Why the hell would anyone want to go to North Korea? This is a question my parents posed, and even my students, as I told them my husband and I were heading to its capital to participate in the annual marathon.
The short answer: curiosity. While living in Seoul, I had the opportunity to listen to stories from several North Korean refugees. How they escaped through China, how they left behind loved ones, and how they lived in a constant state of fear. I remember feeling completely ignorant, as I knew nothing about the country other than the fact they harbored nuclear warheads.
Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what I do for a living. “How did you start teaching overseas?” “Do you teach at a Chinese school or an American school?” “How do you travel so much?” “What kinds of benefits do you get?”
Then the most important: “How can I do it too?”
Six years ago, when the U.S. economy took a turn and I was left without a job, I decided to throw all caution to the wind and move to Korea to teach English. I had never taught before, I hadn’t traveled much, and admittedly, kids weren’t really my thing. But I thought, Hey, I can do anything for a year.
I knew my last meal in Korea had to be good; but what? Barbecue? One of the many soups I’d savored over my year-and-a-half stay? A rice dish? Seafood? I couldn’t decide. But lucky for me, I didn’t have to.
As a going away present, my friend Yong Kyu made reservations at a Korean royal cuisine restaurant so I could check off one of the last items from my Korean food bucket list: sinseollo. Sinseollo is a special type of hot pot once reserved only for royalty. It’s basically a mild broth with beef, egg, radish, mushrooms, walnuts, ginkgo nuts and a few other vegetables served in a fancy silver pot.
Before you freak and and think I’m a monster for eating 산낙지 (Sannakji), otherwise known as live octopus, let me tell you something: it’s not really alive. Well, it’s alive when it gets to the table, but then the server chops it up into bite-sized pieces. The pieces squirm around for about 20 minutes afterward.
To avoid any life-threatening consequences, you need to make sure to soak the tentacles in sesame oil and chew carefully.
I would write more, but I think the video says it all.
I’ve had plenty of hangovers while living in Seoul. Hell, I’ve had plenty of hangovers everywhere I’ve lived. But there’s something about drinking soju that really takes the next day’s headache and nausea to another level.
Thankfully the same people who created this evil alcohol also created a remedy for its wrath: haejangguk (해장국).
It amazes me that I’ve been here for a year and a half and am still discovering new dishes.
Last night, my friend Yong-Kyu took me to dinner in the Konkuk University area. “I want to take you to a restaurant I like, but I am nervous,” he said. “It might be too spicy. And if you don’t like it, my feeling is bad.”
I rolled my eyes. “Young-Kyu, it’s me you’re talking about. I like everything.”
Lunar New Year isn’t until next week, but that hasn’t stopped the parents from sending celebratory goodies for the past five days. Well, I shouldn’t say goodies; more like goody. There’s only one way to celebrate the Korean New Year, and it’s with tteok (떡).
I spent the majority of Saturday afternoon in bed, pants unbuttoned, my sweater smelling of roasted duck. I wore an evil smile on my face.
I had finally tried the dish I’d been eyeing for a year and a half: a roasted Korean pumpkin, stuffed with yakbap (glutinous rice sweetened with honey or brown sugar, mixed with chestnuts, jujubes and pine nuts), on top of a whole roasted duck and caramelized onions.
My obsession with this dish started the week I arrived in Seoul; though I remember it like it was yesterday…
I’m off the crutches and in the mood to cook! I found a really easy Dakdoritang (닭도리탕) recipe on seouleats.com and decided to make it last night. Daktdoritang is basically a really spicy chicken stew, perfect for heating your body on a cold winter night, or for clearing out your sinuses. Here’s the recipe so you can try it yourself: