Thursday, June 30, 2011


A bowl of homemade bibimbap.

This week I made bibimbap for the first time. I never realized how much work went into the ubiquitous dish! The version I cooked involved rice, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, fern brake, bean sprouts, beef and eggs ... not to mention various oils and seasonings. Each ingredient is cooked individually and using varying methods, quite a task in our tiny, two-burner kitchen. I used every bowl and piece of tupperware in the house just to keep the ingredients separate before serving them at dinner.

Mike was happy to report that the fruit of my efforts was "just like Mom makes," so I imagine we'll be eating bibimbap at home a lot more in the future.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

TYWMIK Revisited

Lotte Sand: Looks like an Oreo, but tastes better

When we moved to Seoul two years ago, one of our biggest challenges was finding the products and types of food that we enjoyed back home. We quickly found that The Body Shop, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and peanut butter were "Things You Won't Miss in Korea." But it took us several months to track down things like taco seasoning, tortillas, and M&Ms.

As time passed, so did our cravings for items that you just couldn't find in Korea, like fig newton cookies. Our taste buds evolved so much that I now prefer patbingsu (shaved ice with fruit and red beans on top) over ice cream in the summer. And stranger still, some of the items that we considered knock-offs of American food now taste better to us than the authentic import.

Take Oreos, for one. The Korean cookie aisle is almost unrecognizable to an American, filled with jam-filled snacks and Market O 'premium' brownies. Any decent sized grocery store here, however, will stock Oreos in their foreign food section. But we now know not to fall for the alluring blue packaging of "America's Favorite Cookie." The Korean interpretation of the sandwich cookie, Lotte Sand, is less sugary and a lot more yummy. Plus it comes in mini packs, so you won't ever make the mistake of eating the whole box in one go.

Mountain strawberries: Look like raspberries, but taste like blueberries

The box: Bought on sale for 9,800 won ($9), usually closer to 20,000 won

Then there's fruit. The only people who eat cherries, raspberries, and blueberries in Korea are the mega wealthy. They sell a pint of cherries at our local grocery store for the equivalent of $45. Raspberries are sold in larger quantities, but prices still start at $15. The only blueberries I've seen in grocery stores here are the frozen kind.

So the other day when the store had a fruit sale, Mike jumped at the chance of getting us some berries. What was sold as "mountain strawberries" and looked like raspberries ended up tasting like blueberries. And they were wonderful ... perfectly ripe and tasty.

Multigrain Hoops: Look like Cherrios, taste like Cherrios

Of course, there's always the knockoff food that tastes exactly like its American cousin. While "Multigrain Hoops" may not roll off the tongue quite like Cherrios, the taste is identical. And the Tesco brand has two adorable leopards to boot.

Monday, June 6, 2011

My first race

On Saturday, I ran the Nike Women's Race Seoul 7K with one of my friends here. It was a tough race complete with hills and balmy weather, but I had a great time running it. I am a newbie when it comes to running, only having trained seriously for the last few months, so it was really satisfying to see all my hard work pay off. I made my target time and came in 681st out of 6,000 -- not too shabby for my first race.

Say what you will about Nike, they know how to throw a party. The race kicked off at 6:30 pm with fireworks and a pep talk from a popular TV show host. During the race, DJs blasted music at the water stations and a group of young male cheerleaders high-fived the runners and shouted "Fighting!" (the Korean version of "You can do it!") when the course started going uphill.

As I ran through the finish line, I met my own cheerleader, Mike, who had bag-holding and photo-taking duty during the race. I caught my breath and then headed toward the reception line where men in white tracksuits and bow ties clapped demurely while the ladies picked up their complementary necklace designed by none other than the queen of Korean female athletes, Kim Yu-na.

But the race was just the beginning of the evening's events. Most of the 6,000 women who participated in the race stuck around for the After Party featuring unlimited glasses of (cheap) white wine and performances by some of Korea's biggest musicians. I was excited to see Drunken Tiger and Kim Tae-woo since I actually knew some of their songs, but I have to say the best performance by far came from the pop orchestra that kicked off the show. Only in Korea will you see thousands of people sing at the top of their lungs and dance along to an orchestra.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Jeju Island vacation

This past weekend we took a mini vacation to Jeju Island, commonly known as Korea's Hawaii. Located at the southern tip of the peninsula, the island was created from volcanic eruptions two million years ago. Today, the island is home to South Korea's tallest mountain, Hallasan, and dozens of waterfalls and beaches.

We crammed a lot into our three-day trip, including a 20-km (12.4-mile) hike up to Hallasan's summit. To get a full sense of the impressive nature hidden in an area one-tenth the size of Seoul, expand the photo slide show to full screen and click on "Show info" in the upper right hand corner.