Wednesday, August 22, 2012

how-to: eat korean food, volume one.

since arriving in korea, i've gotten numerous questions from family and friends about korean food. do i like it? what's delicious? what's my favorite? what's the best thing to get at a korean restaurant?

so, since i'm one of those instagramming iphone assholes users that loves taking pictures of her food, it didn't take long for me to compile a short list of some of my favorite dishes.

these are just a few of the items that i eat fairly regularly, so expect more installments of this how-to later on as i eat more and take more pictures.

김밥 - gimbap/kimbap
this is one of my staples here in korea. it's the roll on the right side of this picture, and it's delicious. basically, it's rice and other ingredients like radish, egg, spam, kimchi, tuna, mayo, etc. rolled up in seaweed and sliced. very cheap, too -- usually a little over $2 for a roll that fills you up pretty well. i eat this quite a lot -- there's a gimbap house in the bottom floor of my work building and the ladies that work there know what i want as soon as i walk in.

만두 - mandu
this is another go-to meal for me. my students have huffed and puffed when i've mentioned my love for mandu because "teacha! that is not korean! dumplings are chinese!" yeah, whatever. it's cheap and it tastes good. my favorite is the mandu with the meat inside, though the kimchi ones aren't bad either. you can find these boiled, grilled, fried, or steamed, and with a variety of fillings. i've managed to actually burn myself out on dumplings a little... i can still eat a few, but i can't put away an entire order of eight like i used to... still, so delicious. 

잡채 - japchae
i've been on a big japchae kick for the past week or two. according to wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, the cellophane noodles are made from sweet potatoes. with the noodles will be a bunch of stir fried veggies and sometimes also meat. the sauce is delicious and a little spicy. usually also comes with rice, which mixes nicely with the noodles and sauce. 

파전 - pajeon
oh, pajeon. you are so good. this is sort of like a giant pancake, made from eggs and flour, but then with things mixed in. like green onions. and shrimp. and kimchi. then you dip it in some soy sauce and it makes your mouth happy. 

비빔밥 - bibimbap
another easy, go-to dish. it's basically rice with any or all of the following: egg, lettuce/green leafy things of some variety, beef, dried seaweed, radish, mushrooms... then the red pepper paste on top. you mix it all really well with a spoon and then eat! filling, cheap, and you can order it pretty much anywhere you go. 

고기구이 - gogigui (korean bbq)
i had korean barbecue once before i left home, and it was nothing like how they actually do it here. here you order the cut of meat you want and then they bring it to you. sometimes it's already nice and sliced, sometimes you have to use tongs and scissors to cut it into smaller pieces. then you put it on the grill in the middle of your table and cook it. from there, you can dip it in sauce, put it in a lettuce wrap with some other tasty things (like onions, kimchi, garlic, etc.), or just eat it as it is. 

만두 순두부 - mandu sundubu
dubu is tofu, and according to what i just read on wikipedia, the "sun" bit comes from how the tofu is prepared, and this tofu is "pure" or something, meaning it's got the highest moisture content of all fresh tofus. sure. anyway, this is perhaps my favorite thing to eat here. so much so that i've eaten it the past two days... there is a standing "tofu soup monday" thing at work -- it's what we do. it's a little spicy, but mostly savory and delicious. the soup is served boiling hot, which is perfect since you're supposed to immediately crack an egg into it. you also get a hot bowl of rice. in an empty bowl, mix some rice and soup together and enjoy. sundubu has many varieties -- meat, seafood, curry. i just almost always get the mandu one because, as i mentioned, i love dumplings. this soup is perfect for cold or rainy days especially. it's filling, warming, and just satisfying. 

now, we need to move on to the side dishes for a bit. because ohmigod, i love the side dishes in this country. there are so many! and they just keep refilling them!! it's amazing and probably my favorite part of eating in a restaurant here.

the unnaturally yellow stuff is a radish. it's okay... not the kind of radish i'm particularly fond of, so i usually skip eating that bit. plus it's just... too yellow. at the top is some kind of kimchi-like dish with cucumbers, to the left is something spinach-y (i think? i don't remember), and at the bottom is some glorious kimchi. (more on kimchi later.) 

a whole fish. minus the head and tail. at this point, i'm a professional at using chopsticks to tear into one of these and pull out all the bits of tasty meat. 

김 - gim/kim
seaweed! dried and delicious when you dip it in soy sauce. 

김치 - kimchi
when i think about a future without kimchi in my daily life, i get really depressed. i've grown so accustomed to getting a dish of this at every restaurant that i'm actually extremely disappointed (and a little annoyed) when i don't get kimchi with a meal. kimchi, for those who don't know, is usually fermented cabbage, made spicy by red chili pepper and other spices. i've also had kimchi versions of other veggies like cucumber, green onions, and radish. i was on the fence about kimchi before moving here -- didn't love it, didn't hate it, but now i'm obsessed with it. and when i get it at a restaurant here, they just keep bringing me more as long as i'm eating it! and it's good for you! not only is it full of vitamins, but it also has bacteria that boosts your immune system and might also stop you from developing cancer! (this is what the kids tell me, at least. and wikipedia.) i don't know what i'll do without kimchi in my life. 

and, to go with all of this food, when we don't want to drink water, we will get a bottle of:

막걸리 - makgeolli
makgeolli is delicious. and deceptively strong. this "rice wine" is made from fermented rice and wheat. it's thick, creamy, and you drink it out of small bowls. a couple weekends ago we went to a makgeolli house in seoul, where we tried all kinds of fancy flavored makgeolli (mango, honey), as well as some that was very old and had been served to some famous person or another. there's a spot nearby to my area of incheon that does a wonderful pineapple makgeolli mixture that goes nicely with some pajeon. 

aaaaand last, but not least, DESSERT.

빙수 - bingsu
i am so in love with this it's not even funny. pictured above is the only kind of bingsu i've tried, actually, because any time i think about getting a different kind, i look at all the delicious fruit on top of this particular one and i just can't resist. bingsu is a popular summer dessert here, being served at nearly every coffee shop, but also on the summer menus at the likes of burger king and kfc. on the bottom is a layer of shaved ice, then on top you can get any combination of: cream, fruit, green tea flavored-something, azuki beans (which makes it the popular patbingsu), bits of rice cakes, flakes of cereal or chocolate, little candies, ice cream -- it's amazing. now, this berry bingsu that i'm in love with is about $9, which i can only imagine comes from the pricey fruit sitting on top, but it's worth it when i'm feeling like a fancy dessert on a hot summer night. 

that's all i've got for this installment, but i'm already making a list for the next entry. i even got some
of my students to help me -- they made a list of about a dozen korean dishes that i need to try, apparently, so i intend to do just that. and then i'll blog about it. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

corey and zannah's hongdae birthday scavenger hunt!

i recently celebrated my 27th birthday, and 13 days after that, corey celebrated his 26th. we'd decided a while back we wanted to do a joint birthday party, and after months of mulling through options ("some sort of costume? mad men themed? no, it's too hot outside for suits..."), we had finally settled on a nice, relaxed night in itaewon (the foreigner area of seoul, with tons of delicious restaurants, a great makgeolli house, and a rooftop bar we're all fond of). 

then inspiration struck and i thought of doing a scavenger hunt around hongdae. 

hongdae is a really cool area -- hongik university is there, so the surrounding area is just really hip and artsy. lots of students selling their art on the sidewalks, tons of cute little shops with vintage clothes and random junk, as well as great spots to eat and tons and tons of bars. it was the perfect place for a scav hunt -- lots of drunk young people who would be willing to join in our little game. 

the rules were pretty simple:
-there would be three rounds, each lasting 90 minutes.
-at the beginning and end of each round, all teams were expected to be at a certain checkpoint at a certain time.
-all tasks that did not involve some kind of physical item or evidence required photo and/or video documentation in order to be counted for points. 
-there would be a 30 minute break in between rounds so that the judges (one person from each team, basically in charge of all photo/video documentation and keeping the teams honest) could look at the items and photos/videos from another team and tally their points before moving on to the next round.
-each team would receive their next list of tasks/instructions at the beginning of each round. 
-all participants must pay a fee of 5,000 (about $5). the sum of the participation fee would be awarded to the winning team, who could do whatever they wanted with the money.

corey and i spent hours planning this out... coming up with the tasks... thinking of all the rules. when the day finally came, we didn't have time to do a walk-through of the hongdae area to make sure all of the items on our lists could actually be accomplished... but turns out it wasn't necessary -- everything worked out just fine. 

on the left, the supply bags, containing the likes of temporary tattoos, markers, tape, and chalk. 
on the right, the glorious tin foil trophy, made by corey, to be awarded to the winning team. 

the teams! we had a great turnout: nearly 20 people ended up participating in the madness. 

our tasks ranged from very simple to pretty ridiculous. i've compiled pictures here, stealing from everyone's facebook albums. i haven't included all of the pictures, because that would just be insane, so i chose pictures that i either liked for one reason or another, or that were just a good representation of that particular task. since there are so many pictures, i made them smaller on this page, but if you click on any of them, a bigger version will open. the captions underneath will explain what that particular task was. 

take a picture with an ajumma -- smiling!
 ajummas run this country. there's no question. they'll push you out of their way, cut you off on the sidewalk, cut you in line at the grocery store... and you just aren't allowed to say a damn thing about it. these old ladies are tough and i kind of love them. but more often than not, they're just giving everyone the stink eye. so this challenge was not only to get a picture, but actually get her to smile as well. 

get a korean to autograph your foot. 
lauren actually got some nice autographs on her feet. the dude who signed kara's leg just sort of scribbled...

take a picture pitying dirty garfield. 
we think he's advertising a cat cafe? i don't know. he's always there, and he's always filty. and looking so very sad. several groups clearly forgot the "pitying" part of the instructions, but no points were deducted. poor, poor garfield. (and poor, poor person who has to spend their nights in that costume...)



complete the coffee shop circuit.
korea loves its coffee shops. a whole lot. they're literally on every corner. so, with each round, our teams had to find and take pictures in front of various coffee shops. the first two rounds we specified the chains to locate, and in the third round, they had to find independent shops. it was also required that all groups do cutesy korean poses in their photos, hence all the peace signs.

take a picture of awkward korean facial hair. 
koreans just aren't that great at growing beards. many still try, but most just end up looking patchy and awkward. see above for evidence. 

drink and/or shotgun a beer in a random place.
mike wins for climbing up in a tree. there aren't many photos of this because other teams, mine included, took videos. so, i'm glad one team made it out with a photo. (also, there are no open container laws here, fyi.)

engrish shirts!
this escalated as the rounds progressed, with teams needing to find more and more engrish as the night went on. we found some real gems, actually. i'm legitimately upset i don't own that "he sucks around his strong friend" shirt and plan on going back to hongdae on a mission to find it. so good. 

ramen noodle cup hat. 
not only did one team member have to put this beautiful hat on their head during round one, but they were required to keep it on for the rest of the scav hunt, and losing their hat would result in a significant point deduction. everyone kept their hats, i believe. 

make a batman mask from found materials. 
using the tape in my supply bag, some ramen noodles (that came out of my team's ramen noodle hat), and a couple pieces of paper i found on the ground, i put together a pretty awesome batman mask. i was really proud of myself, actually. my team won full points for creativity. i mean, check out those ramen noodle eyebrows! sadly, no other pictures seem to exist of the masks made by other teams. 

find a foreign-made car.
this wasn't as easy as you'd think -- this country runs on hyundai and kia. seeing a foreign car is really pretty rare. 

almost every time i'm out in seoul on the weekend, i run into at least one group of korean teenagers with "free hugs" signs, eagerly hugging anyone who will give them the chance. we felt like this task deserved a spot in our scav hunt. round one was five hugs, round two was ten hugs, and round three was fifteen hugs. and looking at those photos, it's clear that we made a whole lot of people laugh. 

group purikura! 
these crazy photobooths are everywhere, so we threw this on the list because we figured it would be just one more piece of photographic evidence from the evening. sadly, i think this was the only group that had the time to hit the photobooth (the photo editing alone takes quite a while...), but it was worth it. they got some really ridiculous pictures. 

get a korean to do the "singin' in the rain" pose. 
as it was the middle of monsoon season, we were expecting a rainy scav hunt. we'd even planned to get everyone ponchos. when it was sunny and muggy we were pretty damn surprised. since it was pouring when we made the lists of scav hunt tasks, we threw this on, thinking it would be hilarious just trying to explain to someone what exactly we wanted them to do. two groups still managed to do it, even though there was no rain! 

take a picture of someone sleeping in public.
this is a thing that happens a lot here. people just get drunk and pass out in public. and it's fine. 

find and purchase alcoholic caprisuns! 
okay, they aren't really caprisuns. but that's basically what they look like. except bigger. there's a little spot in hongdae that has a walk-up counter on the sidewalk, and you can order your favorite cocktail. it goes into a little ziploc bag with a straw and voila! alcoholic caprisun. 

get koreans to wear your team's theme item.
at the beginning of the scavenger hunt, each team had to find some kind of item -- hats, fake moustaches, etc -- that would be their "theme" item, to be worn by all team members for the duration of the scav hunt. (my team all had ties, corey's team had visors, will's team had capes made from aprons, and mike's team had fancy scrunchies on their wrists.) then, later on, the teams had to find at least one korean who was willing to put their item on and take a picture. 

make a half sleeve out of temporary tattoos. 
inspired by sheer boredom on a roadtrip becca and i took years ago, we threw this one in. as seen in the picture of the supply bags above, everyone was given a starter sheet of temp tattoos. it was up to them to find more. and oh boy, did we all. you can see my fake sleeve in various pictures, but here's a sweet pic of jen showing off her tribal dragon ink. we looked awesome. 

make a purchase at exactly 1:00am. 
receipts were presented as evidence for this one, but i managed to get this picture of analeece and kenny trying to time their purchase at exactly the right moment. the kid working behind the counter was doing his best to help, too. 

take over cooking duties at a food cart. 
i can't believe this one actually worked. seriously. we weren't sure anyone would be able to pull it off, but we were wrong. i'm impressed by both my friends and these koreans for letting them do it. 

make a hat using: a bar napkin, flyers, a water bottle, chopsticks, etc.
i might've been the only one to do this item. i don't remember. but after the batman mask, i'd gotten pretty good at finding stuff on the ground and fashioning it into some kind of headwear. 

get a kiss from a stranger that leaves lipstick on your cheek.
it took my group a few tries before we found someone who would do this one. explaining it wasn't easy. people mostly thought we were really strange. but the group in the top pictures told me the korean girl they found was super into it, hence the big ol' kiss mark on jen's cheek.

take a picture of a korean GIRL with a visible tattoo. 
koreans with visible tattoos in general are pretty scarce, much less a girl with a visible tattoo. it took us a while of creepily standing to the side of the road scanning over every girl that walked by for us to finally find one. 

draw a chalk outline of one team member on the sidewalk. 
the idea of this one greatly entertained corey and i simply because it meant there would be up to four random chalk outlines on the sidewalks of hongdae. 

take a picture with a street performer. 
this task was followed by another requiring you to perform, in some capacity, with a street performer. we did a nice interpretive dance behind this guitarist. he had a rather large crowd watching him. we looked ridiculous. 

fit your team into a phone booth! 
this one definitely took some maneuvering. 

win a prize from a game on the street.
the streets of hongdae have quite a few carnival-type games. i think everyone actually took up this challenge, but only a couple teams got pictures of the process. kenny won that little stuffed dog/rabbit/thing for our group and gave it to me for my birthday. 

build a human pyramid -- with a korean stranger on top. 
this was probably my favorite of all the challenges, and from what i heard, everyone else's favorite as well. this was seriously hilarious. i had to approach the group of guys to ask for help with our pyramid. the best part was they all looked a little punk, with REAL tattoo sleeves, and there i was with my tribal dragon sleeve looking like a total idiot. luckily, one of the guys spoke a little english, so it wasn't too hard communicating what we needed one of them to do. the others were nearly crying they were laughing so hard once they heard a translation of what i was saying. they were even taking pictures as their friend climbed on top of kenny and kara. extra credit also went to the team in the top right picture for building a six person pyramid! 

these are only a handful of the pictures everyone took (and then put on facebook). this was also only a handful of the actual tasks. some of the others were:
  • take a picture of a korean couple in a matching "couple" outfit.
  • take a picture of an ajumma mullet. (sadly, no one found this one, which is crazy, because the mullet is still goin' strong in korea in the over-40 crowd of women.)
  • take a picture with a korean girl with crazy contacts. (they wear these contacts here that are larger than normal contacts, making the irises of their eyes appear to be much bigger, and theoretically then making their eyes appear larger and rounder.) 
  • bring back a business card from a "hostess" bar. 
  • get the phone number of an attractive stranger. 
  • take a picture of someone vomiting. 
  • shotgun a water in a bar (with video) then leave quickly.
  • drink a cup of tteokbokki sauce. (really spicy - and delicious - sauce that goes on these chewy little rice cakes, commonly sold at street vendor carts.)
  • find as many dr. peppers and you can and bring them to zannah. (dr. pepper is really, really hard to find here. nearly all of my friends are on alert at all times and immediately tell me if we go somewhere and they have dr. pepper. credit to my mom for thinking of this challenge. "you're always looking for dr. pepper. make all of these people do the work for you." i ended up with seven cans of dr. pepper! thanks, mom!)
  • go to a food cart and order ________ in your best batman voice (with video). extra points for also eating it like batman (with video). (not sure what "eating like batman" means, but the videos that came from this challenge were pretty hilarious. we had people getting various items in each round, hence the blank. credit for that also goes to my mom: she suggested we added items that required everyone to eat and drink over the course of the scav hunt so no one got too rundown or too drunk. a very mom thing to think of, but numerous people mentioned how happy they were to be forced to drink water constantly. we all stayed pleasantly tipsy and not falling down drunk throughout!) 
we did learn a thing or two about scav hunts, the most valuable being do not do them in the summer when it's humid and nasty outside. the last round ended up being shortened to 45 minutes just because everyone was losing steam quickly at that point. so, we made it a lightning round and then all piled into a bar to just sit down and cool off while the judges tallied points.

my fellow judges, reviewing the photos and videos from the last round.

everyone else, having a drink and relaxing a little bit. 

after this, it was time to announce the winner! the bar we were in was extremely loud, so we made everyone go outside, thus also allowing for team photos to be taken! :) 

(i actually have no memory now of what the order of 2nd, 3rd, or 4th was... so these team pictures aren't in any particular order, save for the winning team being last.)

jen, steph, corey, sam, and daegun. 

dave, geoff, will, ashley, and mike. 

lauren, eleanor, mike, serg, and jen.

and the winners: teala, me, kenny, (and bottom row) kara, and analeece. 
note that i am holding up a dr. pepper and our cash money winnings, which we then spent on buying everyone drinks at the bar. 

the night, overall, was absolutely a success. after announcing the winners, we hit a few bars, had some drinks, danced, and wore ourselves out even more. not only was is awesome to see our friends having fun and doing ridiculous things, but nearly every stranger we encountered seemed to truly enjoy their moment of being in our game. when i think about the number of people that went home with a story of "you'll never guess what some crazy foreigners asked me to do tonight..." -- i get really happy. we made so many people laugh. at one point, my group was even stopped by a few americans, asking what we were doing. when we explained, they started going on and on about how jealous they were and how much they wanted to join us. 

it was a rough i'm-not-taking-off-my-sunglasses kind of subway ride home the next morning. a bunch of us had a couple rooms in a hostel not far from the hongdae party area, so we managed to make it back there and crash for maybe 5 hours before it was time to checkout, wander to the subway, and head back to our homes. 

after getting such great feedback from everyone, now i kind of want to plan another scavenger hunt... but this time we will wait until it's october and nice and cool outside, and make it an all-day thing that involves traveling around seoul...