Who doesn’t love food? Eating is a primary reason for many people to travel and Korean cuisine happens to be incredibly diverse with hundreds of dishes to try! The best part is that each meal comes with a handful of 반찬 banchan (sides) that accompany whatever you order so you always get to taste a few treats. Living in South Korea for a year I’ve sampled the lot but still have tons more to try. Have you tried any of these, which was your favorite?
Tonight we decided to make shakshuka for dinner! Okay, well maybe I convinced Brian that it was a good idea and Sara (who had Lasik surgery a few days ago) was just happy to eat. Shakshuka is a traditional Israeli dish. I first ate shakshuka on Birthright visiting the holyland; we stopped at Dr. Shakshuka’s in Jaffa a southern neighborhood of Tel Aviv. But, that’s a story for another time.
Brian and I gathered a truckload of tomatoes, a can of tomato paste, 1 onion, 2 peppers, more garlic than you can imagine, some handfuls of spinach, spices and 8 eggs. A “little” prep work and we realized our endeavor it would take two pots. Good thing we have two kitchens!
Turns out shakshuka is pretty simple to make once everything’s chopped & the tomatoes have been crushed. Start by sauteing the onions, a few moments later toss in the peppers, garlic & tomato paste. After they have cooked briefly add in your tomato-mush and spices. Stir that delicious concoction around while layering spinach on top and 15 minutes later crack the eggs into the pan.
The next part called for “basting the eggs” What the heck is that? Well I decided to trust Brian rather than Google it when he said that means you spoon the piping hot sauce on top each egg to help them cook. In the end we enjoyed some delicious home cooking and I can’t wait to try it again!
One of the main reasons I decided on New Years Eve on the Filipino island of Boracay was to meet my best friend Josh and his wife, Christine. They had been traveling islands in the Philippines for a few weeks with her family & friends (who happen to be Filipino). Our reunion began in the afternoon of December 31st and promised to lead to a fun-filled week of reminiscing and making new memories.
We grabbed my bags from the hostel and dropped them off at our hotel before wandering down to the beach. Christine’s brother Adrian joined us as we caught up while strolling through my mini island tour. The main event was tonight and we quickly went back to the hotel to change for New Years Eve dinner!
We dressed in slightly above “beach attire” and went to the White House Hotel to check out the buffet and drinks. There I was introduced to Tito Francis, Tito Rei, Tita Susan and Tita Anali. They were highschool friend’s of Christine’s parents (Nancy & Rudy) who still lived in the Philippines. Lucky for me that meant I was sure to get the authentic Filipino experience!
White House Hotel and the other resorts we visited were managed and owned by their old friends so we got VIP treatment. Or perhaps it was just that they spoke Tagalog so the waitstaff didn’t inflate prices for us white-folk. But enough of that, lets skip ahead to what we’ve all been waiting for. FOOD!
Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure of attending K-Cook Delight’s 1st ever Day-Restaurant and International Social Gathering. The Day-Restaurant was a one day cook off with 20 chefs. They spent the last month learning how to cook Jungae, Pajeon and Bimbimbap and then fuzed it with their native culture. I found out about this Korean Food Foundation and inspiredsteps.org event online and thought it would be a fun way to try some new food. When I saw it was free to foreigners I signed up right away!
Shortly after arrival we were gathered around my new best friend, Chris. He was the man in charge, the man in the suit and the MC of the afternoon’s events. He informed everyone we could begin to “eat, meet, and be merry” soon but the food would be a few moments so we should skip the first step and just start the meeting part.
He told us after we tasted the dishes we would all use our “stickers” to vote for the best dish. Oh wait, nobody got stickers? Chris polled the audience and confirmed that he was the only one who thought there were stickers. He stood there and played it cool; giving the crowd a thumbs up and laughing as he ushered us onto the next topic. Awards and a raffle! At the end of the day the 3 best chefs would get a prize as well as 10 lucky raffle winners. With that he told us to go meet, and meet, and meet before we could eat.
I strolled the deck and found a view of the nearby bridge. Too bad it was such a cloudy day; I hoped the rain would hold off as I started meeting expats from all over the world. I met plenty of Americans and Canadians, a South African whose wife was one of the chefs, some Europeans and East Asians from outside of Korea. It was a lot of fun but got a wee bit crazy when the food came out. We attacked the pajeon like vultures before Chris came back out to let us know we should be more civil. I guess the hour and a half of hungrily mingling really worked up everyone’s appetite. We weren’t that vicious but the 3 plates that came out did disappear within seconds. Luckily I got to taste two of them and they were a great start but just made me crave more.
Pajeon is like a pancake. Traditionally it has eggs, seafood (squid, oysters or mussels) and some onions although these fusion creations included bacon, southwestern sauces, an assortment of western vegetables and more.
While waiting I around I happened upon a group of lovely ladies. They were all teachers and spoke English; most of them from America with a few native Koreans and other foreigners. Together we developed a strategy to try as many dishes as possible. Really it was just to send out a few of us in different directions and share the pickings.
After a few more dishes came out their friend Ryan, one of the chefs, brought out his Texas meets Brazil fused with Korea dish. It was spectacular; a pajeon crepe stuffed with pork belly, spices and a savory sauce. He easily won my vote for best dish of the day!
Next I tried a few courses of Bimbimbap; essentially a bowl of rice topped with beef and vegetables (usually sprouts, eggplant, mushrooms, squash and radish). Mix it all together with a chili paste and you’ve got a traditionan Korean Bimbimbap. The eccentric entrees brought out on this occasion included one with an Indian twist and another with a middle eastern array of spices, raisins, cashews and minced meats. There was a delicious vegetarian bimbimbap with a French accent and some of the best peppers I’ve had since I’ve been here too. It was all delightfully full of flavor and had me excited for what was next to come!
The afternoon continued with dish after dish being brought out. I didn’t get a chance to try the shrimp spring rolls with a Thailandish twist although I was able to check out a few types of Japchae. This glass noodle is traditionally cooked and stir fried with beef and veggies like carrots or spinach in a soy sauce base. Today I got to broaden my horizons with Japchae fused with flavors from Singapore, Japan and a few Western countries.
My favorites for the afternoon had to be the pork belly crepes, the first pajeon which had a Southwest American sauce topped with bacon and the Iraq meets Britain and Korea Bibimbap topped with cashews and raisins. K-cook Delight was a great way to make some new friends and try traditional Korean dishes with a twist. The fact that it was free means I highly recommend it to all foreigners who happen to be visiting when the Day-Restaurant is taking place.
Saturday night my coworker’s brother arrived. A few of us met up with Sejun, our Korean friend, and went out for the usual Korean BBQ. The evening started off as usual with Sejun and I strolling the streets with a brew. He informed me that although it is perfectly legal he cannot do it alone. I can, foreigners can, but if he were to drink on the street alone or with other Koreans it would be highly frowned upon. Another tradition he gets to avoid with us is being required to order food whenever you sit down at a table. Most places won’t let you simply drink; everyone has to order food too. That standard changes for foreigners so when he comes out with us we usually only need 1 dish for the whole table but, I digress.
We met my coworker’ Sara, her brother Angelo and his friend Jack near the Hyperion Towers and the Omokgyo subway stop. They had just gotten off of a 17 hour flight from the states and were excited to get the taste of inflight meals out of their mouth. Sejun insisted that we have beef sushi; we didn’t quite know what it was but of course were ready to try something new. We ordered some pork too and the banchan (sides) quickly arrived.
We tacked on a few beers and soju to the order, taught the newcomers “ganbei” (a Korean toast) and started to get to know each other. Moments later our food arrived; we didn’t realize the beef sushi was in fact nothing like sushi. It was ground beef with all kinds of seasonings (I recognized oil & garlic but can’t say what else was in it) with an egg yolk in the middle. Sejun mixed it all up and we dug in; it was delicious!
At this restaurant we were given the scissors and tongs and had to do all of the grilling ourselves. At some BBQ places the wait staff will cut and flip it for you here we did all the grilling. We ate the meal traditionally by wrapping the meat, some red paste, sprouts, garlic and whatever else we wanted in a lettuce leaf. The oils dripped out and made a mess for most of us while one of the newbies struggled with chopsticks. Sejun seemed to be the only one that didn’t have trouble but we certainly all enjoyed it. The smells coming from the grill kept you hungry the whole meal and we devoured the rest of our order.