Elwood 5566

It's Kimchi Time – November 2010

Posted in Diary notes, it's kimchi time, My Recipes, recipes for Kimchi, vegetables by 노강호 on November 12, 2010

Usually, around this time of year I make a new batch of kimchi. The last batch was made in May and  since August or thereabouts, I have occasionally had to wash mold from the top leaves, which has been excellent in kimchi-stew. However, I didn’t really enjoy it as a side-dish. To be honest, my May batch had a bad start as once again the first process, salting the leaves, didn’t go well. This time I  consulted a couple of grandmothers who recommended the coarsest salt. So, after finding two very tight, and heavy cabbages, at 6000 Won, (£3), I sprinkled the leaves with salt and rather than immerse them in water, just sprinkled a cup’s worth over the top. The cabbages took about 24 hours to completely flop but this might not be unusual as the temperature was quite cool, if not cold, in my kitchen.

tight and heavy

salting process

suitably limp

I was also extra careful making the paste and this time used twice as much of everything except the fish sauce which I reduced a little. I was also careful to wash the salt off the cabbages and let them stand in water for an hour as in the past they have remained salty.

ready to paste the leaves

The sauce was slightly sweeter than usual and the consistency much thicker which I think was the result of carefully draining the leaves and using double the ingredients stipulated in Maangchi’s recipe. I didn’t alter the recipe and simply made double the amount. A few friends suggested it needs some additional salt which is fine as too little can be remedied but too much can’t.

the finished product

Don’t forget, for a great recipe for making kimchi, visit Maangchi.


Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Ersatz Kimchi in a State of Emergency

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Diary notes, vegetables by 노강호 on October 3, 2010

Kimchi-ism

I’m tempted to do some stealing! With an almost total absence of any police on the street I doubt I’d get caught. The only thing that puts me off is that being a waygukin, I stand out. It would only take one Korean to see me humping ‘the goods’ to my one room, for my visa to be relinquished.

Rooftop shopping? Either would fit in a carrier bag

Rooftop shopping? These require a trolley

I haven’t eaten cabbage kimchi in several days and I’ve noticed either a stark absence, or drastic reduction of any in restaurants. Korea without kimchi, unbelievable! You have to live here to understand the cultural and culinary significance caused by a cabbage shortage. You might find it amusing that a lack of cabbage can fuck a nation, especially when you come from  a country like Britain where once upon a time, when families practiced that barbaric ritual of eating meals together, children had to be forced to ‘eat their greens.’  While Kimchi is the national food of Korea and has almost iconic status, its deficiency is not the equivalent of Germany without bratwurst, or Britain without fish and chips, it deeply more devastating.  I would go for months without a bratty when I lived on Mainland Europe  and sauerkraut was something you ate occasionally.  Koreans eat kimchi with every meal and in some cases it is a core component of specific meals.  To understand the significance of a kimchi-less Korea, you have to envisage Britain without any form of cooking oil, or potatoes, the USA without hamburgers, or perhaps even a nation without petrol or alcohol! Whatever item you choose in an attempt to elicit empathy, it has to be something fundamental enough to strike at the very heart of a country.

Napa Cabbages October 2008

And of course, it isn’t just the Chinese (or Napa) cabbage that’s suffered a devastating season, cucumbers, lettuce and mooli (무), all of which are used in other forms of kimchi or in accompanying barbecues, are also in short supply. Two weeks ago, I bought a rather small cabbage for 5000 Won (£2.50) which is a massive increase on the hearty one I bought in January, costing 1000 Won (50 pence). Yesterday, in E-Mart, there were no cabbages at all  and the vegetable section looked somewhat deserted. And all at a time when cabbages should be one of the most prolific items being sold by street vendors.

President, Lee Myung-Bak’s, recent declaration that he will only eat kimchi made from the European type of cabbage (양배추), until the shortage abates, suggests the problem is a national emergency. However, before we join the rebellion or start lynching farmers, it is worth remembering there was a  temporary shortage last year and in 2007, when chili and cabbage suffered bad harvests, it cost me a small fortune to make a batch of kimchi.

My January batch of kimchi

Meanwhile, restaurants that rely on kimchi and other forms of lettuce and cabbage have had to reduce their portions and in some cases, rather than raise prices, are compensating customers by providing larger amounts of meat. As a meat guzzling waygukin, I’d much rather have less rabbit food and a larger platter of barbecued pork, especially as kimchi made from European cabbage is totally ersatz.

Cabbages being salted. October-November 2008

I’m out of fresh kimchi and intended making my winter batch this month and while I have kimchi in my ceramic pot, made in January, it is the ‘stagnant’ type best used in cooking.  So, do Koreans ever steal each others kimchi ? There are a number of pots on my roof top and indeed pots stand on most rooftops as well as in recesses and corners of buildings. I’m very tempted to pinch a pot, not because I need kimchi but because nicking kimchi is both outrageous and comical. A waygukin stealing a pot of someone’s homemade kimchi during a cabbage shortage smacks of pro-Korean-ism and a love powerful enough of driving you to theft could be construed as a crime of passion.

There might not be any kimchi in the supermarkets, but there's a feast of it on every rooftop.

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Kimchi-ism

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Food and Drink, Quintesentially Korean, seasons, vegetables by 노강호 on August 31, 2010

It smells bad, it can taste revolting, and is a major cause of conflict in university accommodation kitchens worldwide, where the sharp smell oozing from refrigerators upsets non-Koreans. It hangs on your breath with greater offence and persistence than any French gastronomical delight. Garlic can certainly be rude but enhanced and enlivened by numerous chemical processes and suspend in cabbage water and the pungent juices of fermented anchovy, the power to offend becomes a chemical and biological capability.  Nothing is polite about it,  it is totally ‘in your face’ in its onslaught of your taste buds, nasal passages and doesn’t look too pleasant either. It lacks any refinement or subtlety and amongst ‘offensive’ foods ranks as a weapon of mass destruction. You wouldn’t gorge or binge on it, indeed I wouldn’t even call it delicious and I could certainly live without it. If I were to be isolated on a dessert island for a year it wouldn’t be on my list of essential items. And yet paradoxically,  it is one of the most exciting taste sensations in the world. If there is one food so aptly capable of defining a nation, so synonymous with a people, it is cabbage kimchi(배추 김치).

There are many types of kimchi, and of those types many variations, and of those variations many permutations depending on a range of factors. Kimchi is one of numerous  Korean, fermented foods, others including makkalli, bean paste (된장), and soy sauce (간장). Only when kimchiis old enough for the initial processes of fermentation to have ceased, will the  flavour be consistent. At all other times, you can’t eat the same kimchi twice as the taste is always in a state of transition. Canned and packeted kimchi  are available but these should only ever be eaten as a last resort. Canned kimchi, often from China, is especially disgusting!

Welcome to Korea!

Traditional fermented beans (메주)

The most popular type of kimchi, and the one most armed in terms of offensive capability, is cabbage kimchi (배추 김치). Cabbage is well known for its powers to unleash unpleasant odours once its fibers have traversed the intestinal tract and are approaching a transmuted reincarnation via the human Cloaca Maxima. With cabbage kimchi however, your digestive organs can take a break as most of the chemical process which release those aromas, have already been activated and are in a chemical flurry approximate to final stages of processing via the large intestine.  Indeed, I would go as far as suggesting that function of that plastic Tupperware tub or kimchi pot in which kimchi is stored upon being made, is  basically a portable large intestine containing the numerous biological processes.  In that Pandora’s box of mischief: the most infamous kiss-killer of all, garlic, is present in its most potent form, crushed! Added to this is minced ginger, a Korean type of chive (실파) and mooli (무) which while not individually notorious, collectively possess powers of repetition which help strengthen the garlic and intensify its potency. Even at this stage, a burp of this concoction is lethal. Added to this, is the cabbage which after having been submersed in salted water, is already chemically active.

Kkanari - fish sauce - the concentrated odour of a million sweaty feet

The addition of fish sauce, (액젓) famous across the Asia, which is another fermented product made from anchovy or kkanari (까나리 – sand lance), completes the recipe. Of all the noxious odours added to kimchi, anchovy or sand lance sauce is the most vile. I’ve often entertained myself by inviting guests to sniff an open bottle as I’m casually cooking, with a little encouragement such as: ‘smell this, it’s lovely,’ or, ‘this has got to be my most favourite smell.’ Usually, a good whiff will propel them back a few meters with as much force as would a couple of hundred volts of electricity.  Once amassed and fizzling away, the flavours and smells blend in a process which can last a considerable amount of time, depending on temperature.

Comparing the kimchi pot (김치독) or Tupperware tub to a colon is not an exaggeration. I have slept in the same room as as my gestating kimchi and in the first week of fermentation, gasses produced within the Tupperware colon would cause the lid to pop-off about once every twenty-four hours.  If this occurred at night, the escaped aroma was initially enough to wake me. I have since become quiet comfortable sleeping in the same room as fermenting kimchi and find the smell highly evocative – ironically, not evocative of life in Korea, but life back in the UK where living with friends necessitated containing kimchi smells to my bedroom and not the shared kitchen.

Kimchi encapsulates Korea at many levels. Many countries have a national food with which they are identified: Italy – pizza, Germany – sausages or sauerkraut (which is also fermented cabbage), France – smelly, soft cheeses, frog legs, snails and cordon-bleu cooking, England – fish and chips,  roast beef and tea, Scotland – shortbread and haggis, but few have the ability to represent their nation with such precision as does kimchi. While kimchi comes in blaze of spicy colour, the foods of other nations, delicious as they are, remain purely monochrome.

Kimchi is a pot-pourii of Korea, a culinary collage of so many integral Korean elements – garlic, ginger, Korean chili powder (고추 가루), mooli (무) and fish sauce. These ingredients are the basis of almost all Korean cooking and representative of so much of the peninsula’s farming. You can hardly step in a direction without seeing pots of chili, patches of mooli and even on the mountains sides I’ve seen small plots painstakingly hoed out of the rocky soil, blossoming with such vegetables. Local variation on the cabbage kimchirecipe, as well as banchan side dishes in general, and most other Korean foods, adds a further interesting dimension.  While many national foods are now factory produced, often resulting in grossly inferior products (shortbread is a good example), kimchi, even when sold in markets, is homemade and its production evokes a great sense of pride. Korean women, and even some men,  are proud of their kimchi making prowess and whenever a gift of kimchi is given, it should be respected.

The making of kimchi is very much determined by the seasons with particular kimchibeing made at certain times of year, and for cabbage kimchi, this is late Autumn to early winter.  One of my most memorable images of Korea was seeing an enormous stack of Chinese cabbage (배추) outside Shinoo Supermarket, in Song-So, swathed in wintry mist and beside which a couple of store workers huddled around a bonfire burning on the pavement. I’ve never see such a sight since.  And when it is time to make kimchi, members of the family or friends, sometimes communities,   females more than males, are brought together.

Kimchi pots (김치독) at Keimyung University

There is always a random element in kimchi production, something beyond the control of the ‘cook’, and  hence tasting the final product is always an exciting moment. Like making English tea, you can follow the recipe and time the brewing meticulously, but the production is influenced by factors beyond the recipe, it might be the temperature, the humidity or the quality of ingredients of that particular season. Part of the fun  involved in kimchi making is the pursuit of perfection in the light of random influences. And if the kimchi itself isn’t synonymous with Korea, the pots (김치독) in which it is traditionally stored, can be seen sitting in vacant corners, on rooftop and apartment verandas across the entire peninsula. The kimchi pot is as Korean as soju, mountain temples and the cawing of the magpie and their production an ancient and noble art. But the making of kimchihas also kept abreast of modern developments. Kimchi has traveled into space  and the kimchi refrigerator is now a popular sight in many Korean homes.

My kimchi 'colon'

Learning how to make kimchi and any of the extensive range of side dishes collectively known as banchan (반찬) and of which cabbage kimchi is the King, is difficult. In my area of Daegu are three small shops which produce homemade banchan but they staff don’t like being photographed or watched whilst working. My grandmother, the daughter of a Scottish baker, was just as defensive about her shortbread which was superior to any factory produced shortbreads.

Waygukins and Koreans alike will never grasp the potential of their smelly delicacy until they are able to eat and smell it in isolation, basically, outside of Korea. Like, garlic, the best defense from the offensive smell is to ingest it yourself and once you do that you no longer notice it. You can walk in and out of Koreans homes and their restaurants and never really smell kimchi and yet the whole nation reeks of it  and everywhere everyone chuffes out its pungent odours. The only reason you don’t smell it is partly because you have acclimatised to it and because you eat it.  I remember arriving at Kimpo International Airport after a holiday, and as I walked into the arrivals hall I suddenly noticed the smell of kimchibut no sooner had I noticed it, than it disappeared. But if you visit Korean friends in the UK, or they visit your house, the odour of kimchiand of garlic is very strong and even unpleasant. I often notice how Korean Air and Emirates, provide Korean meals and kimchi on flights into Seoul and wonder if this is to acclimatise passengers to the guff of garlic and kimchi, prior to landing.

The taste of kimchi has a bizarre appeal and every Korean has a liking for a particular type; for some it’s fresh kimchi in which the fermentation hasn’t really started, for others it’s the tangy bite of old kimchi which draws your tongue like cold tea or strong red wine. And it can be used in a multitude of ways: barbecued, added to stews, used for soup, put into pancakes, fried with rice, minced into hamburger patties, rinsed in water  and added to cold soups chilled with ice cubes. When the fermentation process has stopped, and kimchi is left standing,  sometimes for months, it is often attacked by a glueppy white mold which lays over the uppermost leaves. At this stage the kimchi is at its  sourest and is ideal for cooking kimchi stew (김치찌개), the mold simply being washed off. I don’t think any westerner truly enjoys kimchi first time, but the more we  familiarise ourselves with its guises, idiosyncrasies and long and ancient history, the more entrenched our love affair with it becomes and the more we defend it to those barbarians who claim it stinks or tastes revolting!

Kimchi Stew

Twisting and weaving into Korea’s distant past, like one of the gnarled and knotted roots on the mountains, Kimchi, like its people, has endured and adapted.  Originally it wouldn’t have contained chili, this being an addition sometime after 1500, when the chili plant arrived in Korea.  Of all the foods capable of representing a nation, kimchi is the most personal, the most intimate  and the most capable of embodying Korea. It transcends simply being a product of the soil, its production etches out a seasonal calendar, it brings families and communities together,  it provides both national and regional identity with space for a little individual flare, and at tables across the country people bond as individual batches are critiqued, compared and celebrated. Even the frosty bite of winter and the hot balmy days of hanyorum (high summer) have a role to play in determining the flavour. In the past, Koreans believed that the foods that suited individuals best were the ones grown in the soil in which their ancestors had both toiled and been buried. It was the ‘fruits’ of the soil which powered families across the generations. When companies produce canned kimchi, or even packeted kimchi, they grossly miss the mark because not only is it supposed to  be alive and active, but it has to be Korean. Dead kimchi, kimchi castrated of its chemical process is not kimchi and indeed Koreans have taken foreign kimchi producers to international court over such issues. You can eat French brie or Camembert made in Spain and probably not notice a difference, but kimchi that is dead or not even from Korea, is simply not kimchi.

Useful Resources:

Kimchi in Wikipedia

Beyond the Blog – Maangchi: Queen of Korean Cooking

Creative Commons License© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Curds (묵) – Monday Market

Posted in Uncategorized by 노강호 on July 6, 2010

Stunted by the rocky soil, you will rarely see an Oak as magnificent as those found in England

A few years ago a former boss took  me to lunch at restaurant, the usual formality for talking shop and often a sign that your schedule is about to change or that you’re going to be asked to do something not in your contract. Other than it was ‘Klingon’ in style, I can’t remember what we ate. My first encounter with any form of Korean food was in 1997 when I visited several restaurants in both Hong-Kong and Manilla and I can’t remember too much about those experiences either other than there being many side dishes, one of which was some strange, but inoffensive jelly-like food served in slices.

Acorn curd - 도토리묵

Enjoying many Korean foods are dependent on an acquired ‘taste.’ Kimchi, for example, both stinks and tastes pretty gross to most people first time, but with continued exposure one begins to realise the subtle variations between different kimchis.  Eventually you begin to develop a preference for one particular form of kimchi. In one sense the multi-faceted aspects of kimchi, the combinations of heat (chilli), saltiness, sourness, tartness, sweetness, the viscosity of the sauce,  the fracturability of the cabbage, the blend and persistence of fish sauce, garlic and ginger, the aroma, and these are only some of the features, make its enjoyment every bit as sophisticated as that of wine.

Supermarket curds - more expensive and watery than the market varieties.

While kimchi has taste there are a number of Korean foods which are tasteless and which on first exposure prompt the question, ‘why?’  Most first timers to Korean cuisine, for example, will find those watery soups ornamented with a few strands of bean sprout, totally pointless until you realise the way intermittent spoonfuls cleanse the palate and transform the texture of rice in the mouth.  A few Korean foods initially have no taste at all but if persevered with, an appeal begins to develop. Other foods, such as cold noodles (냉면) require exposure to the energy draining Korean summers to initiate an appeal much in the same way Pimms No 1 does in the UK. I can no more enjoy a Pimms No 1 in winter than I can cold noodles. And then there are those seemingly pointless curds or jellies.

In the restaurant with my boss, and amidst some of the Klingon delicacies, was a plate of what looked like the jelly thing I’d last eaten in a Korean restaurant in Hong-Kong. Sliced into slippy cubes, I remembered the dexterous chopstick skills required  to pick it up; too much pressure on the cube and it is cut in two and too little and it flops onto the floor or cascades down your shirt. My boss was quite impressed, in fact he was very impressed, but not with my chopstick skills, more with the fact that I’d just eaten a slice of raw liver! That too was tasteless but there is a limit to how far I want to go initializing new appreciations and raw offal is not really one of them.

Acorn curd (도토리묵) in the market

Curds or jellies appear in various guises and while they are fairly tasteless, their appeal lies in their texture which in the context of a Korean meal with numerous side dishes, can be ‘interesting.’ The most common curd is probably acorn (도토리묵) and it is often accompanied with a tangy soy based sauce. (도토리묵 무침). Personally, I find the market produced curd both cheaper and tastier looking than the somewhat more watery-looking packeted varieties produced by supermarkets. On more than one occasion I have muddled my Korean words and asked for ‘eagle curd’  (독수리묵).

Buckwheat curd mu-ch'im (메밀묵 무침)

Other curds include:

Buckwheat (메밀묵) which is often slightly heavier in texture

Supermarket seaweed curd (미역묵)

Black rice

Mung Bean (녹두묵)

Yellow Mung Bean (노랑묵 or 황보묵) this version, coloured with gardenia, is traditionally associated with the Cheolla province.

Curds are fairly easy to make and powders can be bought in most supermarkets.

Acorn powder

Acorn curd in particular is seen as a very healthy food and is believed to be beneficial in weight loss. Not a great surprise really as I doubt anyone would want to eat it alone and it’s hardly a food to pig out on! It probably has the same diet potential  and calorific content as water! The Korean company Skinfood market an acorn face pack. If you are keen to start investigating the secret power of acorn, here is a jumping off point….

Creative Commons License
© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Cabbage Kimchi

Posted in Quintesentially Korean by 노강호 on May 17, 2010

Salted cabbage

You can’t have a blog on Korea without there being a post on Kimchi. Oh, I’m not going to recite a recipe as there are a number of brilliant sites able to do this much better than I. Ten years ago there was nothing on the internet about making kimchi, Korean history, Hanja and so forth but now it all awaits you at the stroke of a key. This week some one asked me if I prefer Korean food or western food? Well, being a fat twat, I like all food. But at this moment a roast dinner consisting roast potatoes, pork with crackling, homemade gravy and garden peas and sprouts would be my choice. Yes, in Korea I miss English food but I only have to be back in the UK a few days to pine for Korean food. Nowadays, I’ve usually prepared a batch of kimchi within a day or two of arriving back home, ready for when I suffer kimchi withdrawal symptoms. Making kimchi in the UK can often be a little problematic so I’ve include some suggestions here should it prove difficult to find quintessentially Korean ingredients.

Moo (무), usually called Mooli. Be prepared to have to buy moo which looks like a big white carrot and is so stale you can bend it in half without it snapping. Tesco’s often sell them. If you can’t buy moo, white turnips are a good substitute.

Thread Onion (실파) – a good substitute is spring onion or better still, chives.

Anchovy fish sauce – (액젓) the Thai version, easily available, is indistinguishable (in my opinion).

Minari  (미나리) – I have read some people use water cress for this but I’ve never tried it. Parsley might also be an option but I’d choose the flat leaf rather than curled. If I cant use minari, and in the UK, I have never been able to buy it though it is probably available in areas with  a Korean population (eg, New Malden), I have simply left it out.

Chinese leaf cabbage (배추) – bought in a place such as Tesco’s are always shit quality. Small, probably four times smaller than an average real cabbage, almost pure white, and around £1 (2000W) each. They are difficult to cut properly and I have often cut them up rather than try to keep them in sections.

MAKING KIMCHI TIPS  (these are my tips recorded for my own benefit. If you want to jump straight to Maangchi’s kimchi making video, providing clear instructions in several different formats, click the photo below.

Maangchi! The Queen of Korean cooking


One sure way to impress both Koreans and wayguks is to be able to say you can make kimchi. No! despite what you have been told, it is not a difficult process. After some trials and experimentation you will find it easy to ‘fine tune’ kimchi to your own particular preferences. There are very many different versions of cabbage kimchi both  in terms of individuals recipes and in the taste of kimchi as it ‘matures.’

The price of seasonal goods in Korea can alter drastically depending on the weather and other factors. Currently Chinese cabbage (배추) is increasing in price due the late start of spring but in December, when I made my last batch, one large cabbage was 1000W (50 pence) and two of these were enough to provide me kimchi for about six weeks. This morning I found it very difficult to but cabbage in the market and when I did find some it was rather manky and expensive. Currently, cabbage is a bout 300% more expensive than in December. Make sure you scrutinize the underlying leaves and beware of  ones which appear eaten as some pest burrow into the cabbage. A tell tale sign are brown smudges on the leaves. If you’re buying cabbages in the west you won’t encounter this problem but the quality will be much poorer.  A cabbage, apart from the outer leaves, should be tight.

Two good size cabbages

Two good size cabbages

Outer leaves removed

Quarter about 2-3 inches into the base and tear apart rather than cleave them into sections

The most boring part is salting between the leaves. I was originally taught to rub the salt into leaves but on several web sites, Maangchi, for example, they leaves are sprinkled. I found this just as effective and much less tiresome.

standing in salt

When the cabbage section are adequately salted, they should be floppy,and in a state where they can be ‘rung’ like a cloth without tearing. They will also have reduced significantly in volume.

Limp and floppy

Other  ingredients include:

Mooli (moo) 무

Minari and thread onion (미나리, 실파)

Rice flour and fish sauce

Ready to be stored

Storage in a Kimchi pot

Or in a 'Tupperware' box

Great links for making Kimchi: Maangchi

Tagged with: , ,

March 3rd

Posted in Diary notes, Quintesentially Korean by 노강호 on March 3, 2010

March 3rd, (삼-삼) is the day to eat sam-kyeop-sal (삼겹살).  ‘Three’, in Sino-Korean, is ‘sam’ and hence today, March 3rd, is ‘sam-sam.’ Sam-kyeop-sal is barbecued pork, resembling unsmoked and uncured bacon which is eaten wrapped in various types of leaf garnished with an array of side dishes which differ from one establishment to another. Kimchi and raw garlic however, are usually always present. Sam-kyeop -sal is usually accompanied with soju.

Winter – Monday Market

Posted in Food and Drink, fruit, Monday Market (Theme), seasons, vegetables by 노강호 on December 13, 2009

I intended making a visual collection of seasonal fruit and vegetables as they appear and was going to start this in spring, I decided to start earlier.

Persimmon (홍시)

Persimmon (also known as Sharon Fruit. 감, 땡감, 반시, 홍시/연시,꽃감.) Early December and the Persimmon season is over but these ones I bought a few weeks ago. Currently I have around 60 Persimmon in my freezer. Persimmon is called Kam and like the octopus, there are three types each called by a different name which can be confusing. Kam range from hard to very, very soft. If you like sweet and gooey you’ll love the hongshi, sometimes spelt yonshi. This is the softest persimmon and appears in late summer to early winter. It is very delicate, like a fragile bag of water. Unlike the other types of persimmon, which I don’t eat often, these can be easily frozen. They are delicious cold,  simply slice the skin and squeeze and scoop out the jam-like innards. Some coffee shops serve hongshi smoothie. You can also buy dried persimmon, rather like dried apricots but with less flavour. I’m told persimmon is quite high in calories – which is usual as anything delicious tends to be calorie laden.

Oriental quince. (모과)

The Oriental Quince  (Moghwa. 모과) , is used for its fragrance which is slightly appleley. It has a waxy skin. They do scent small areas like cars and small rooms but unless you dangle them under your nose, they’re pretty useless in larger spaces – but they look good. Moghwa appear in late summer and early winter. Make sure there are no small holes in them as these will contain worms. I had one with a small hole which were  fruit flies front door, a piece of gum blocked future access and entombed any inhabitants. If you turn the fruit regularly it should keep into the spring. The moghwa  is used in oriental medicine and can be used to make tea.

Daegu, famous for its apples (사과)

Apples. (사과) I live in Daegu which is renowned for apples and Daegu apples are truly delicious. In England, I rarely eat apples partly as there are so many varieties I never know which ones I like and because they can never be relied upon to be tasty. I suppose the variations in British weather result in fruit which can be sweet  one moment and sour the next. Daegu apples are never sour and they are never fluffy or soft. Some are truly massive in proportions. Recently, a Korean teenager told me that had Snow White been Korean, she wouldn’t have died because Koreans always peel the skin off apples and pears. (and the witch, so he said, put the poison on the skin). In England we tend to wash them, if we can be bothered, and eat them with the skin on – a habit many Koreans find odd.

Cabbages (배추)

My God! I nearly forgot the most important seasonal product of all… The Cabbage – usually called a paech’u (배추) As with most imported fruits and vegetables which I might buy back home, the Chinese Cabbage ( which I think is a pak choy – or maybe its a bok choy???), is a piddly little thing which usually sits in the palm of your hand, is almost pure white and has no green leaves and cost W2000. In Korea when the cabbage season is at its peak, some are colossal in size and this week in the market they cost around W1000 each which is about 50 pence  in sterling. Two will make me enough kimchi for several months. Check inner leaves for signs of caterpillar.

An occasional site, especially in more rural areas, are large vats of paech’u being salted ready for making kimchi. Indeed, in street markets at this time of year you can buy kimchi which has already been soaked in salted water.

Salted cabbages in Cheonan

My Winter 2009 kimchi (배추 김치)

Paech’u after being salted and pasted with kimchi paste. Yes, it looks like something from a road accident but it tasted delicious!

persimmon – 감, hard – 땡감, between soft and very soft -반시, very soft – 홍시 or 연시, and dried – 꽃감.  Oriental Quince (moghwa) – 모과, apple – 사과,  Chinese cabbage – 배추.

Creative Commons License
© Nick Elwood 2010  Creative Commons Licence.

Kindy Life – Jan 1st – 20th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in fish, Food and Drink, Korean Accounts Part 1, Korean children by 노강호 on January 2, 2001

Kindergarten classes finish at 2pm and we then have to start hagwon classes straight away. The kindergarten is soul-destroying as we follow that stupid Letterland syllabus and the resources are not suitable for kids whose first language is not English. Then of course, to make things more boring, most of the kids know the alphabet anyway but we are still compelled to teach it from the beginning.

Jo told me to make sure we took a whole month to do the letters ABC and within ten days of dragging lessons out the kids, all had finished their work books. Last Monday, I said to Precious, which is the adopted English name of the young woman who is both a teacher and receptionist at the school’s front desk, that I needed the next workbook but she said I had to keep the kids on the current one, the ‘Annie Fucking Apple’ workbook, for the next month! The activities are fine for kids who have weak spatial skills but the colouring in letter ‘A’s’ or ‘B’s’ is a totally useless activity. One boy copied a line of ‘A’s’ in eight seconds. I’m sure some kids could complete the entire workbook in half an hour.

The videos cannot be understood as the vocabulary is too complex or the English too confusing. One moment something is called a ‘puppy,’ next moment it is a ‘dog’ and the books are full of lengthy words which might be understood by a native English speaker but not by an ESL (English as a Second Language) student.

Deok-hyeon, terrified to enter my classes – many kids back in 2000 had never seen a real foreigner

There is another boy who is supposed to be in my class except he hasn’t yet attended, his name is Deok-hyun (덕현). I terrified him the first time he attended the school and every time I went near him he screamed. He was petrified of coming into my class and when we initially managed to get him in he sat trembling. Eventually he ran out of the class and has since spent almost two weeks sitting in the reception with Precious. Whenever I walked past he runs away and hides.

I have settled into the teaching life at Letter and Sound and have noticed how my girls are all brain-dead. I don’t know what Koreans do with many of the girls but it is quite criminal as a noticeable proportion of them are morons. For example, whenever I asked Da-hae (다해) a question she starts to slaver and dribble all over the table. Then she proceeds to eat the edge of her desk or the cuff or her coat or jumper. Precious has told me that one the bus in the mornings she forever has to tell Da-hae to stop licking the windows. In every class I have girls who fail to communicate with me or are petrified by my simple questions. When I ask them something easy to answer, and then given them a hint, they stare off at a tangent and refuse to speak to me. I have noticed how most of the girls who do this are the ones dressed in pink or with fluffy furry clothing and it reinforces my belief that there is a link between being clinically brain-dead and make-up, the colour pink and My Little Pony paraphernalia. Of course we destroy and undermine the potential of female personalities in the west but here it seems much more acute. In fact if I taught girls in the UK who acted in this manner I might assume they’d been abused in some way but then the Korean girls will have been mentally abused. It is quite sad how many girls second themselves to boys and men.

Matt, Angela and Pauline refer to my class as ‘The Cabbage Patch.’ After lunch, which we serve to the kids in their classrooms, I will help Precious clean up the room. It has now become common practice for us to make jokes about where Da-hae (다해) was sat as there will be a patch of drool and licky food smears. Out of my three boys one is normal while Deok-hyun (덕현) is constantly running out of my classes as he is terrified of me. Dong-seop has started competing with Deok-hyun for the attention of Precious and has also started to have crying fits at the start of each day.

So far I’ve managed to avoid taking kids for a piss – the boys at least. The girls I don’t mind as much as they are surprisingly independent at this task. Boys however, are quite different. However, this week Dong-seop wanted me to take him for a piss. Koreans kids use the word ‘shee’ (씨) which translates into something like ‘tinkle’ or ‘wee wee’ as whenever I use it in front of Korean adults it promotes laughter. Dong-seop started making the gesture for wanting a piss, which is to make stabbing motions towards to their crotch with the palms open.  It is quite a funny gesture and is always done with both hands. I was forced to take him as there were no other adults around. When we got to the urinal I was hoping he would do it himself but little Korean boys will usually just stand there as they are used to their parents doing everything for them. I had to pull down his trousers, and then his long johns however, before I could get them fully down he started pissing into them.

On the Chinese New Year we had three days off which happened to fall on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Of course, in Korea you wouldn’t expect to be given even the Monday or Friday off by your boss, let alone both days. Koreans don’t seem to complain or even be bothered about this themselves. On the Monday evening I meet Ryo Hyu-sun and a friend of his and together we went to the bar, Mr Seven, which is next to my apartment. They asked me what I wanted to eat and I said I didn’t mind. This wasn’t a sensible thing to do as next moment we were served a communal plate of chicken feet in spicy red pepper sauce. At first I thought they were prawns but when I lifted one out of the sauce it wobbled grotesquely from the end of my chopsticks. I ate a few just to be polite and all the time had to suppress an urge to chuck up. All the bones seem to have been removed from the feet but they still had bits of gristle in them or maybe that was the bones but regardless, there was a continual crunching in my mouth and throughout the duration I couldn’t help how much chicken shit each little foot had trodden in. Whenever Koreans drink alcohol there is food on the table and they consider it unhealthy to drink without constantly nibbling.

When it was about one in the morning, and after another of Ryo Hyu-sun’s friends had joined us, we went to one of the numerous soju tents known as pojangmacha (포장 마차) which are doted all over the place. These are simply red and white or blue and white stripped plastic tents which stand on disused land or parking lots. They are large with entrances and plastic windows and inside they are heated by kerosene heaters which remind me of living under canvas in the army.  The owner of this tent, a middle-aged man and his wife, had a small portion of the tent where they sleep and watch TV as these tents are open 24 hours a day. We must have spent an hour in Mr Seven discussing the merits of cod soup and cod roe (대구탕,알탕). Incidentally, Daegu, is also the Korean for cod.  Ryo Hyu-sun kept telling me how delicious these soups were and no sooner had we sat down in the soju tent, pojangmacha when a gas burner was brought to our table and a communal bowl of soup prepared. The soups were quite tasty but then we were huddled around the kerosene heater with an outside temperature of minus 10, pissed and hungry. Even a packet of dehydrated soup would have been something to talk about.  Koreans make several assumptions about their culture. The first is that their food is hot and spicy. Koreans are always saying to me, ‘Oh Nik, that meal is very hot!’ or “Nik! That is too spicy for you!’ Another assumption is that their food is delicious. I see their assumptions as a form of racism and whilst I don’t find them terribly insulting they are irritating. I am aware their assumptions are just that and are borne out of naivety rather than malice. Few Koreans have traveled abroad and the country is lacking in western restaurants. Of course MacDonald’s and ‘Kay Pi Shi’ (KFC) are here but there a few Indian, Thai or Mexican restaurants. Most Koreans think their food is too hot for westerners and are surprised if you eat rice noodle soup (떡보기) without complaining about how hot it is. They look at you in awe if you dare eat a raw chilli or glove of garlic at the meal table. As yet I haven’t eaten one Korean meal that is hot, I mean hot like vindaloo or hot like Mexican food. Generally Korean food is comfortably hot. I would love to see a Korean eating a Scot’s bonnet chilli or a habanero. Spicy hot in Korea is one that burns at both end! Then there is the assumption Korean food is spicy – well that’s not really true. Yes, it’s spicy hot-ish but it certainly isn’t spicy. I am sure other spices exist here but the only ones I have experienced are ginger, cinnamon, garlic. Combining a wide range of spices, as in Indian cuisine, is not the essence of Korean cooking and everything is served with copious amounts of either red pepper paste (고추장) or red pepper powder. Matt and I were talking about Korean food at school last week, as we were eating lunch and everything at the table contained some form of red pepper. The kimchi is loaded with it, it was copious in my meal and Matt’s soup and it was in all three of the various pickles at our table. You can rarely eat Korean food without eating some form of red pepper or chilli. Despite this Koreans will tell you their food is spicy. Well it’s hot but the only spice in it is chilli, that’s the only spice in anything.

As for kimchi, Koreans are obsessed with it. Kimchi is a national ‘dish’ and is a form of pickled cabbage a little similar in its properties to sauerkraut. It is made with Chinese leaf cabbage. The other main ingredient of kimchi is of course, red pepper powder along with garlic, ginger, various spring onions a form of fish sauce similar to Thai fish sauce and grated mooli which in Korea is called moo. Kimchi is served with almost everything and I can think of few meals with which it is not an accompaniment. In many meals it is a vital component along with rice or as the basis for soup. You can also buy kimchi flavoured noodles and crisps. If you mention kimchi to some children they get very animated and so far I have only met one child that doesn’t like it. I have been asking children their views on kimchi in my classes and on one occasion the kids became really excited when I said I liked it. Now I have to admit it but when I writing this diary in Korea, I hated the stuff. I would only eat small amounts of it and usually only as an accompaniment mixed with other things I thought it smelt disgusting, and a juxtaposition of something like a blend of flatulence aromas and something rotting. Now I love it and in fact I am pretty expert at making it. Many Koreans have been impressed by my skill at making this condiment. Neither have I really found Korean food delicious, at least not delicious in the same way as one might enjoy Chinese, Thai or Indian food but I do find it very satisfying.

It is amazing watching the kindergarten children eating their meals as their behaviour differs drastically to that of western kids. Korean children, even the very young ones, don’t start eating a meal until it is all served. There is no squabbling over who has a bigger portion and if one child asks for something extra the others don’t all follow suit. The children then all eat in silence apart from these rather unpleasant insect-like noises they make such as juicy clicking noises, smacking of lips and slurping. They eat so slowly and with intensity as if the flavours and consistency of every mouthful is being pondered. Finally, when finished, they take their tray to the reception, clean it and put it back in the rack. All this is done without being prompted.

Many of the kindy kids are three or four years old and yet I haven’t noticed pissy or foetid smells lingering on them. So far, I haven’t had to take any kids for a crap, and I don’t want to, but in the UK you would expect to take such children for a pooh every now and then.  Korean children are impeccably clean but their teeth are often bad and I have noticed the worse a child’s teeth are, the richer the parents seem to be.  The kids at the up market Letter and Sound seem to have significantly more rotten milk teeth than corresponding kids from Di Dim Dol. Despite this however, Korean adults all seem to have decent teeth.

(note – the pojangmacha (포장 마차) I visited stood where Lotte Cinema was subsequently built. At the time, this area was a huge vacant lot with several soju tens permanently stood on its edges. On my third trip to Korea, in 2005, the site was already under construction. Pojangmachas were common on vacant lots between buildings even in built-up areas; indeed, one lay not too far from MacDonald’s in Song-So. The vacant lots have rapidly disappeared and soju tens are becoming a rarer sight.

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.

Creative Commons License

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