Archive for category Food
This Saturday just gone was the main event of this year’s annual Whale Festival in Ulsan, and it was a really excellent day. Of course in the preceding weeks all the buzz and the build-up had centred around the dragon boating tournament – especially as training sessions had started in earnest – and with 15 or so teams of 18 foreigners signed up, bragging rights were well and truly at stake. Each team was named after a different whale and the Narwhals – having had one semi-successful practise under a monsoon a week prior, and having been given just the one day to prepare suitable matching outfits in the style of a “post-apocalyptic, Mad Max, barbarian, viking, neon, glitter bandit” – assembled in dribs and drabs, collectively a hotchpotch mishmash mess, shortly before 9 in the morning. Someone suggestively pulled a couple of six-packs of lager from a rucksack, everyone eyed everyone else with silent, superficial “should-we-shouldn’t-we?” stares, then someone else cracked one open and our preparations began.
Yesterday was my 8-month Korea teaching contract anniversary; I’m two-thirds of the way through it and with just four months to go and plently still to see here I thought it would be a good idea to write a bucket list of sorts. I’ll include things I’ve already done, as the memories of them will bring a great big cheesy grin to my face as I write. If anyone can think of any more that would be fantastic!
Occasionally I am asked what kinds of food I cook after work, and I receive a response of surprise and delight in equal measure when I say “oh, mostly Korean actually. I do samgyetang a lot, and just the other night I made dak galbi for the first time”. But the truth is that here it’s difficult to make any home comforts. That’s not to say that samgyetang – whole chicken stuffed with rice and boiled in a soup infused with garlic, ginger, cinnamon, chestnuts and jujube – isn’t delicious, it’s just that quite often I crave a proper roast dinner. Or real sausages. Real bacon, for that matter. Pork pie. Crusty, unsweetened bread, too. Lasagne. Shepherd’s pie. Anything that goes in the oven… Read the rest of this entry »
Eliz and I returned yesterday evening from a nine-night layoff in the Philippines, and aside from being a more-than-welcome break from the Chinese water torture that life in Korea can be, it provided an interesting vantage point from which to sit back – Filipino beer in hand, obviously – and compare the two wildly contrasting ways of life. Often it is all too easy to just lump Asia together as one huge, 4,000,000,000-strong group of people, but a moment on holiday highlighted how wrong this is. We were eating and drinking and chatting about Korea with a family of Filipinos when one asked “how do they speak in Korea? ‘Cha du wah koh nah chang chong nahhhh?'”. It was a funny – if slightly racist – reminder of the differences between countries that from back home seem relatively geographically close despite being in reality worlds apart. At times it was tempting to slip into a worryingly anti-Korean mindset – why can’t Korea sell a litre of rum for under a pound like the Philippines do? Why can’t Korea sell Hellmann’s mayonnaise in its supermarkets? – but I realise that if things were slightly different and I was holidaying in Korea midway through a year teaching in the Philippines I’d have complaints about the latter instead. Hence, this will hopefully turn out to be a gentle comparison rather than a giant whinge.
I’ve just been inspired by a truly excellent school dinner to write again about food in Korea. What’s that? What did I have? Well, for starters, the kimchi was pretty nice today, and for the first time in a while I wished I’d had more. I had one scrumptious side dish of seasoned spinach, carrtots and beansprouts (I don’t know if this is my imagination but there seem to be two kinds here that look identical, one bland and one delicious and today’s was the latter), and another of mini sausages in a sapid spicy sauce, which overflowed into my rice section. The soup tasted like Thai red curry, which might explain why I slurped it all down with0ut a word or even an upwards glance to my co-teachers.
I kinda wanted to wait to write this until I’d tried something insane here, as Korean seems to be the place to go if you like to treat eating as an extreme sport. Regularly topping lists of expats’ craziest, wackiest, zaniest foods eaten out here is a dish called sannakji, or live octopus. I think it’s most common that the chef guts and chops the octopus before the eater kills and consumes it (important: do in that order, as there are several sannakji-related deaths a year, through asphyxiation, apparently), although one friend has told of the time she was presented with a live octopus impaled on a chopstick, only for its legs to sucker themselves onto her face once she popped the head into her mouth. But I reckon an experience like that would merit a post all on its own; and having done some research on names and ingredients before writing this, I now know that my diet here so far has been a lot less mild than I previously though, and I should have plently to sink my teeth into.