's feet.  People have left money, food, and some strange swamp-water-looking bottled beverages there.  To one side, a row of miniature plastic Buddhas have been lined up in offering to the bigger Buddha, and these, in turn, have also received coin offerings of their own.  A loud speaker system boomed out chanting-monk music.  The atmosphere was refreshing, and as the drizzle increased and scared off the other handful of visiters, I soon had the place to myself and enjoyed the blissful peace and quiet eminating from the stone Awakened One.

However, not having truly reached Nirvana, I was mostly annoyed when the black clouds released their torrent of typhoon-condition rain.  I made it back to the bus stop and, curled up in a ball in the one tiny dry spot available, waited for the return bus which was to pass by in about 30 minutes.  Two hours and ten minutes laters, I boarded the bus for home, looking forward to retreating into the splendid Victorian fantasy of Jane Austen's world (where rain has only seriously affected the plot twice in all six books--which is fewer than this heroine's altered plans in Chungju).