Elwood 5566

Killing Kimchi and Murdering Makgeolli!

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, Food and Drink, rice wine (beer), vodcast by 노강호 on March 10, 2012

I’ve recently posted my new video on how to make makgeolli, but before that…

One of my Korean friends recently questioned the point of making makgeolli when it is so much easier to buy! Where do you begin? I love randomness! I hate straight cucumbers, regimented onions and all vegetables that have been forced to conform. Back in Europe, the big supermarkets, citadels of conformity, reject fruit and vegetables that aren’t a specific size and shape and I can remember a few years ago when it was a common sight to see piles of onions on the edge of a field that farmers couldn’t sell and to which you could help yourself. If I recall, it was a kind protest by farmers against the big buyers. One of the vegetables I hate buying in Korea is the courgette-like vegetable which you only seem able to buy encased in a plastic straight-jacket. Trapped inside its constraint, every vegetable grows to exactly the same dimensions and no more. What ‘ fascist farmers’ forum’ decide on the specific dimensions of a courgette?

bent and wonky – banned by the big supermarkets

Market forces have already started killing kimchi and makgeolli. Fermentation processes, in which the development of something continues post the point of production, hinder the standardization that supermarkets encourage. It might seem an irrelevant point now, but I know several Korean women who can’t make kimchi and instead rely on their mothers for a regular supply. As for Korean men, most just about have the culinary skills to add water to  a pot of ramyon (noodles) or make a cup of coffee – with mix. Sorry guys! . When the older generation of kimchi makers have died out, I would imagine a lot of women will turn to supermarkets for their fix of kimchi and from that point the gradually numbing of taste buds will lead to shit, factory made kimchi becoming the bench mark.

MacDonald’s have done exactly the same with the noble burger. If you’ve ever had a real American burger, ‘loaded,’ you’ll know how superior they are. In the USA, I’d say most people have no idea what real chocolate tastes like after years of rape by crap like Hershey’s. British people aren’t more discerning. I once gave a class of 17-year-old British kids decent chocolate (Lindt 70% milk, Excellence) and the most common and mediocre of British chocolate (Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, around 26% chocolate), which is substantially better quality the Hershey’s ersatz chocolate. They didn’t know which was which but they mostly voted the inferior chocolate the best.  And British people are beginning to forget what real pork and bacon is like after years of abuse by pork that is pumped full of water and bacon that is similarly sodden with water and then ‘smoked’ by chemicals. Most British pork and bacon you can no longer fry as it ends up swimming in so much water they are effectively braised. Impregnation with water is what is probably going to happen with pork in Korea, which will rain torrents on samy-kyeop-sal (Korean pork barbecue) and kimchi and mekgeolli, in the hands of factory processes and supermarkets, will probably end up being similarly adulterated.

Take kimchi for example, the taste changes over anything up to several years and ‘maturation’ is greatly affected by temperature. Fermentation introduces random elements into food production that factory systems don’t like and it is safer for the image of brands to have products that are always mediocre, and hence reliable in their mediocrity, than ones where random elements occasionally deal both superb and inferior products. Most of our factory food, whether it be fast food burgers to almost anything in a supermarket, has been reduced to mediocrity. I remember when Indian restaurants in Britain all differed from each other. Not only was chicken served ‘on’ or ‘off the bone,’ choices you are never given today, but every restaurant cooked differently because the companies that were to supply all the ‘cook in sauces,’ standardise them and dominant the industry, had not yet been developed. Restaurants depended on the skills and creative talents of their chefs and eating out in an Indian was a culinary experience. I’ve even eaten curry garnished with melted silver leaf (varq) but again, you no longer see this creative addition. Standardization has killed the curry to the point crap factory products become the bench mark and preferred taste and in the process the chef is deskilled and becomes a ‘cook.’  Now, you can eat a korma in Newcastle or Cornwall and it will taste and look exactly the same – usually sickly yellow, sweet, and populated by uniform cubes of tasteless chicken.  Yes, it’s cooked in a restaurant but the components are produced by mass factory processes. Even the pickles are now mass-produced.

It was the variation and randomness of British Indian restaurants that made them so exciting and  it is currently the same variation that enlivens the experience of kimchi and makgeolli. Like most of the makgeolli type drinks you can now buy, and most of the packaged kimchi, the fermentation process has been terminated. Ten years ago, all makgeolli bottles had a hole on the top to allow the fermentation process to continue and so was packeted kimchi. Today, they are treated to kill the  micro-organisms which so miraculously collaborate to transform a pile of boring cabbage into kimchi and rice into makgeolli. You don’t really appreciate the explosive potential of makgeolli until you’ve brewed it and believe me, it can pack a punch far more powerful than champagne.

The allure of making your own makgeolli and kimchi, lies in the fascinating interplay, a kaleidoscope  of activity, that is produced when enzymes and environment collide and every production is a little different – and the difference continues to develop. And they are so very much alive; both kimchi and real makgeolli have a ‘zing’ that is absent when bottled or packeted. No matter how good a commercial makgeolli or kimchi is there is something they lack and quite simply, it is life. Homemade kimchi and makgeolli are full of ‘zeng’ (ie – ‘saeng,’ 생 -生), which is the Hanja (Character) for ‘life’ or ‘living.’ The moment you taste real kimchi or real makgeolli you taste life, it has a quality that with clinically dead food is only ever an approximation. Bottled makgeolli, boiled to death, is artificially resuscitated and put on a carbonated life support but despite the bubbles and facade of life, it is a zombie in comparison to makgeolli that has been allowed to retain its miraculous micro-organic population.

If you want kimchi that is always ever just, ‘just’ (그냥), well, the Chinese are making it in abundance. In my local Chinese store in the UK you can buy Kimchi made in the PRC that has not only been killed prior to packaging, but suitably embalmed in liquid chemical environment hostile to any micro-organic activity and then entombed in a can! And believe me, it tastes as bad as it sounds.

Kimchi and makgeolli are incredibly easy to make and doing so is fun. Homemade kimchi is much cheaper than the packet, supermarket variety and you can make around 8 liters of makgeolli from about 1.3 kilograms of rice (costing about 6000W – £6) which compared with shop bought makgeolli, is about half price. But more to the point, it is more about preserving taste and culture, than cost!

For more information on making makgeolli, visit Mister Makgeolli , and for information on making kimchi, visit: Kimchi Gone Fusion.

 Bathhouse Ballads chronicles many aspects of my life in South Korea. Kimchi Gone Fusion focuses on ‘the way of the pickled cabbage’ while Mister Makgeolli is dedicated to Korean rice wine.

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Images of Innocence (6) Annie

Posted in Comparative, Education, Images of Innocence, vodcast by 노강호 on June 30, 2011

Annie, one of my students, is about to go to high school. She often finishes her evening studies at a study room (돗서실), at 1 or 2 am after which she walks home. Feeling unsafe, she has recently bought a whistle. I wouldn’t want to underplay the fears of Korean kids walking home late at night but the streets are far safer than in even the smallest UK towns. I wouldn’t let an unaccompanied girl, or boy,  into town on any evening of the week back in the UK and only an idiot parent would allow someone her age to be in town past 10 pm. You can read about my experiences of British streets in Scumland UK. Needless to say, even I feel unsafe on a British street at anything past 7 pm after which they rapidly degenerate.

It’s difficult explaining to those who have never experienced Korean life, how crucial and central education is in the Korean mindset. Streets are buzzing with students going from one place of study to another on everyday of the week, from the early hours until past midnight. Several years ago, the government made it illegal for private academies to teach students past 10 pm but it has changed little. Many schools still seem to operate and parents can always employ a tutor who can visit the home or have the student come to them. Wherever you are in Korea, ‘education’ in one form or another, is always apparent.

A Korean study room

A multitude of schools exists teaching every subject: maths, social studies, English,  Chinese, hanja, art; there are schools of music, taekwondo, kendo, hapkido, ballroom dancing, ballet; study rooms and places that offer student support. And all the time brightly coloured mini buses are ferrying kids between their homes and schools. Yes, there are flaws with the Korean system; kids sleep at their desk, they often look drained, they suffer stress and constantly face a barrage of exams by which they are ranked. There are many things I would change about the Korean system but, for all its flaws it is more effective than British education where around 50% of students don’t even achieve 5 A-C grades in core subjects. And I would argue that while British education largely provides kids a holiday in comparison with their Korean peers, it is British teachers who are stressed and abused. Korean teachers have their problems, but having to constantly battle bad students and worse, anti-intellectual attitudes, which are ingrained in British society, isn’t one of them.

Unlike Britain and the USA, there is a consensus in Korea about the importance of education and whether you are the lowest paid worker or a company CEO, the goals and expectations for your children, in terms of learning, are the same; good grades and entry to a good university. I have one friend in the UK who came from one of the worst housing estates in the country. When he gained a place at university in the 1970’s, his family disowned him. Education in the UK, and attitudes towards it are still influenced and articulated by class.

Yes, I know all about the flaws of Korean education, but I’ve also taught main stream in the UK for over ten years and it was a hideous experience. Every class in the UK is polluted by a couple of scum students, bred and conditioned by scum parents and their effect on the learning process has been catastrophic. (see, Scenes From the Battleground) Unless you are lucky enough to be in a top set or selective school, most British classrooms and schools have geared themselves to accommodate the scum and it is the decent kids, the majority, who suffer. Anyway, was I ranting???

Over to Annie…

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Cricket Song (귀뚜라미)

Posted in Animals, seasons, vodcast by 노강호 on October 18, 2010

I captured the sound of a lonesome cricket (귀뚜라미) on a recent trip up the mountain.

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

The Memi’s Lament

Posted in Animals, Daegu, Diary notes, seasons, vodcast by 노강호 on October 4, 2010

Last Saturday (25th September), I heard my last memi (매미 – cicada), and with it ends the song that has accompanied the entire summer. The temperature certainly wasn’t much over 84 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which memi ‘sing,‘ and in the slight breeze which  heralds autumn,  it felt cooler. I always find the song of a single memi sad, a lament to summer and suppose they epitomize the lives of many humans who end their days ‘singing’ to no one. Had the memi been around a month ago, it would have been surrounded by others and its voice would have joined summer’s paean, screaming from the trees. Now, it’s a lonely, solitary dirge to which there is no crescendo and no response. I would imagine the best thing that can happen to the final memi, those that have arrived a little too late and missed the party, is an early frost.

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

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Memi Update – (매미)Continuing my obsession…

Posted in Animals, Daegu, Diary notes, seasons, vodcast by 노강호 on September 6, 2010

Hot...

Two weeks ago (August 23, 2010), when the temperature in Daegu, the hottest part of Korea, hit 36 degrees, the memi (매미-cicadas) chorus screamed from the pomegranate tree and bushes near my one-room. I made a recording in exactly the same location as I recorded the first memiI heard, on July 7th, of this year. There was one day, Saturday 30th of August, when it was refreshingly cool with little humidity and a fresh breeze. That was a strange day as the memi were silent. It’s an interesting feeling to leave your one-room and the sanctuary of air-conditioning, to step out into intense sunlight that actually seems to have weight, and be surrounded all the time by muggy humidity and that incessant scream from the trees. In the two recordings here you can hear the different levels of intensity. In the second recording, on one of the hottest days of the year, the memi  song was verging on painful.

Alternative Links

Link to Flickr video: On Hearing the First Memi of Summer, 2010

Link to Flickr video: Memi in Full Chorus August. 2010.

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