Elwood 5566

Forget About Fat People. What about Fat Supermarkets?

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, Comparative, Food and Drink, Health care by 노강호 on August 18, 2011

Recently, there has been some coverage in the British press about the findings of a twenty year study into weight gain. The findings reveal that over 20 years the average weight of the population has increased by sixteen pounds. Further, it seems that rather than weight gain being the product of lazy people lacking will power, an approach the media and many of the moronic public have taken in their attempt to stigmatise and persecute the overweight,  it is more the case that gradual changes in eating patterns, and what is available on shop shelves, over a long period of time, increase weight.

The speed at which Koreans are becoming fatter is quite alarming and while I only saw a few chubby kids 10 years ago, I now see obese Koreans on a daily basis. At the same time the girth of Koreans is expanding, changes are occurring in shops and you can almost see corresponding ballooning of Korean bellies as new foods are introduced. It is quite clear that obesity is a product not of sloth and ill-discipline, but the western-style diet which with its fried chicken, pizzas and burgers, has already made an impact on the Korean peninsula.

traditional Korean food is gradually being usurped by high sodium, high fat, western food.

My local E-Mart used to have one frozen food chest cabinet the contents of which were not very enticing, mostly mandu, pork cutlet and ice cream. In the last few weeks the amount of frozen food has tripled and now includes numerous micorwave-able options such as black noodles, spaghetti Bolognese,  garlic bread,  curry and rice etc. For the first time, I saw a co-worker eating a microwave meal for dinner. I also notice the introduction of cheeses and butter both of which were formerly difficult to obtain. Now, Monterrey Jack, British Cheddar, Brie, Camembert and Gouda  are all available plus Danish Lurpak butter. I wonder how long it will be before there are the 35 different types of butter and 46 different types of cheese I counted yesterday in the Waitrose in my hometown.

a British cheese counter probably contains more calories than the entire food section of a Korean supermarket

I have written before about the absence of tinned foods in Korea but no doubt their introduction, along with those enormous slabs of chocolate, almond, fruit and nut, Belgian white, Milky Bar etc, which will join the lonely double Snicker bar, are pending. Today, in my hometown Tesco’s One Stop, I counted 33 different brands of chocolate weighing between 125 and 250 gr per bar.

How the average person becomes 16 pounds heavier over 20 years ago ,(and the average weight is still increasing), is not rocket science. Along with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and the many changes in what is available around us, the pounds gradually accumulate. The Big Mac and Whopper, former bulwarks of the fast food industry are now pathetic little things, dwarfed by subsequent generations of  super and mega burgers. Burger King’s, triple Whopper with cheese packs 1250 calories, Hardee’s 2/3 pound Monster Thickburger contains 1320 calories along with a massive 3.20mg of sodium while the humble cheese burger has psychologically shrunk to the size of a coin and seems a positively healthy morsel by comparison.

the equivalent to around 8 kimbaps

In my last stint in Korea, my weight has not only dropped by some 20 kg, but I have managed to keep it off without any real effort. The goodies that tempt me back home simply don’t exist and a trip to the supermarket, even the largest, isn’t half the temptation it is back home. It seems quite apparent to me that the more westernized the Korean palate becomes, the fatter their girths expand.

Currently, there in an obsession with obesity and attacking the obese has become a form of entertainment. Forget fat people and focus on fat supermarkets! It is abundantly clear there is a link between culture and weight so much so that it is perhaps time we demanded our supermarkets produce statistics which reveal not just the percentage of fat and sodium in their food, but its average calorific value. If the weight of the average British person is rising it probably because the places where they shop for the bulk of their food is providing a greater range of items high in calories. And if you shop in a fat supermarket, or live in a fat society, it should hardly come as a surprise. Fat supermarkets make fat people!

Further references

BBC. What is Obesity.

BBC. News: Health

Tagged with: , , ,

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!

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Skewered King Oyster Mushroom (새송이 산적)

Posted in My Recipes, vegetables by 노강호 on March 12, 2011

skewered king oyster mushrooms (새송이 산적)

Skewered mushrooms king oyster mushrooms (세송이) are delicious and easy to make. It’s a versatile side dish which can be adapted to suit vegetarians and lends itself to experimentation.

the king oyster is quite a meaty mushroom

You will need:

1. Around 4 king oyster mushrooms

2. Half a pound of beef or pork (but I guess it could be prawns or chicken)

3. 4 table spoons of soy sauce

4. 2 tablespoons of sugar

5. a couple of chopped spring onions

6. chopped garlic

7. sesame salt (or salt and some toasted sesame seeds)

8. black pepper

9. Skewers

wooden skewers (산적코지)


1. Boil the mushrooms for a minute and then slice lengthwise about an eight of an inch thick.

2. Slice the meat the same way

3. Make a marinade of all the remaining ingredients and let mushrooms and meat stand in this for 2 hours.

4. Skewer meat and mushrooms alternately and broil them.

meat and marinade – add the mushrooms

skewered and ready to broil

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Would You Believe it – Mushroom Wine!

Posted in plants and trees by 노강호 on February 21, 2011

traditional pine mushroom wine (송이주)

Traditional mushroom wine might not sound very appealing but at less than 2000 Won (£1) a bottle, it’s worth a whirl. Actually, over the past three months I’ve been meaning to write this post, the bottles I’ve bought to photograph and sample, I’ve ended up drinking which is testament to the fact it can’t be that bad, especially considering I’m not much of a drinker.

pine mushroom emerging from under a bed of pine duff

The aroma is a combination of wine with a lurking invisible mushroom, which is pretty much what you might expect. Developing a taste for this wine probably lies in forgetting the main ingredient is mushroom as pondering on the taste can only evoke references to moldy bread and mushroom soup none of which do the drink any justice. Once you can put such associations aside, it develops its own appeal. At  13%  alcohol content, it is comparable to stronger European wines  but is sweet, though not excessively, rather than dry. I am not a wine connoisseur, and suspect a true wine buff might find it revolting but  it seems to grow on you without requiring you to be pissed in order to do so.


I don’t know if there are many types of Korean mushroom wine, as most places I have tried only have pine mushroom wine (송이 버섯). The pine mushroom, known is Japan where it is prized as the matsutake (tricholoma matsutake) is fairly common in Korea and grows under duff  in pine forests though the mushroom has symbiotic relationships with various other species of tree.

an interesting variation

The company Yangyang Minsok Doga, make an interesting variation using the pine mushroom and ‘deep sea water’ though the bottle looks more like a mineral water and I’m not sure what comprises ‘deep sea water.’

I’ve also discovered a splash or two makes an excellent addition to kalbi-tang (rib soup) and am wondering what other cooking uses I can put it to: sauteing meat or used as base to boil mussels?

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Novelty Wine Recipes

Monday Market – King Oyster Mushroom – 새송이 버섯

Posted in plants and trees, Technology, video clips by 노강호 on February 10, 2011

oyster mushrooms growing wild – difficult to find, easy to cultivate

In Britain, we tend to have both mushrooms and toadstools. ‘Toadstools’ is a term, though not exclusive in its use, to describe those cap bearing ‘mushrooms’ which are inedible or poisonous. Unfortunately, many toadstools are indeed edible and there are a number of examples I am competent enough to pick and eat. One of my favourites, which grows and is eaten in Korea, is the parasol mushroom (갓 버섯 – lepioptera procera). In England, this wonderful mushroom is prolific but few people pick it and it is unavailable in shops.

young parasol mushroom – unmistakable

Koreans, like many other European countries, are much more adventurous in their culinary and medicinal use of fungi and a wide range of exotic mushrooms are available. The king oyster  mushroom (새송이 버섯 – pleurotus eryngii) is common  in markets and supermarkets and is also known in Britain as the king trumpet mushroom or French horn mushroom. In Korea it is a common ingredient in stews and a favourite skewered between meat and onion. Though not particularly flavoursome, when cooked it has a meaty, abalone-like texture. Though difficult to find, as they often grow under forest ‘debris,’ they are easy to cultivate.

an oyster mushroom farm

Baby oysters are excellent in soups and stew and freeze easily

Korea is one of the leading producers of  the king oyster mushroom and grown in temperature controlled environments with air cleaning, water de-ionizing and automated systems,  farming is high-tech.  One of the most successful producers is Kim Geum-hee who now owns six high-tech farms producing over 5 tons of mushroom daily.

Kim Geum-hee a pioneer in the art of mushroom farming

Kim Geum-hee is an adorable character and one of Korea’s outstanding agriculturalists. I fell in love with her personality after just one video  partly because the added translations are a little ‘studenty’ but ironically enhance the videos imbuing  them with an enchanting cuteness.


“Photo by Catie Baumer Schwalb, pitchforkdiaries.com, used with permission.”

The videos about her success are interesting and well worth watching. ‘Kim Geum-hee ‘had a dream about mushroom,’ and later, ‘after graduating fell in love with mushroom.’ Oh, dear, I have bad thoughts.  When I see a room full of cap-type mushrooms I can’t help being reminded of penises. I’m sure many other westerners would have the same response and besides, the stinkhorn’s botanical name is phallus impudicus and before it  was biological classified it was known as, ‘fungus virilis penis effige‘ ( Gerard, 1597).  It’s not just me! You can poke a Korean in the eye with even the most phallic of fungi, of which there are a number of amazing varieties, and not the slightest link will be made to a penis. To Koreans that offensive fungi is simply a mushroom!

There are some excellent ways to use the king oyster mushroom:

Pitchfork Diaries


Vegan and Korean

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

A Man of Habit – Onigiri

Posted in Uncategorized by 노강호 on February 3, 2011

the onigiri logo

I’m a man of total habit! I eat the same evening meal for up to six months at a time  and can map out the last few years  and corresponding seasons in Daegu by the restaurants I’ve frequented and the meals ingested therein.  For the first six months I ate boiled pork (보쌈) before I started using a pork kimchi stew (김치찜) restaurant which is right next to my one room. I ate there for almost nine months. Next, it was the turn of pork cutlet (돈까스) but I didn’t stick to the same menu and flitted as my mood took me between pork cutlet filled with cheese or the curried version. In the area I live there are far too many restaurants that serve pork cutlet and an absence of Chinese style restaurants so during this period I ate the same meal in various locations including a very nice Japanese style restaurant that served the cutlet chopped on plain rice and topped with a raw egg.

pork cutlet (돈까스)

Next, I discovered ‘Mr Big;’ not really the place to experience Korean cooking and they have some very naughty additions which I usually avoid: almost English style chips served in the German manner, with mayonnaise, sausages that are almost like bratwurst and the most enormous battered onion rings made with real onion. I spent a good six months dining on their nasigoreng before moving onto carbonara.


When I arrived back in Korea after my 2010-2011 winter vacation, I ate carbonara in Mr Big and felt sick. Six months of eating it every evening had killed the passion and so I moved down the menu onto their pork cutlet which is very nice as it isn’t reconstituted and is made from a whole slab of real pork.

I generally read books during my dinner and if a recall one, I also recall the dinner that generally accompanied it: Robert Heinlein’s, Farnham’s Freehold, Rocketship Galeleo and Farmer in the Sky were all accompanied by nasigoreng while Dickens’ Hard Times was definitely carbonara. Their cabonara isn’t a totally Italian creation as I ask for it lazed with chili and the little burn it creates on my palate convinces me I’m not squandering my Korean experience. My current reading is Ben Bova’s, Venus and it quite suits a fat pork cutlet.

an array of sam-kak-bap (삼각밥)

Lunch times aren’t so restricted, often I cook a simple Korean meal or I eat kimbap (rice-roll) but recently I’ve been rather hooked on the new Onigiri (오니기리) store that has opened near my school. Onigiri is a Japanese ‘snack’ rather similar to sam-kak-bap (triangular rice) which is wrapped in toasted laver-bread and has a small filling. You can buy plastic moulds in supermarkets to make them at home and you can even buy even pre-cut laver-bread which wraps the rice in both a layer of laver and an outer layer of plastic to keep it fresh.  However, I’ve never mastered the procedure and can’t be bothered to follow the comic like instructions on the packet. These sam-kak-bap however, like the standard shop bought snack, are really snack size.

sam-kak-bap moulds

my local onigiri’s menu – eat in or take-away

The onigiri variety are more substantial and two definitely comprise lunch. Made to order, there is a choice of about 12 fillings including tuna and mayonnaise,  kimchi,  cheese, flying fish eggs and and tuna, and myeolchi (small dried fish) with walnuts and sesame oil. Onigiri are definitely worth trying and would probably be a hit back in the UK making a change from a boring lunchtime sandwich.


two of my favourites: tuna-mayo and cheese, flying fish eggs and tuna

dried anchovy, walnut and sesame oil…mmm…and relatively healthy

And if you’re the least interested in breakfast, I make tofu bean-paste stew most mornings but sometimes I could kill for an unhealthy English breakfast of fried bacon, bread and egg.

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Interlude (8) Pojangmacha (포장마차)

Posted in Interlude (Theme) by 노강호 on January 12, 2011

a typical snack-type pojangmacha


Like most of Korea, the area which I first visited 11 years ago has changed significantly and in Song-so, Daegu, where there now stands Mega Town with the Lotte Cinema Complex, the 24 hours jjimjilbang and a host of restaurants, I remember an enormous vacant lot, uneven and with patches of grass and bushes springing randomly across its expanse. Especially in winter, this was home to numerous large pojangmacha (포장마차).


huddling around the steam on a cold evening


Now, pojangmacha are basically tents which a range of guises from small to large,  basic to elaborate, some selling snacks, other alcohol and which can stand on their own or be ‘tethered’ to a small van. I particularly remember the tents in the  Song-so lot because they were large, heated and open all night and were what many refer to as a ‘soju tents.’  I remember quite a few evenings where we sat until the early hours wrapped  in thick coats, even though the interior was warm, drinking soju or rice wine while enjoying a bowl of spicy  cod roe soup. Maybe it’s just my imagination, because pojangmacha are around all year, but their bright lights and cozy interiors seem to associate them with winter. Even the more open versions which sell spicy cabbage and rice cake (ddeokkboki) and around which people huddle bathing in the steam wafting off the hot food, warm your spirits on a cold evening.


pojangmacha (포장마차)


If you walked from Song-so to the main gate of  Keimyung University, 11 years ago, there were a number of vacant lots between  high-rise buildings and often  large pojangmacha would occupy them. Today, they are gone, the lots occupied by new buildings to such an extent that in the entire stretch of road there are no longer any soju tents.


snack time


Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.


Cultural Contradictions and Anomalies

Posted in Education, Korean language by 노강호 on January 4, 2011

Korean culture is rich in a number of contradictions mammoth enough in their magnitude to be classed Orwellian and in some cases subsequently rendered as oxymorons.


Perhaps the most famous oxymorons


With two types of school systems in operation, the state school (hakkyo) and the academy (hakkwon)’, the term ‘school holiday’ is a fine example. Kids yearn for the start of school holidays but unfortunately a holiday they are not as academies, private schools offering every subject from art to English, not only continue operating but increase the hours which they are open.  Any free hours remaining can be easily plugged by enrolling  in the sports academies which provide taekwondo, happkido, comdo (kendo), ballet  and dancing, etc, and which also adjust their hours to take advantage of closure of state schools.

Oxymoron – School holidays are academy days


Whoppee...a Korean holiday and business as usual in the academies


Holidays are nothing like they are in the west and the idea of someone taking two or three weeks off work in which to laze about or go abroad, are rare. For Koreans a vacation usually amounts to couple of days at the most usually taken at the same time as the rest of the nation. As a result, travelling is extremely stressful and vacation locations packed and busy. And of course, vacations are curtailed by the fact all the academies are open and as such all kids should be studying.

Contradiction – ‘holidays/vacations’  – infrequent, short and usually very stressful


an annual mass vacation day (courtesy of Life)


‘What do you do when you play?’ I once asked a student.

‘I play the violin.’

‘No, what do you do when you play?’

‘I play the computer.’

‘No!  What do you do in your free time?’

‘I play the piano.’

Well, maybe they misunderstood the word ‘play’ but you probably get the idea. Korean kids often have no experience of ‘playing’ as English children  might and a playground packed with children enjoying a range of games such as tag, football, acting out wrestling moves or doing dance routines,  etc,  is something I’ve seldom seen in Korean schools. Some students will even tell you that studying is their hobby! However, I’ve seen plenty of students sleeping at their desk in the five or ten minute intervals in which British kids would be playing.

Oxymoron – ‘play’ is extracurricular study


a ‘vacation’ speciality – the bootcamp


And then there are exams! Korean students are always taking exams and shortly before they finish you will hear some reference to their ‘last exam.’ The irony is of course, that this is never their final exam but simply an exam which concludes the current batch.

Oxymoron – final exams are a prelude to the next exam


mild compared to a vindaloo


Koreans are usually always concerned that their food is either ‘too hot’ or ‘too spicy’ for westerners. Most often they conlfate ‘spicy’ and ‘hot’ both of which it is  not. Although one meaning of ‘spicy’ is ‘pungent’ or ‘hot,’ in terms of range of spices, Korean food is limited with chilli, garlic and ginger, being the dominant ingredients. Cinnamon makes an occasional appearance, usually as a sweet drink but undoubtedly Korean food lacks the range of spices used by Indian, Thai or even Chinese cuisines. Neither is Korean food particularly hot when compared with some Caribbean, Mexican and Indian recipes. The Korean chili is substantially milder than the Habanero and Scotch Bonnet and I have not yet eaten a Korean meal which burns ‘at both ends.’ Several years ago I gave a bottle of habanero based sauce to some Korean friends  introducing them to the point that there exist foods  far hotter than kimchi. However, a raw, hot Korean chili still has the capacity to burn the mouth but it won’t incinerate it as some hotter chillies will.

True – Korean food is spicy – as in pungent

False/True – Korean food is spicy in as much as it uses a three main spices

False/True – Korean food is ‘hot’ – well it’s all relative and depends on personal preference but other national  cuisines are typically hotter.


Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.