Elwood 5566

Beating Boknal (복날) 1. My Wooden Wife (죽부인)

Posted in Quintesentially Korean, seasons by 노강호 on June 30, 2011

Who needs this? (Joo-Hee Kim, Miss Korea 2006)

When you can have this!

(Originally published August 5th 2010) I’ve just got myself a ‘wife.’ Rather than travel to the Philippines or Thailand, and spend a fortune on one who might be mouthy, problematic, dump me the moment she has a British passport  or demand too much, this one was bought at my local E-Mart at the amazingly cheap price of 9500 Won (£5). I didn’t have to pay a pimp for acting as middle-man and she even came in a bag.

She is incredibly skinny and all ribs but being mute and pretty lifeless, I neither have to suffer nagging and can easily boot her out of my bed should she fail to please. And though I know it’s a bit misogynistic, the bits I don’t like are missing. The down side? She is fucking lazy. I left her on the bed this morning and she is still laying there eight hours later.

Cool sleeping

Unlike real wives who are apt to raise your temperature in more ways than one, my new Wooden Wife, lowers my temperature and reduces my stress levels. In Korea, she is known as a chuk-bu-in (죽부인) and  is used as the traditional method of keeping cool on hot  and humid evenings, especially during the hottest time of year (boknal –  복날)).

My wife about to undress and go to bed

Made of bamboo, the wooden-wife is used to drape your leg or limbs over, to sort of cuddle, and in doing so body heat trapped between limbs and torso is reduced. Using the wooden-wife  allows air to circulate around the body. Last night, I spent my first evening with her  in my bed and I must say, it was cooler than sleeping alone and definitely cooler than sleeping with a real human – if not somewhat more boring.

making a wooden wife (죽부인) Often called a 'wooden lady.'

The bamboo is very smooth and there are no rough edges. I also noticed that the bamboo is much cooler to touch as it doesn’t retain heat so with my air conditioner blowing down onto it, it even felt a little chilled.

Wooden-wives come in children and adult sizes and are also made in different colours. Though usually made of bamboo, other materials can be used. You can also buy attractive covers for bamboo chuk-bu-in.

Making wooden-wives

Wife on bed - waiting patiently

You get the gist...

UPDATE JULY 30 2011

She is absolutely fantastic in hot weather and I couldn’t do without her. I’ve been sleeping on and off with her for the last year though when the weather cooled last year, I kicked her down the side of the bed, between bed and wall, and that’s where she lay most of the winter. I’ve recently stuck one of those hooks on the wall and that’s where I put her when she’s not needed. Hanging about where she is, she’s within easy reach but during the summer she’s constantly on my bed. I cannot stress how fantastic wooden-wives are and mine has become a crucial item throughout hot summers.

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© Nick Elwood 2010. This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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Snapping off in Seomun Market (서문시장)

Posted in Monday Market (Theme), Photo diary, Quintesentially Korean by 노강호 on May 7, 2011

It was Children’s Day and downtown would have simply been too crowded so I headed off to Daegu’s largest market, Seo -Mun (West Gate). It is enormous! The photos are dated April but were in fact taken on May 5th.

Ajummas eating lunch among dried fish

I found these extremely entertaining. Try explaining ‘tacky’ to a Korean!

an array of Kettles

Dried fish and ‘kim’ (김) – dried and toasted seaweed sheets

One of the alleys on the periphery of the market

a store owner who insisted on being photographed. The sheets of seaweed in the background are seen as beneficial for pregnant women.

a box of cinammon

dried ray fish

dried octopus

bags of bar snacks

rice cake

rice cake

and more rice cake…

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

More on Cabbage Kimchi – Some Guidelines

‘decanted’ after over two months and deliciously sour

This post was originally published in February 2011 and is now updated.

I am now quite proud of my cabbage kimchi, a skill which has taken me about ten years to get right. One reason why it takes a long time to make decent kimchi is that you have to develop a sense of what constitutes a good kimchi and an awareness of kimchi at different stages of fermentation. Unless you have a cultivated appreciation of what Kimchi is, and by that I mean an awareness of kimchi that a Korean would enjoy and not what you personally think it should taste like, your kimchi will never be authentic. The subtleties of kimchi are as intricate and extensive as wine or Indian curry  and an appreciation is important if you are to use a recipe to guide you.

There exist many recipes for cabbage kimchi, regional, personal and for accompanying certain meals; bo-ssam (boiled, sliced pork, 보쌈) for example, uses a special type of kimchi. I am concerned here with the standard type of kimchi that accompanies the majority of Korean foods and which can be divided into two categories, fresh and sour.  There is of course, a range of flavours in between these extremes. Many Koreans have a preference for one or the other and foods which use kimchi as a major constituent, as for example with kimchi stew (김치 찌개 or 김치찜), suit one or the other.

scary yes, but tasty

I’m told by Korean friends that big cabbages are not the best to use and that medium sized ones, which compared to Britain are enormous, are the most suitable. The outer leaves are trimmed and unless damaged these shouldn’t  be thrown away as they can be used in other recipes.

One of the most persistent problems I faced was the most crucial; namely getting the salting process right. Even cook books sometimes overlook what is a seemingly simple procedure. When the prepared cabbages are ready to paste with your kimchi paste mix, they should resemble a dishcloth by which I mean they should be floppy and it should be possible to wring them without them tearing. If you get your kimchi paste wrong you can always adjust it. Even if you subsequently discover your kimchi is too salty it will mellow as it ferments but should the kimchi fail to wilt properly it will not be easily rescued.

Many recipes gloss over the salting process and only this week I read Jennifer Barclay’s book, Meeting Mr Kim (Summersdale, 1988). The book is an interesting account of life in Korea and not a cookbook, but her kimchi recipe, and she is not alone, simply directed you to soak the cabbages in salted water. If as recipe does not explain the salting process in some detail, tread with caution!  I once used an entire big bag of table salt in which I soaked the cabbages for several days and they still failed to wilt effectively. The salting process is actually simple if you use a coarse type of salt  (such as sea salt or if in Korea  굵은 소금)) and sprinkled between the leaves is all that is required to wilt the leaves in several hours, depending on room temperature. When I make kimchi in the UK, I am forced to use cabbages which are almost white in colour, very stemmy, and which are too small to quarter but even these wilt if treated properly. After salting the washed and wet cabbages they can be placed in a bowl or sink, sprinkled with extra salt and a few cups of extra water and left. Immersing them in water isn’t necessary. In hot weather the wilting process is much quicker. You should notice the cabbages almost half in volume and soon become limp, floppy and wringable.

Bo-ssam (보쌈) uses a different type of kimchi

Like rice, traditionally, Koreans rinse the cabbage three times. I have learnt it is much better to rinse them thoroughly, perhaps removing too much salt but this can always be remedied later. However, if you use the correct ammount of salt and don’t sprinkle excess on, three rinses are adequate. You can feel where salt residue remains as the stems are slimy and you can remove these by simply rubbing your fingers over them.

Salty kimchi will mellow with fermentation, it is probably better for it to be not salty enough than too salty, especially given the concerns over salt and blood pressure. One hint Mangchi suggests is adding some thin slices of mooli (무) if it is overly salty.

A good kimchi paste will cling to the leaves like a sauce so it is prudent to drain the segments and even wring  water out and this will prevent your kimchi becoming watery as the cabbages ferment.

Pork kimchi stew (김치씸) – works just as well with mackerel

Plenty of recipes, online and in books, will guide you through making the paste but my all time favourite is Maangchi. Her website is enormous and her videos on Korean cooking are well presented. Here you will also find other ways to use kimchi as well as many other types of kimchi, cabbage and otherwise.

British friends who have since become lovers of kimchi often ask me how long it will keep. I tend to keep kimchi in the refrigerator in hot weather and somewhere cold, but not freezing, in winter. If you like kimchi fresh (newly made,) keeping it cool or cold will delay fermentation. If you like it sour then you can use a warm  place to speed up the process. I tend to juggle things in order to better control fermentation. I made my last batch of kimchi in November and the tub in which it is stored has stood on my balcony almost 6 months. I have now moved it to the bottom of my fridge to mellow indefinitely. I have used kimchi that was over 6 months old and which had white mold on the top but this washed off and the underlying cabbage was excellent as the basis for a stew.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

The Aegukga. Korea’s National Anthem

Posted in Quintesentially Korean by 노강호 on April 25, 2011

As a military musician with fifteen years service, I am probably more acquainted  than most, with national anthems. My Regiment, formed in 1695, the same year Handel and J.S Bach were born, was the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and was one of England’s most distinguished cavalry regiments. Stationed in Germany for almost ten years, we played in many parts of Europe, Canada and countless official engagements. Playing national anthems was an important and diplomatic part of our musical duties and because our Colonel in Chief was King Leopold of Belgium, we also  played the Belgian anthem, La Brabançonne along with God Save the Queen at regimental engagements. Despite having played many anthems, I fell in love with Korea’s the first time I heard it.

1. One Verse Orchestral version, slower tempo, no vocals

The Aegukga is certainly patriotic and though brief, its melody, rivals the likes of Sibelius (Finlandia) and Elgar (Pomp and Circumstance No 1). Naturally, the patriotism is largely the product of the successful manner in which the music has been conflated with imagery symbolic of Korea. My first exposure to the Aegukga was through the various television company productions in which were paraded cultural icons such as the mugunghwa (무궁화 – national flower), Buddha, King Sejeong, sporting celebrities, the Taeguk-gi (태극기 – Korean flag), Mount Baekdu-san (백두산) and Dokdo (독도) which were, and continue to be interpolated with imagery of Korean scenery, the seasons, traditional practices, technology and urban, rural and military scenes. A four minute exposure to an official TV company Aegukga is an ideological tour de force of and the anthem noble enough to provide a canvass which unites quite disparate themes.

2. Anthem of one verse with chorus featuring a prominent tenor line which differs from the usual version. Some interesting alterations in orchestration. The Verse begins with standard choir while the refrain is given at first to  a children’s choir and then both choirs

Like the anthems of many countries, it is composed in a western style and nothing in melody or harmony is suggestive of East Asia. The composer, Ahn Eak-tai  (안익태), 1906-1965, had studied initially in Japan, and later, USA, Vienna and in Budapest under none other than Zoltan Kodaly. Originally he studied the trumpet but his primary instrument was to become the cello, eventually playing with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. His Symphonic Fantasy Korea was submitted to a competition in Carnegie Hall, around 1936 after which it was performed in many countries, often under his baton.  The central theme from this work he later arranged as the Aegukga (애국가)  which would replace the anthem’s original melody, Auld Langsyne, by presidential Decree, in 1948.

3. All verses, most common orchestration  with transliteration and one version of its translation

Unlike  many national anthems, the lyrics avoid the pompous deferential guff where country and state are conflated in a figure head and as a result the embodiment of Korea character in a range of imagery has a broad appeal. The Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea (1919–1945) in Shanghai, China adopted the lyrics as their national anthem. The same lyrics, dating from 1896,  are still used  today.

4. Anthem with soprano and tenor soloists


5. Anthem with transliteration and one version of its translation

Ahn Eak-tai’s  (안익태) hymn-like anthem, is wonderful in that the expansive melody provides a perfect accompaniment for the lyrics and even as a non-Korean I experience a thrill when the second part of the refrain, culminating with a cymbal crash, announces, ‘Great Korean People’ (대한 사람).

6. Full anthem with usual orchestration but with a children’s choir.

7.  Part of Ahn Eak-tai  (안익태) original Symphonic Fantasy Korea  (1935)

Korean Lyrics for the Aegukga

東海 물과 白頭山이 마르고 닳도록
하느님이 保佑하사 우리나라 萬歲

(Refrain) 無窮花 三千里 華麗 江山
大韓 사람 大韓으로 길이 保全하세

南山 위에 저 소나무 鐵甲을 두른 듯
바람서리 不變함은 우리 氣像일세

가을 하늘 空豁한데 높고 구름 없이
밝은 달은 우리 가슴 一片丹心일세

이 氣像과 이 맘으로 忠誠을 다하여
괴로우나 즐거우나 나라 사랑하세

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Monday Market – Crunchy Crab (방게조림)

Posted in fish, Food and Drink, Quintesentially Korean by 노강호 on April 20, 2011

the bang-gae is a small type of crab (방게) Click photo for source link

Whenever I eat this, which is almost everyday, I am reminded of the kind of oral sensation you might experience if you ate a handful of cockroaches. However, despite the fact a portion of bang-gae cho-rim (방게조림) consists of numerous disengaged  legs, claws and bodies in a thick spicy coating, they are quite delicious.   Cho-rim is a type of side dish which is prepared by boiling ingredients in soy sauce. While the bodies are somewhat soft, the legs and claws are crunchy and because they are spikey and sometimes sharp, need to be eaten with a little care.

un-cooked bang-gae

legless bang-gae

fresh from the market

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The Pleasure of a Deadly Dolsot (돌솥)

Posted in Quintesentially Korean by 노강호 on March 30, 2011

a solid rock dolsot (돌솥)

It looks like a mushy mess when mixed up and the first time you experience it you probably discard the crispy rice that frazzles in the bottom of the dish. It was one of my first culinary experiences in Korea but it instantly made an impression and on almost on every occasion I eat it I am nostalgically transported back to that inaugural introduction. Dolsot bibimbap is basically ‘stone-pot mixed rice’ (돌솥 비빔밥) and the reason for the stone pot, the ‘dolsot,’ is that it can be heated to a searing temperature and continues cooking as you eat. Indeed, cooking and eating with a dolsot demands caution and in restaurants the heavy bowl is often encased in a wooden holder to prevent injury.

slightly rough texture and heavy

dolsot bibimbap

The ‘bibimbap,’ which can alternatively be eaten in a normal bowl without searing properties and using cooked rice, without a raw egg, usually consists of vegetables, meat or fish and a sauce based on red pepper paste (고추장) but there are numerous personal and regional variations. The ingredients are placed on top of the rice in an aesthetic manner and you mix them with sauce at your table. Though it looks quite messy when mixed, it is delicious. One advantage of the dolsot version is that rice is seared to a crisp on the bottom of the bowl forming what Koreans call nurungji (느룽지). My first introduction to toasted rice which is capable of cracking your teeth was through a friend’s mother who at breakfast one morning politely plied me with all the scrapings from the bottom of a dolsot bowl. Being in her late sixties and emerging from a Korea quite different from today, she relished nurungji and passing it to a guest was an honour. At the time however, I didn’t understand the significance. Often, nurungji crust is served in a bowl with warm water and at first doesn’t seem too much different from drinking boiled rice water in which a handful of rice has been steeped but like so many Korean foods, it grows on you. If I go to one of my favourite restaurants and they have run out of nurungji, I am always a little disappointed.

nurungji (누룽지) in a wooden holder

If you want to make your own dolsot bibimbap you can easily buy a bowl in markets and supermarkets. I recently bought one in E-Marte and it cost 33.000 (about £16). I’ve read numerous accounts of bowls that leak or are cracked and it seems that small cracks are acceptable but mine is unblemished. A dolsot pot often has a metal strip around the neck and base, is grey or blackish in colour and is slightly rough to the touch; it should not be confused with a ‘ddukbaegi’ (뚝배기) which is a much lighter earthenware pot which is usually glazed.

a ddukbaegi – not to be confused with a dolsot

If you want to make truly decent dolsot bibimbap you need a dolsot and not a ddukbaegi; not only can a dolsot be heated to a far higher temperature but it retains the heat for much longer. My ddukbaegi is off the boil the moment I turn off the gas range and is cold by the time I’ve eaten from it. The dolsot however, requires small amounts of water to be poured into the bowl as you are eating as the contents are still cooking and hence dehydrating. Even after fifteen minutes, water poured into the bowl will instantly bubble and spit when it contacts the base and the dolsot needs time to cool down before it can be manhandled.

waiting for action

One tip for cleaning the bowl is to use coarse grain salt and a cloth which very effectively rips off any adhesion. You cannot use this method on a ddukbaegi because of the smooth surface. As I have stressed, the dolsot demands caution when using it and I always worry about inadvertently lifting the lid off the pot as I would a usual cooking pot. I have never done this with a ddukpaegi but the temperature of the dolsot is infinitely greater. You can buy a simple device for picking up hot ddukpaegi (I’m not sure of dolsot but safety would demand using two hands because of their weight).

I do not know how much quality varies but I notice that you can buy a dolsot the same size (18cm) as the one I purchased in E-Mart for as little as 19.000 Won (£10).  There are also different sizes, 16cm, 20cm, 22cm (HonsuMart.com)

There is no mistaking the dolsot is deadly. It has the potential not just to scold the user but if dropped on the toes it will easily break them. And another downside to enjoying its contents is the heat; the bibimbap is so bloody hot you need half an hour to eat it! But the risks are well worth it!

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Monday Market – Shepherd's Purse (냉이)

Posted in herbs and 'woods', Quintesentially Korean by 노강호 on March 8, 2011

a tasty weed

I now realise I have an intimate relationship with this weed developed through years of mowing lawns. Shepherd’s Purse, which has tiny white flowers, is considered a lawn pest in the UK and numerous British gardening websites devote space to facilitating its annihilation.

the plant usually stands higher than surrounding grass and is easily identified

Such a shame! All I needed to do to clear my lawn of this ‘pest’ was to pull it up and consume it. I have never tired it in British cooking but I’m sure with creativity it could have uses. In Britain, there is a long history of Shepherd’s Purse as an herbal remedy and in China it is used in both soup and as a wonton filling.

Korean 'naeng-i' (냉이)

I wrote a brief post on Shepherd’s Purse (냉이) last year and made it clear I wasn’t sure how much I liked it. However, I actually bought several bundles and froze them and there was ample to last the entire year. Like many seasonal oddities, especially ones used by grandmothers, as is naeng-i, it’s a case of ‘here today – gone tomorrow.’  Only a few weeks after noticing it, it will have disappeared until next year. Naeng-i really livens-up a bowl of bean curd soup (됀장찌게) and I was quite excited to buy it fresh yesterday. I can’t  be bothered trimming off the roots and have one of those mesh balls in which I put whole plants and simply immerse the ball in the soup. Quite a few of my students love naeng-i and apart from telling you how their grandmothers use it, are often excited recounting its flavour.

 

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Basic Kimchi Recipe (adapted for those living in the UK)

Posted in My Recipes, Quintesentially Korean, recipes for Kimchi by 노강호 on February 13, 2011

the taste of a nation

I have a number of friends and family in the UK, most notably my sister, who have been asking me to give them a kimchi recipe despite there now being many great recipes available on the Internet. So, I have written up a recipe I use when in the UK where I can’t always get authentic ingredients and I need to make substitutions.

There are many different cabbage kimchi recipes encompassing different styles to regional variations. The fact kimchi is so varied makes it exciting and without doubt, everyone who makes kimchi does so slightly different from someone else. For Koreans, when mum makes kimchi, and I’ve only met a few men who can make it, their hands invest it with love.  This is the recipe I use for what is basically a straight forward kimchi comprising the basic ingredients.

Kimchi is very easy to make but it helps if you have some knowledge of how decent kimchi tastes so you are able to assess your endeavours and make adjustments to improve future attempts.

There are 9 basic ingredients:

Cabbage – Chinese leaf (called napa in the US). In the UK places like Tesco sell these but they are white, small and very stemmy. You will need 4 of these.

Mooli – once again this sometimes appear in supermarkets though they are small, skinny and bendy. Turnips, 3 0r 4 make a suitable alternative.

A whole bulb of garlic.

An inch or so of ginger. (I often omit this)

A bunch of chives or spring onions. (the type of onion Koreans use I have not seen in the UK)

Rice flour, though I have used plain flour. Not all recipes use this but I prefer paste slightly clingy)

Fish sauce – in the UK Thai Nam Pla is fine including ‘Squid’ brand.

Salt, like a whole box or packet. You will need Kosher salt or sea salt and not table salt.

Korean red pepper powder. You cannot substitute this but I have ordered it with easy in British Oriental supermarkets.

A good size plastic tub – like a Tupperware tub.

(Sugar – not all recipes use this)

Stage 1 cabbage preparation

Without any doubt the most neglected part of recipes on kimchi involve salting, and hence wilting the cabbages. All my early failures at kimchi making resulted from recipes that failed to explain this process. Getting this right is crucial but it is very simple.

1. Immerse cabbages in water. Then trim off discoloured bases, remove any bad leaves, and using a good knife begin to cut the cabbage in half from the base. Once about a third of the way into the cabbage, remove the knife and then simply tear the cabbages in half. If you have large cabbages you would in fact quarter them in this manner but if they are the small ones I’d simply half them.

Let the cabbages drain but don’t dry them.

Double check your using sea salt! Lay the cabbage half on its back, and then begin sprinkling salt on the lowest leaf, on the inside. You’ll need to raise the rest of the cabbage up to access it and at times, with a small cabbage, you can hold it in the palm of your hand and finger the leaves apart. Make sure you sprinkle salt into the base area where stems are thickest. You don’t need lots of salt, just a good pinch for each leaf. This process is finicky with small cabbages.

salting the cabbage

When all salted, put the cabbages in a bowl, throw a handful of salt over the top and then add a cup or two of water. Then simply leave them until wilted which may be between 2 hours to over night depending on the temperature. Turning them a few times during salting is useful.

leave for several hours or overnight

How do you know when the cabbages are ready to paste? First they will have reduced in volume considerably and the container will contain a lot more water. Most importantly, the cabbages should be limp and floppy j.  A good test is to wring one and it should wring just like a cloth, without tearing.

suitably wilted so that it is limp and like a wet cloth

Next, rinse them 3 times. To prevent the kimchi being too salty, you can immerse cabbages in water and feel where excess salt is as it will have a slimy feel. Simply remove this with your fingers. Make sure you wash between the leaves.

Finally, wring them to remove excess water which will otherwise dilute your paste. The cabbages are now ready to paste.

Stage 2 Preparing the other ingredients.

Grate the mooli (white turnips) and squeeze any fluid from them

grate the ginger

crush the garlic

chop the spring onions (chives)

Mix 2 tablespoons of rice flour (or plain flour) in a little cold water, until it is a runny paste, then add this to a pan containing 1 and a half cups of water. Heat this until it begin to boil, stirring it constantly and adding any additional water until it resembles porridge. As it begins to boil you can add a 1 tablespoon of sugar but this is optional. The ‘porridge’ provides some body to the paste and many Koreans do not use it. Personally, I quite like a thicker paste on kimchi though not too long after fermentation, the paste will have become diluted regardless.

Stage 3 making the paste

Put the rice flour porridge in a large bowl

Add half a cup of fish sauce

3 cups of red chili powder

Add garlic, ginger, onion and mooli

Mix them all together into  a paste being careful not to burn your fingers on the porridge mix.

Stage 4 pasting up the leaves

kimchi pasting

This process is almost the same as salting the leaves; lay each cabbage on its back and staring with the inside lowest leaf, paste on the mixture. Any leftover paste I simply spread over the top unless there is a lot when I might freeze it for later use. Segments should be placed in a Tupperware container with each segment being laid in a head-tail-head order. They pack better this way.

Some General Points

Where to store kimchi – basically, if  it’s summer in the fridge and if winter, somewhere cold but not freezing. Kimchi ferments and as it does so the taste is altered. Part of the fun in making kimchi is in controlling the fermentation so you keep your batch in the condition in which you best enjoy it.

Fermenting kimchi – You can eat kimchi immediately. Prior and during fermentation, kimchi has a very fresh taste where individual ingredients are distinct.  The kimchi will also be lively in colour. At this stage the kimchi can be salty but as fermentation and infusing continues, saltiness is lost. Some saltiness or even heat (spiciness) can be compensated with some additional sugar. If it has lost saltiness you can adjust this at this stage. Stems may still be slightly firm and thick stems may still have a little crunch left in them despite being wilted.  Be prepared for some bad smells during this period. Fermentation can last up to  a week depending on temperature and in comfortable room temperature (21 degrees) you can expect the lid of the Tupperware container to pop open about once every 24 hours. I’ve slept in the same room as fermenting kimchi and no longer find the aroma unpleasant but the released gasses will easily scent a room with what some will consider a very unpleasant smell.

Fermented kimchi – individual flavours are much less distinguishable, saltiness is reduced and the paste has probably thinned and increased considerably.  Don’t worry; this is delicious in stews and soups. I often make minor adjustment to saltiness and sweetness.

Aged Kimchi – aged kimchi draws your mouth with its sourness and if you appreciated this type of kimchi, there is a point, which differs for each ‘connoisseur,’ where the balance of saltiness, acidity, and sweetness combine to provide an exquisite taste.    I often add a little sugar or salt to this kimchi in order to balance the mixture exactly as I like it however; it never produces the same sensation as it does when the balance is naturally right.  Aged kimchi is slightly yellower in colour and the stems slightly translucent. What aged kimchi might lack in lustre is compensated by its mature taste.

Once you know how you like kimchi you can move your Tupperware pot in order to slow down or suspend fermentation. After the kimchi has stopped releasing gas, it will continue to mellow but at a much slower rate and during winter months or when it is kept in a cool place or the fridge, the taste will differ very little over several months.

Very old kimchi, over six months might have mould on the surface but don’t throw it away; wash the mould of the top segments and the kimchi is still edible but much better for use in stews.

 

kimchi  segments packed head to tail style

If you can obtain minari, as you can in Korea, a bunch of this, chopped can be added along with the spring onion, garlic and ginger.

Good luck and don’t be afraid to experiment as you gain experience!

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Bathhouse ‘Zen’ (Part 1)

I’m working through some ideas here and not only have another three parts to follow this post, but will make amendments here. If you want to add your views, more educated and sociological ones welcomed,  please do so however, I won’t bother publishing the usual offensive crap that this kind of post sometimes generates. (Hence the pumpkin logo)

Not suitable for pumpkin people

Not too long ago, I joined the social networking site, Skinbook, a site for nudists. I had never considered myself a nudist and of course, in Korea I’m not. But once you head back home on a vacation you realise that bathing, even in a same-sex environment, is a form of nudism.  So,while in Korea I regard myself completely normal and healthy but once I step off the plane in the UK , or even talk to some westerners here in Korea, I have to re-configure one of my pleasures and label it ‘partial nudism’ and of course, this then  includes the slurs and innuendos associated with any form of nudity. What is a completely normal pursuit in one country is almost perversified in another. It is ironic that my home country, like the USA,  has not just one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the world, but one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, children as young as 12 and 13 engage in sex and if they go to the doctor are granted anonymity and, child abuse in one form or another, is clearly a national pastime. Being judged by my own culture, and those who bring  its attitudes to Korea is rather like being judged by the town’s most prolific pox spreading, pimp.

the hanja character for ‘nothing,’ ‘not having,’ (없을-무)

For a waygukin to really enjoy Korean bathhouses one has to divest themselves of the  cultural baggage  that prohibits or hinders one from fully capitalizing on what the experience has to offer. Though our cultural baggage may be similar, as between that of a Canadian and Scotsman, there are naturally differences that shape and  inform the reception we have to going-naked in a same-sex, public environment.  Some cultures are more relaxed than others and within and across cultures there are differing attitudes towards nudity and proxemics;  some may be constrained by religious views, some may have very strong associations between nudity and sex, some may be more liberated due to upbringing.  So, the point at which we each stand in relation to nudity and the various forms it appears in, differ.  Despite the reference to ‘zen,’  (선), there is nothing deep or mystical in the Korean practice of public bathing any more than there is swimming in a public bathhouse in the UK and my use of the term is based on the loosest meaning and simply suggests the ability to enjoy the experience without being hindered by cultural baggage.

spheres of zen

For many, myself included, taking the first step into a bathhouse was a traumatic  experience and certainly one I’ll never forget it! For others, nudity in the company of others is no different to being nude in isolation; many people are quite used to showering in a same-sex environment and if you play rugby in the UK, bathing in a large bathtub with your team, all naked, is a long-standing ritual. However, showering or bathing naked is quite different from other experiences a bathhouse will eventually confront you with, experiences which will test your levels of comfort and possibly expose  the cultural baggage you still carry, but which you thought you’d ditched.

Let me give you a very recent example; I  use bathhouses on a regular basis and my first introduction to them was almost ten years ago. However, while bathing less than three hours ago, I had two interesting reflections. I still do not feel comfortable with a close friend scrubbing my back and after a little analysis decided it was because in my culture such intimacy is more likely to occur as a prelude to sex and also because I am over weight and self-conscious.  The second one occurred while we were in a sauna.  The room is fairly large and is occupied by only my friend and I,  yet when two new men enter the room, independent of each other, they sit on seats on either side of me. Meanwhile, my friend is laying on the floor,  taking a nap. I am sat facing the television but they sit each looking directly at one side of my face, and to compound matters, their heads are less than three feet  from mine and they sit with knees wide apart in a position that in western body language can convey a sexual meaning. Within the parameters of my culture, no only do their body positions establish a hostile or sexual tension between  us, but a corresponding tension between themselves, as they are sat facing each other. And remember, they could have sat in any of three corners but instead chose to sit directly next to me. Even after years of bathing, little alarm bells jangled! Of course, neither are making aggressive or sexual  suggestions  and  probably  sat down without any conscious deliberation at all.

sk

While you might feel very ‘at-home’ naked in the bathhouse shower, or sat on your own in a corner of a pool, if you frequent bathhouses on a regular basis, the day will eventually arrive when:

♦You’re just steeping into a pool when you notice the person at the far end is a co-worker.

♦You drop the soap and need to bed over

♦You’re sitting on a bucket seat when a Korean friend begins a conversation, their dick dangling in your face

♦You end up talking to a friend who is sat on a bucket seat, while you are standing, your dick in their face

♦You’re asked to either scrub someone’s back or they offer to scrub yours

♦You enter a pool only to discover a couple of your students are staring at you

♦Your school or work decide to organise a trip to the bathhouse

♦You somehow end up having a full body scrub-down

If any of these scenarios are liable to make you feel uncomfortable, then you have not yet reached the state of ‘zen’ required to ensure your enjoyment is the ultimate possible and in which your reception of the experience is similar to that of a Korean.  The cited examples, and there are others,  highlight the point at which east and west differ and yet it is for this reason many people decide to live in Korea. (Surely it wasn’t just for the money!)  The manner in which we approach this point of separation, or stay cocooned in our safety zone, is dependent the ability to suspend our own cultural mores and subsequently embrace those of Korean society. The fewer of these scenarios which trouble you, the closer you are in approximation to the manner in which a Korean perceives a bathhouse experience. If you can bend over in full view of bathers, poke your backside clean with soaped fingers, use the hair dryer on your pubic hair or do a series of exercises, naked and in front of an audience, you can award yourself a red-belt (the rank prior to a taekwon-do black belt)  in bathhouse familiarity. And not only will you be better able to understand the Korean psyche, but you may also have a deeper understanding of the nature of your own society. Personally, I still have a long way to go but I’m getting there!

A Korean’s behaviour in a bathhouse has nothing to do with zen and with no barriers to overcome such a ‘state’ isn’t necessary. They simply behave in a manner which conforms to their social mores. Being outside this point of references, ‘zen’ is the mental ‘state’, or  ‘attitude ‘we have to aspire to  if we want to truly enjoy the experience and step closer to understanding the Korean psyche. In a ‘state ‘of ‘zen,’ a state of statelessness, you will have abandoned all cultural shackles and have no problem with your bum hole pontificating the heavens should you drop the soap. And when you can rationalize bathhouse culture without suggesting it is perverse, homo-erotic or ‘gay,’ as many westerners do, you will truly be in a state of enlightenment.

There are two parts involved in learning to enjoy the Korean bathhouse experience. The first involves ditching or suspending your own cultural baggage and all the assumptions it makes and judgments it levies. The second lies in embracing Korean attitudes towards same-sex nudity and bathing. Suspending the outrage of your own values is not always easy considering the British, for example, have a very long history of demonizing anything sexual. We have been imbued to perceive genitals as solely sexual and invested with the powers to pervert those who gaze upon them or even talk about them.  Even the genitals of a baby are now perceived as sexual and that you cannot photograph or draw a naked baby, even your own, without the overwhelming realization that you are doing something terribly wrong, is alarming.  And because nudity exposes what is deemed sexual, it has the potential to pervert and hence needs close control.  As for ‘skinship,‘ a problematic enough concept for many westerners when clothed, when nude, it can only be rationalised as sexually motivated. Many young and liberal westerners  like to think they are ‘progressive’ in their attitudes to sex and the body, but many, the moment confronted with the opportunity to be naked, it is revealed that they are not only terrified by it, but conflate it with sex. For many men, the idea of being naked with other men is repugnant. Ditching such silly attitudes, even if temporarily, is wonderfully liberating and frees you from centuries of oppression.

Disengaging your cultural shackles:

Over-coming the fear of your own body – in modern capitalism the body is a battle ground used to manipulate our dreams, aspirations, inadequacies and fears in the attempt, planned and unplanned, to spur us onto the treadmill that sees us seeking remedy in an array of consumer products. Products articulated around diet and exercise are lucrative and a nation riddled with guilt at being overweight or unhealthy, even if you’re not, is a nation ready to chuck money away in pursuing the latest fad. It’s a Machiavellian philosophy of ‘give ’em dreams and sell them shit.’ All too often, the first barrier to getting naked in public is the fear of being seen by others, of being exposed and then judged by the criteria of market forces. Obesity and being overweight are obvious but even our attitude to dick size is influenced by market forces; my spam box is constantly bombarded with adverts claiming to enhance the male appendage. When did you ever see an advert offering to reduce penile proportions? Porn actors are often rumoured to have dicks of Herculean proportions and any actor or celebrity who is discovered to have a little wiener, an average wiener, can expect ridicule. Societies have not all valued a big dick and at the height of Classical Athens, being well hung, and worse, well hung and circumcised, was considered very un-sexy. Among the classical statues and red pottery of the period – not a big cock among them unless it’s owned by a grotesque satyr. If you can find a penis poking from the  loin of a Praxiteles, it probably fits the modern-day parameters of  ‘average’ and this is often a euphemism for ‘small.’

I have frequently heard or read comments by westerner visitors to bathhouses, berating the bodies of everyone who is not minus 20, slim and sexy. Such people are ‘shocked’ or ‘appalled’ by the ugliness of others and see only attractiveness in the same way it is seen by Hollywood. Such attitudes are rooted in the assumption that if nudity is to be tolerated, it should at least be practiced by those who are sexually attractive because, as we all know, sex among fatties and oldies is a turn-off. It there’s one thing you learn in a bathhouse, it’s that we are more alike than unlike, regardless of age, size and condition.  Overcoming a fear of exposing our bodies in a public forum is for many people a big step because of our own negative self images induced in us by our own culture. As a result, to overcome the fear is empowering.

Apollo Saurodithonos (Lizard-killer). Possibly a Praxiteles original

Separating the conflation of  sex and nudity – Western social mores conflate sex and nudity and this tradition, one with a long history, is always an obstacle faced by nudists in the west because public sentiment demonize or peversifies nudity on the grounds it is sexual. If you enjoy nudity it implies you do so for sexually motivated reasons and is likely to classify you with terms such as ‘kinky’ or ‘pervert.’  Male same-sex nudity bears the greatest brunt of this conflation especially when it suggests those involved are homosexual. And it is this conflation which informs the opinions of many a westerner opposed or fearful of bathhouse culture. If you start a conversation with many British men about Japanese bathhouses, which often do not segregate the sexes, the tone of the conversation becomes sexually orientated, many western men would love peep through a chink in a wall of a Japanese bathhouse and indeed, you can even download videos of such scenarios. It is therefore predictable that their assumptions about same-sex bathing is going to be articulated around sex and homosexuality. It is the intense conflation of sex and nudity in the western tradition that has given rise to the phenomena of gay bathhouses and in the minds of many people bathhouses are strongly associated with a homosexuality, hedonism and promiscuity. Unfortunately, in the west nudity is often invaded by those assuming it must be sexual and in pursuit of a quick thrill. My local hometown in the UK had to close male only, nude bathing sessions because the tone of the place slipped into seediness.

Overcoming the fear of nude children – On occasion when I have witnessed something interesting in a bathhouse involving non-adults and have dared to write about it, and especially if I have written about it without expressing anything but disgust and loathing, it has provided an opportunity for those with a pumpkin mentality to accuse me of perversion. Many people now recoil in horror at the thought of adults and non-adults sharing the same space especially when semi nudity or nudity is involved. In Britain, public changing rooms, those open planned types where everyone undressed in view of each other, have now disappeared. There are a number of individuals who will fear a bathhouse experience because Korean children use bathhouses and I have met and spoken with individuals who will not go to a bathhouse or jjimjilbang on trips organised by their schools.  I once had to console a western teacher who cried uncontrollably because Korean Kindergarten teachers took kids to the toilet alone and without a second person in tow to ‘Big Brother’ the procedure.  Once again, we are back to the conflation of sex and nudity and of the western obsession of seeking perversion wherever possible.  Shouldn’t we be highly suspicious of societies that are obsessed with categorising non-adult nudity, solely by the label ’sexual’ and which cannot  compel us only to do likewise.

I very often talk to Korean friends, male and female about cute kids I’ve seen in the bathhouse. Last week I was amused by a baby boy who could only just walk and who wore a pair of socks to prevent him slipping on the slippy floor. I can share this observation with Koreans without the need to add interjections to the effect I’m no pervert or that I’m not interested in baby boys. But to raise such issue to a western audience, especially as a man, and you invite the most vitriolic reprisals. I’m here reminded of the comments I saw posted on various sites in response to a Korean advert where baby boys appeared scrubbing each other’s backs in a bathhouse. Most did not see it as cute or amusing imagery but as sexual, perverse and exploitative. And neither were any genitals flashed for them to arrive at such twisted conclusions.

Redefining your proximity zone – Britain is often cited as one of the least tactile cultures. In Germany, for example, people shake hands on every meeting and not simply when meeting someone for the first time. The French of course, kiss each other on both cheeks. Many other cultures are much more tolerant in allowing males physical contact without the slur of them being ‘homosexual’ and in such societies body proxemics are much closer than they are in the UK or USA where between close friends, 1.5-4 feet define comfortable parameters.  Intimate relationships operate between 0-15 inches. Many Koreans friends are quite comfortable operating at a distance of much closer than 15 inches and indeed of operating within a zone that many British people could only tolerate in a sexual relationship. In addition physical contact, ‘skinship,’ occurs not just more often, but for longer periods of time and much closer to the ‘parts’ we have been taught to avoid. It is not in the least unusual to see Korean friends lay down and put their head in their friends lap and I have even seen this in a bathhouse.

Korean ‘skinship’

Fully acknowledging nudity – many westerners are quite happy nude bathing because they manage to blank out the bits they find difficult to deal with or find offensive or repugnant. As long as it’s not in your face, or better still, as long as it’s in the zone of peripheral vision and can be ignored rather than acknowledged, many people can live with same-sex nudity. If you ask most men about the things they see in a changing room, even in locker room showers, and they will aggressively tell you they don’t look and I believe most of them don’t. And if they do the images are purged from their minds. As I have mentioned before, for a man to see a cock in the UK constitutes such a traumatic experience, unless of course you do happen to be gay, that it can potentially convince a man he is homosexual. It is only when a cock holds the same value as someone’s toes, or their nose, that you are free of this puerile conditioning. Learning to accept what nudism involves, the exposure of those parts you’d rather not acknowledge, is very much about confronting a deep-seated homophobia that assumes the penis is at all times a sexual object, which in western culture usually encompasses any penis whether it be flaccid, erect or even the redundant penis of a baby, and therefore, to consciously acknowledge the penis of another male is to engage in homosexual behaviour. I would further suggest, the fear of acknowledgment is both a means of consolidating a heterosexual identity or facade and avoiding either temptation or the revelation that one’s sexuality may not be what it seems.

When one is able to acknowledge those ‘offensive’ areas dispassionately, in a manner unfettered by emotions and obsessions and which no longer sees them as sexual but as parts with functions such as the nose or ears, and with  corresponding qualities and attributes, interesting, quirky, large, etc, one has clearly transcended the myopic conditioning of culture. I would imagine experiencing nude bathing in a non segregated forum, as often practiced in Japan, and to do so with a similar ‘zen’ detachment would be highly enlightening. To achieve this does not mean that no one is appealing or beautiful or sexually attractive, but that this is no longer the primary manner in which you respond to the naked body. Learning to see nudity with ‘zen’ detachment, where the conflation between sex and nudity is separated, and the classification of others in terms of their sexual appeal, minimised, allows you not just to appreciate more fully other human beings, but to feel more human in the process.

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Interlude (3) – The Hottest Chili – 청량고추

Posted in Interlude (Theme), Quintesentially Korean by 노강호 on November 11, 2010

Ch’eong-ryang go-ch’wu (청량고추) is the hottest of Korean chillies and is small and dark green in colour. I approach any smaller chili with caution just in case it’s this variety. It is common throughout the year but specially so in Autumn  (Link to post on chillies and the Scoville Heat Scale).

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.