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Monday Market – A Mixed Bag of Seasonal Interests

Posted in Monday Market (Theme) by 노강호 on April 7, 2011

For the last month I’ve been waiting for the appearance of mistletoe and durup in the street markets. Durup (두룹), aralia elatia can sometimes be found in places like E-Mart but it is usually on the expensive side if out of season. Mistletoe (겨우사리), viscum album coloratum, is something I’ve never seen in supermarkets, not even in tea bag form and many Koreans don’t even know what it is.

fresh mistletoe – 10.000 won (five pounds UK) which I’m told is a little expensive.

I’ve had a bag of mistletoe (dried branches and leaves) in my fridge for the last year and used it regularly during the summer when made as a tea, and chilled, it is wonderfully refreshing. Last year’s bag I purchased in May and it was already dried. Yesterday however, I saw the first bags of mistletoe and they were fresh so this morning I boiled the last of my old batch and will try the new ones in a few days. After which I will simply lay them on newspaper on my veranda and dry them out for the forth coming year.

Warning – there are many varieties of mistletoe and I’ve read the berries, possibly in European varieties if not further afield, are poisonous.  Apparently, ewes abort their young if they graze on fallen mistletoe! If you are a reader outside Korea I would be very cautious about making tea out of the next batch you see.

durup (두룹) aralia elatia

Durup, for which I can find no common English name, costs between 3000-5000W (£1.50 – £2.50) a bowl and is surprisingly tasty with a mildly nutty taste. I generally blanch them and eat them with red pepper sauce (초고추장), which can be bought ready made like tomato sauce, or with swirled in sesame oil, minced garlic and sesame seeds with a little soy sauce. I use them as a side dish. They can also be used in kimbap and pancakes but I have not tried such variations. I would imagine there are numerous other ways of using them.

a street vendor selling durup

Durup and Misteltoe will appear in street markets until about mid May after which they are difficult to find though I would imagine large markets will have dried mistletoe all year. Both are worth trying.

Don’t forget that mugwort (쑥 – sook), artemesia asiatica and mong-gae (멍개), ‘sea squirt,’ are also currently prolific.

mong-gae, or sea squirt (멍개), a delight of the deep?

For my previous posts on posts on these seasonal items, click:

durup

mistletoe

sea-squirt

mugwort

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

FURTHER REFERENCES

Mistletoe Magic (Telegraph Newspaper. UK.  Dec. 2010)

For Pied and Dabbled Things

Posted in Animals, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Korean language, plants and trees by 노강호 on October 1, 2010

fascinating - or ''just' (그냥)?

Back in Scumland UK, the greatest disruption to a lesson would be two students having a fight, possibly assaulting the teacher or simply a student calling you a ‘fucking wanker.’ In Korea, a similar level of disruption is achieved if an insect flies into the classroom. No! I’m not referring to a gigantic hornet or a preying mantis; pandemonium can be unleashed by a simple house fly. On such occasions, students will duck their heads and even move to the other-side of a class and until the insect is removed or killed, all teaching is likely to cease. I know students, teenage boys, who will squeal and panic, if a butterfly flutters into the classroom.

I have seen some beautiful butterflies in the mountains, some the size of small birds with brightly coloured wings. As a schoolboy, my fondness for butterflies was inspired through collecting and trading cards that came with a packet of  Brooke Bond PG Tips Tea.  Although I’ve noticed dragonflies are admired, some kids even hate butterflies, one of the most majestic and harmless of insects. In Korean, it seems many people relegate most bugs to the same category as cockroaches.

Launched by Brooke Bond (tea) in 1963, this series of cards probably inspired my interest in butterflies

Koreans seem to have a general dislike not just of insects, but bugs in general and ‘bug’ is the preferred term as this precludes having to differentiate between insects and arachnids and many other creepy crawly things. Indeed, terms such as ‘insect’ and the characteristics they exhibit do not seem as easily understood as they might be in the west. The problem of nomenclature, despite biological taxonomy, is obviously cultural but I wonder to what extent it reflects a general disregard for nature in general, especially in a society which has so rapidly become highly urbanized.

'Just' (그냥) a spider!

Korean students, and many adults I know, seem not just oblivious to nature, but indifferent and unmoved by it. Of course, I am making a sweeping generalization and fully aware many Koreans are quite the obverse  as I often come across Korean nature, and nature photography blogs on the internet, but I nonetheless experience different attitudes from students and friends than I would back home. Several years ago, on a mountain trail in Ch’eonan, I was privileged to see a fox posing in profile. My fellow teachers all insisted that either foxes do not exist in Korea or that I must have seen a cat. You simply cannot confuse a cat with a fox, especially having seen the fox motionless and in profile! Every child will give you the correct name when you describe a magpie, one of the most common birds even in urban areas, but describe a jay, a common sight in the mountains, and most will have no idea of its name (산까치). The impressive sorceress spider (무당 거미), with their expansive webs dusted in a powdery yellow,  and abdomens emblazoned with red and yellow markings, to all but one of the people I asked, were ‘just’ (그냥) spiders.  Wasps and hornets  suffer a similar fate and are often clumped together as bees (벌). And then I’m told figs trees don’t grow in Korea when there are several growing in my vicinity.

The reason I am so keen as to Koreans attitudes about nature is that most dictionaries fail to distinguish species and sub-species and hence I am compelled to make inquiries. I often encounter problems trying to discover the Korean word for particular animals or plants. For example, Koreans have a number of different names for ‘octopus’ (낙지, 문어) and will often insist that they are different from each other but this difference has more to do with ‘octopus’ as a food, rather than ‘octopus’ as a species. In Britain, we have a similar problem with ‘sardines’ and ‘pilchards,‘ both different size herrings and most of us differentiate them by the shape of can they are bought in. Sardines, as juvenile pilchards, come in small flat tins whereas the adult pilchard, comes in a round can. I doubt many Brits are capable of differentiating between sardines and pilchards in any other way than by the type of can they occupy when dead and ready to eat.

This is a pilchard

This is a sardine

Differentiating between rats and mice is also problematic and if you tell a Korean you had a mouse in your house, or even had one as a pet, they will recoil  in horror. Despite ‘mice’ having a distinct name (생쥐), they are conflated with rats (쥐) and only by describing a rat as having a  long leathery tail, can you be understood. Exactly the same occurs with chipmunks  (줄무늬 달암쥐) and squirrels (달암쥐) both of which are described as ‘squirrels.’ (다람쥐) Yes, chipmunks are a form of squirrel but they are quite distinct from squirrel squirrels. Indeed, several online dictionaries I consulted identified both squirrels and chipmunk, as squirrels and despite chipmunks being common in the nearby mountains, most people I asked either did not know what they were or simply identified them as ‘squirrels.’

A rat - big, dirty and loves sewers and shite

This is a mouse - small, cute, lives in fields and is a veggie

On another occasion I was with friends in the Kayasan Mountains and noticed what looked like clumps of mistletoe high in the trees. I was excited because I’d not seen mistletoe in Korea and it was prolific and thick. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which grows in the uppermost branches of trees, the seeds being deposited via bird droppings. Not only did my friends have no idea what is was, but they weren’t very interested. As we were coming down the mountain, I noticed bags of ‘clippings’ being sold to make tea and was able to confirm it was mistletoe (겨우사리).

mistletoe can be seen growing in clumps in the high branches (Kayasan, Heinsa)

In early summer, I was looking at plants, along with a close friend, being sold by a street vendor. She was quite impressed that I was able to identify tomato, aubergine, thyme, rosemary and courgette seedlings as well as larger jade and citrus plants. She had no idea that tomato plants have a distinct smell that is imparted onto your hands if your touch them. My poor friend could only identify a chili plant and asked the vendor to name the plants to corroborate my claims.

It worries me that so many young Koreans are uninterested and uninspired by nature, if not fearful of it, because the easiest means by which species will disappear, is when there is no regard for them. In dystopian novels such as Huxley’s, Brave New World, Zamyatin’s, We, and to  a lesser extent, Orwell’s, 1984, nature is perceived as abhorrent, distasteful, imperfect and dirty and hence requiring banishment beyond the  confines of ‘civilization.’  Once there is a general dislike, or simply disregard for nature,  or even people, and before you know it, the damage has been done. All political and social atrocities are born out of an attitude of dislike, disinterest or loathing and the same can be said of environmental atrocities.

The impressive Kayasan Hotel

In Kayasan Mountain, behind the impressive Kayasan Park Hotel, next to the nature trail entrance, is a natural history museum in which are housed an extensive collection of insects which are either extinct or endangered. Some of the insects, all dead and mounted, are of gargantuan proportions, some as much as three  or four inches long. The gargantuan insects that once lived in the mountains of Korea,  with their chunky exoskeletons and long antennae, fascinated not just me but the numerous Korean children, ooo-ing and ah-ing around me; ironically, the same children who yelp, scream and panic when a house fly buzzes into the classroom. It seems that  for many, nature only has the power to inspire wonder and awe when it’s dead, mounted, sanitized and safe.

Capable of causing panic!

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Mistletoe – Viscum album Coloratum (겨우살이) Not Just for Kissing Under

Posted in herbs and 'woods', plants and trees, tea (cereal, herb) by 노강호 on May 15, 2010

Specifics: a tea made with leafs and branches. I have only seen this being sold in bundles either in the mountains or street markets. It is not always easy and more common in spring. I would be very cautious of using this in Europe as the species may be poisonous, from the little I know the berries are. I can’t find any reference to its use as a tea in the West, though I have not searched extensively.

A few months ago I noticed a little old lady street vendor selling, amongst other things, what appeared to be mistletoe. I was intrigued as of course, in the West it is usually only ever seen at Christmas when it is used to kiss under. Like most of my Korean friends,when asked about this plant, none had the slightest idea what it was,  nor any interest.

Kayasan National Park

On Children’s Day, I went to  Kayasan National Park (가야산)  which is a short distance from Daegu. As is the custom on such days, we made a ‘pilgrimage’ to the Haeinsa (해인사) Temple, one of Korea’s most important temples and home to Korean National Treasure No. 52, the Tripitaka Koreana. These comprise 81.340 woodblock templates, carved in the 13th century and forming the most accurate, oldest, and extensive treatise of Buddhist law and scripture.  With full foliage not yet set on surrounding trees, I noticed ‘balls’ of what appeared to be mistletoe growing on their upper branches. I was quite excited, an excitement my friends find quite strange and eccentric. None of them could tell me what they were but their interest was microscopically sparked when I pointed out to them that the leaf shape on the balls, only just visible, differed from that  on the surrounding branches. And then we stopped by a small ‘kiosk’ selling the customary objects found in such locations, dried mushrooms, steaming silk worm cocoons, – various fresh mountain greens, herbs, onions and wood, and in one corner, a large pile of mistletoe, instantly recognizable and available either fresh or cut and dried at 10.000W (£6) a large bag.

'Balls' of mistletoe can be seen in distant the tree tops

Mistletoe, Viscum album Coloratum -a hemi-parasitic plant

Cut and dried mistletoe

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant with an extensive and ancient history in many cultures. Myth suggests mistletoe was the wood from which the cross of Jesus was made, after which, as a punishment, the former tree was withered and reduced to a parasite. The plant has various hosts and usually grows on higher branches where seeds fall in bird droppings.

Instructions for making tea – Mistletoe can be kept in the fridge, though I was told not to store it in the freezer. A handful of twigs and leaves are then boiled in approximately 2 litres of water and the tea drank warm or chilled. I have discovered that a fuller infusion is made if the ‘leaves’ are left to steep over night before being removed. European Mistletoe can also be used for making tea herbalists claim it has numerous benefits, one of which is lowering blood pressure. Here  is made by way of a cold infusion.

The taste – I am not really into hot herbal or cereal teas and generally prefer these chilled. Mistletoe surprised me as it has a very distinct and pleasant taste with a lemony aroma. The taste is remarkably similar to that of western type tea (Ceylon, PG Tips, Liptons etc)  but quite soft. It lacks  the bitterness or tartness associated with tannin in un-milked, un-sugared tea. Currently I prefer this ‘tea’ to Korean barley, corn or green tea.

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