Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kimjang (김장) Culture

As I mentioned in my last post, today I am filming for Arirang TV's segment, "Today's Blog". It's been a stressful day, but it's given me the opportunity to do something I've never had the opportunity to do. Kimjang. Kimjang is the kimchi making just before the winter season. Koreans make huge quantities to last through the winter. 

The boyfriend and I attended a kimjang event at the Gangdongguchong (Gangdong District Office) and I started out making kimchi. It's harder than it looks on tv. We started with pre-preserved cabbages. Then you need to be sure to get the right proportions of seasoning on the right parts of the leaves. The thickest parts of the leaves need a lot of seasoning, but the thin parts of the leaf need much less. Then it needs to be properly wrapped as you can see with in the piles of cabbage in front of the boyfriend.

Then the interviewing started. I was so nervous and messed up so many times, but they were kind enough and kept encouraging me. On top of it all, I've been really sick the past two weeks fortunately, I never coughed while on camera. 

Being on camera is really uncomfortable. When doing speeches in school, my teachers always criticized me for moving my hands around too much while speaking. I tried my best not do do that, but I never knew where to put my hands then. It didn't help either that my script was completely in Korean and they expected me to translate it. That serves me right for trying to look smart and emailing them in Korean. People assume that if you can say simple things well, then you must be able to read and speak at a high level. It's not the case, though. So, I spent half my time trying to translate the script to English with the boyfriend. Then, trying to remember all that stuff that I wrote down and make it sound natural. 

At this event, there were so many people working hard to make kimchi. This event was to make kimchi to deliver to neighbors in need. It was really nice to see so many people working to help those less fortunate.

Before it was time to deliver the kimchi, it was lunch time. The event hosts prepared fresh tofu, oysters, makkoli and some of the kimchi that we made ourselves for lunch. It was quite good, but I think between making kimchi  and smelling kimchi and eating kimchi I'm about kimchi-ed out for the next week or so.

Finally, it was time to deliver the kimchi we made. I was allowed to visit one of the homes to which the kimchi was delivered. A very kind gentleman was living in such a tiny apartment. I didn't think it was possible that people could still be living in such poor conditions. No bed, no windows, tiny fridge, no kitchen. The man delivering the kimchi reminded the man to be sure to eat good meals, not just cheap ramen. But, really, living in such conditions cooking much of anything must be difficult...

Then we moved on to a cafe where we got some cake and drinks and they filmed me blogging..

Here I was also interviewed more about my thoughts about kimchi, plus more about the kimjang process.

Next, we were off to 가락시장 to get some shots of the huge quantities of cabbage around Korea at kimjang time. Garak market is not your run of the mill market in Seoul. It's a huge wholesale market where buyers come in and buy produce by auction. Here, we went to one entire facility that was filled almost entirely of nothing but Chinese cabbage (배추). I  have seen plenty of people with shopping carts full of cabbage for kimjang, but seeing truck after truck piled high with nothing but cabbage was a bit overwhelming.

Filming here was harder than we'd hoped. We thought we could come in time for the auction, but because of a miscommunication we were there 4 hours too early. They asked me if I wanted to come back for the auction, and while it was tempting, it was also incredibly cold. So we just filmed then and got out as fast as we could. Filming in a place like this which is so full of action is difficult. We kept having to stop because people would drive by or people would walk too close to the camera.

Finally, the whole exhausting process was over. I decided I'll never be a TV personality. Too much stress. I never did well in drama classes in elementary school either. But it was definitely a fun experience and I was happy to get to make kimchi, since it may well be the first and last time I ever get to make it. I have a lot of interesting photos that I took during the filming process but as they asked me not to post those, I should respect their requests. I hope to have the video posted up here ASAP. Maybe in 2-3 weeks it should be airing on Arirang TV nationally and worldwide. I hear that it is played up to 10 times a day for maybe a week. I wonder if my blog traffic will increase because of it too?

Here are some past episodes of Today's Blog:


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Arirang TV's Today's Blog Filming

Today I'm filming for Arirang TV's "Today's Blog" segment. It will be a 5 minute introduction to Kimjang, or the kimchi making before winter. While I'm really excited about it, I'm also a bit nervous. I've been sick for 2 weeks now and my voice is a bit hoarse and every once in a while I need to stop and hack up a lung. I'll be coughing all over the kimchi which won't look good on film... I'm really just curious how this is all going to go, and I'm hoping they give me a copy of the finished product to post here since I don't get Arirang TV at my home.

I'd better get going. I need to be in Gangdong by 9:00 am! And really, I can't believe that they need to film for 8 hours to make a 5 minute segment. How much would they need to film to make a 1/2 hour long program?!

You can learn more about this segment by checking out Eat Your Kimchi's post about their experiences

Saturday, November 27, 2010

How I made stuffing... in Korea

 Most stuffing recipes call for things that are inconvenient to get a hold of here. Like canned soup. And ovens. And spices.  So I had to be a little creative this year. Actually although I have made homemade stuffing with my mom every thanksgiving, I never really paid much attention to the actual ingredients because I didn't think I'd ever want to make it on my own. But here I was, hoping for real stuffing. So, what to do?

First, instead of chicken broth I made a vegetable broth. I let the carrots, onion, celery and celery leaves boil for as long as possible before adding them to my practice batch. Then I let the soup sit in the fridge for 2 more days before making the real thing on Sunday. 

To my bread, which had been left out for 24 hours, I added some of the soup and some of the veggies from the stew. (On thanksgiving day I also fried up more veggies to add to the mix).  Then added a bit of mashed potato (my mother's style) rather than an egg to keep it together. I threw in a bunch of the two Italian spices I have: basil and parsley and hoped for the best.

My one baguette from Salaam Bakery (*note to self, must write a blog about this place) was enough to fill up this one small tin. On thanksgiving day, I doubled the recipe, using two baguettes. Which somehow yielded three of these small tin plates of stuffing. 

Then I roasted it in my toaster oven which I recently acquired when my beloved friend Matt returned to England. Fortunately, the tin plate exactly fits in the oven! I toasted with a cover for 15-20 min and then without a cover for another 10 min to toast it a bit.

In the end? It turned out ok. Actually my first batch had the best flavor, but it was too soggy for my taste. So the next time around I put in less soup, which gave it the right consistency, but it lacked a little in flavor. Ces't la vie..  Anyway, if your cooking stuffing this weekend for your Thanksgiving party, I hope this gives you a little help in making your stuffing!

Friday, November 26, 2010


We had a few friends over on Sunday night to celebrate Thanksgiving. Of course, it's not a holiday here so celebrating on Thursday is more or less impossible, especially with my schedule. So, we all gathered and everyone brought what they could and it turned into quite a feast.

While you can get turkey here, I had two reasons for not getting it. It's quite expencive...although if I split the cost between all the guests it would have been more than reasonable. But, secondly, usually when you order the turkey, you get the whole spread, you know, potatoes, stuffing blah blah, the whole nine yards. Which, admittedly would have been really nice... but part of Thanksgiving for me is the cooking and preparing. I wanted to make my own potatoes, my own broccoli, my own stuffing and I trusted my friends to bring along their own specialties.

But what about the bird? Lack of ovens here make it difficult to do much at the house. I decided that it would have to be chicken, since it's cheap and yummy. The boyfriend suggested boiled chicken. My response to that was, well, why don't we just serve ddeokboki for breakfast on Seollal instead of ddeok-guk. It's ddeok, right? Ddeok-guk... ddeokboki... what's the difference? There was no way I was going to boil a chicken for Thanksgiving dinner. So, the solution?

Rotisserie chicken truck!

For those who don't live in Korea, there are these awesome trucks that park around town roasting chickens. Here, the price is 2 for 11,000 won (less than $11 USD). They're also stuffed with rice. While rice is not quite stuffing, I made some of that too, so it wasn't a problem. We bought 4 for 9 people (one vegetarian). They're not very big.

Thanksgiving in my home (or any holiday for that matter) tends to be about the appetizers. My mom will make her awesome kielbasa, my aunt will make some crazy nacho dip thing, plus fruit, cheese, bread, crackers and other assorted things. This more or less leads to being full before it's turkey time. True to tradition, I made up a big plate of veggies and another of crackers. My friend brought along the cheese, but the problem was the dip. Usually we buy vegetable dip at home, or maybe use a soup packet to make one with sour cream. I'm lacking in most of those key ingredients, but I did have one thing. Our homemade yogurt. So, following a recipe I found online for a Greek cucumber dip, I diced a cucumber, put it in yogurt with olive oil, a bit too much garlic and a few drops of lime juice. Then we added a bit of honey because we were worried the taste would be too sharp. People seemed to like the result, though I'd never tasted that before so I wasn't sure what kind of result I was supposed to be aiming for.

Finally, everyone arrived and it was time to chow down.

Our table... actually we thought our normal table would be too small, so we took the support from under our bed to make a table. It worked. Oh, and the boyfriend brought me a new table cloth from his work. This one is a reject from Ann Taylor. It's nice stuff. 

Cassie brought a can of cranberry sauce leftover from last year I guess. Didn't bother anyone that it was so old. Tasted great. I don't think cranberry sauce can go bad... We mushed it up because we thought the can shape would scare the non-North Americans at the table. 

The boyfriend made his lovely Thai Curry.

And one of our four chickens. I don't have a close up of the stuffing, but I'm so proud of my stuffing that I'm going to make a separate post for it anyway.

People had to get going early, so we rushed into desert next. I didn't really do anything in the way of desert, but everyone really stepped up to the plate on this one.

Top left here is homemade sweet potato pie. I've never had it before, but it tasted quite similar to pumpkin pie to me. I was impressed. Top right is the PUMPKIN PIE!! Our friend picked it up at Costco, evidently for 6,000 won?!?! Is that possible? Too cheap and too yummy!! Bottom left is a cake from a hotel where one of our guests works. Those strange fruit on top are figs. I never knew what a fig looked like before... And lastly was a cheese cake. While it was good, it didn't quite live up to our expectations. It was kind of more closely related to the Korean cheesecake family rather than the American cheesecake family. Both good, but quite different.

Some people left, and the ones that stayed broke out Scatagories (teaming Koreans and North Americans together). Such a fun game. 

I hope everyone in America has a lovely Thanksgiving today and I hope that everyone in Korea or living away from home can celebrate Thanksgiving in their own way. 

How did you/ will you celebrate Thanksgiving this year? Any suggestions on the best way to do it when abroad?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North Korea's Attack on the South

While you've probably heard by now, North Korea launched an attack on South Korean soil today. While not very close to Seoul (I'm not in any danger), it's still serious and it's going to have lasting effects in the coming weeks and months.

Here is an AP video describing the events and the current climate on the peninsula.

And the following is a link to a good BuisnessWeek article about the incident: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-11-23/n-korea-attack-on-south-kills-two-sets-homes-ablaze.html

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jeju Guide: Seongeup Folk Village

One of the most delightful stops we made in Jeju was to the Seongeup Folk Village. It's not really like any other folk villages you've been to before. Here, you probably won't see many actors dressed up pretending to live life like they did one hundred years ago, but you will see people actually living in some traditional houses, with a few modern amenities, of course. Scattered among this real village are many houses that you can enter yourself and look around. Without a guide it might be difficult really appreciate the area, but while English guides are free, they often expect you to buy something from one of the gift shops at the end of the tour so be sure you know what you're getting into before you take up one of the many guides  up on their offer.

We didn't get a guide, and we probably did miss out on a lot of the history, but we had a nice hour or so walk around the houses, exploring and taking photos.

 All these houses were actual houses, not reconstructions. While many are still inhabited, others have been abandoned and are now kept up just for tourism.

All the roofs here are thatched. Here is a closeup of one roof for you.


Jeju is famous for the "똥돼지" or "dung pigs". These pigs lived beside the outhouse and fed on... well... everything that came from the outhouse. We had been hoping to see a 똥돼지 the whole time we were in Jeju, since they are quite well known, but by the time we came here on the last day, we had given up hope. Since, obviously, no one is feeding poop to pigs anymore we didn't expect to find anything. We found many pig pens attached to toilets in the village, but no pigs. But, just as we were getting ready to leave the folk village, we happened to look into one 똥돼지 pen and were astonished to see a real pig in there. Of course, it wasn't eating poop, but we were pretty happy anyway.


 Here's a demonstration for you on how it works...

As we were leaving the village, we stumbled across these tolharubangs. They are original to the city, not like the new ones you'll probably see everywhere all over the island.

Seongeup Folk Village, while not overly exciting, was a very nice place to visit. Unlike everywhere else we went in Jeju, we didn't have to pay any entrance fee here, so it's especially good if you're on a budget. You can get a tour guide for free, but you should expect them to push you to buy something once your tour is complete. For those interested in history, it's a must see.  Keep your eye out for the 똥돼지!!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Silliest of Holidays: Pepero Day

Another Pepero Day has come and go. Of course, you know, 11/11 is Pepero Day, don't you?  It's the day you give chocolate covered cookie sticks to everyone you know.

Why? Well, obviously because it's 11/11 and the date looks like four sticks of pepero. Isn't that reason enough?

Here is just some of the goodies I received. I got another one today (Tuesday). I think the girl meant to give it to me last week but must have forgotten. But it was homemade. Way to go for fighting the system. Screw Lotte out of the money they thought they were making from forming a holiday to celebrate a product. Though... I think all the other pepero I received makes up for her making hers at home...

Here's my post on the subject from two years ago: http://smileyjkl.blogspot.com/2008/11/happy-pepero-day.html

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cooking Class for Dwoengjang Jjigae and Jaeyuk Bokkum

 This weekend, my free Saturday Korean class had a field trip to a cooking school to learn to make 된장찌개 and 제육볶음. The price of the class was only 15,000 won for everything so, considering the fact that I would pay 10,000 to eat this in a restaurant, it was quite inexpensive. The class was in Korean, but my friend Haemin translated for us all.

 We were set up in groups of four, and each group had the ingredients and utensils needed to make the two dishes.

First we listened to a lecture about the ingredients needed. Some things were already prepared for us, but he explained how to make them at home and we were given the recipes, translated into English, so we could try at home from scratch. The nice thing about this cooking school was that they wanted everyone to make their sauces from scratch rather than just buying premade things which tend to have lots of MSG or lots of salt.

Then he prepared each dish in front of us, so we could watch how to cut the vegetables or how long to let something boil. They had a mirror set up above too so that people in the back could see the workspace in the mirror and have a perfect view of everything.

Then we were set to work. Here we are mixing the pork with the sauce. He told us if we didn't want it spicy, to only put in half. We put in the whole amount and found it not spicy at all. Yet again, Koreans worry too much about us not being able to handle their spicy foods...

While the pork marinated, it was time to make some 주먹밥 (literally fist rice) or rice balls. I tried to copy my friend Asami here, I think the Japanese have the art of rice ball making to a science. All of hers were perfect heart shapes. Mine.... were not so perfect... but I'd give myself an A for effort at least..

After letting the pork marinate while making the rice balls, it was time to fry it up.  This wasn't exactly rocket science. The only problem was the fact that looking at and smelling all this food cooking was making me incredibly hungry!

The other half of our group was in charge of the jjigae. They did a good job, but they didn't add any hot pepper powder, so it was a bit to mild for my taste. But, still delicious! 

Here was our final produce. Me and my partner made some interesting shapes with the rice and we made lots and lots of jaeyuk bokkum. 

Ready to eat!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Flaming Pig Heads

Just something I ran across on my way home the other night. If you can't see what's going on here, the man is running a torch over the pig's head and there is a pile of pigs heads to the left waiting to get torched... My walk home is never boring!