Tag Archives: korean food

Bob Burger

I’m a fat girl at heart, so I tend to eat my feelings. I’ve been a little down today, so I started my day with food from a new restaurant near my school. I’ve been wanting to try a rice burger since a bunch of similar shops started popping up around my neighborhood a few months ago.

Korea - New Business - Bob Burger

The business name is “뚱’s 밥 버거”, which means Dung’s Bob Burger.

In Korean, “Bob” (밥), means rice. Normally the English spelling for 밥 is “Bap”, but it seems like all of the rice burger shops use this alternate spelling.

The menus in these places are all basically the same. Each burger combines two or more foods. Some of of the combinations were quite strange. I chose the two that seemed the safest:

매운치킨밥버거 – Spicy Chicken Rice Burger
돈까쓰참치밥버거 – Pork Cutlet and Tuna Rice Burger

The total came out to 5,000w (~$4.75). I watched the owner prepare my burgers by microwaving pre-packaged rice and meat.

Korea - Bob Burgers - Wrapped

Both of the burgers were quite large. Each was enough for one person. (I still ate both, of course.)

 

Korea - Bob Burger - Chicken

The “burgers” turned out to be more like balls of rice with meat and sauce in the middle.

Korea - Bob Burger - Messy

I tried to eat the first one by hand. It didn’t go so well. Now I understand why there were free spoons in the restaurant.

I had high hopes for these burgers. Since so many of these places popped up almost overnight, I thought they might be tasty. Unfortunately, they didn’t impress me.

A sad reality in Korea is that the vast majority of restaurant owners are retirees who have no idea how to make good food. They buy into cheap franchises and sell fried or microwaved food. Since this describes most restaurants here, Koreans don’t seem to notice that most of the non-traditional food is awful.

I think I’ll be sticking to traditional Korean food.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Western Food in Korea

I love Korean food. Most of it is delicious and healthier than my favorite western foods. Korean versions of other Asian foods are good, too. Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Southeast Asian foods are great here. That’s probably because there are many immigrants who open restaurants and because they have easy access to authentic Asian ingredients. Korea hasn’t mastered western foods, though.

Korea’s food industry seems to think that western foods need improvement. This usually means adding lots and lots of sugar, but there is more than one way to ruin a classic food. Have you ever thought to yourself, what could make this delicious monte cristo even better? According to Paris Baguette, the way to improve a monte cristo is to add mayo, corn, beans and celery.

Monte Cristo

Pizza too dull for you? Just add super sweet sauce, lettuce and corn.

Pizza in Korea - Daegu

Hot dogs not cutting the proverbial mustard? Get rid of that pesky meat and just fill the bun with lettuce and mustard.

hot dog with lettuce mayo

I do give Home Plus a few cool points for adding a piece of bacon to this dog.

Yesterday, I met my friend Linda for lunch downtown. She wanted to try out a new restaurant called Brunch House, which specializes in western foods. It has been getting rave reviews online, but we failed to notice that almost every review was left by a Korean.

I thought the hobbit door was a cool touch!

I thought the hobbit door was a cool touch!

Linda had a serious hankering for eggs benedict. Brunch House’s eggs benedict got 4.5 stars out of 5 on a review website, so we decided to split a plate. The price was average for a western dish at 7,900 won (~$7.50). The menu also included french toast, monte cristo and other popular brunch dishes. Surely this meant that the chef had training in western foods.

Eggs Benedict - Brunch House - Daegu

The first thing I noticed was the totally unmelted processed cheese. Under it was half of some sort of untoasted bun. It wasn’t quite as soft as Merita white bread, but it was definitely not an English muffin. This was surprising, since English muffins aren’t difficult to find in Daegu. We decided to reserve judgement, though. A properly cooked egg and some amazing sauce might drag this dish back toward mediocrity.

Eggs Benedict 2 - Hobbit House - Daegu

Sadly, there was no polishing this turd. I’m not sure how they cooked the egg, but the yolk was literally solid. The hollandaise sauce wasn’t bad, but it didn’t make much of a difference in our opinion.

This nearly complete lack of decent western food would be a problem for me were it not for the fact that I am surrounded by great Asian restaurants. I’ll stick with local flavors for now, but I can’t wait for the day when I can write a post about an amazing western meal in Korea.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Alcohol and Irony

As most of my friends know, I’m not a particularly lucky person when it comes to the small things. Although I’ve been overwhelmingly lucky when it comes to the big (important) things in life, timing has never been my strong suit. Well, a bit of good luck finally struck this weekend.

My new vice principal has been making my life a difficult since he started last month. He rearranged my schedule just as I was getting comfortable. According to one of my colleagues, he has a lot to prove to the other teachers. The first thing on his list was to increase everyone’s workload even if it’s not necessary. A common Korean tactic for new bosses – flex his administrative muscles and let us all know who’s in charge.

I tried to fight the changes to my schedule but ultimately learned that he was technically within the bounds of my contract – even if the changes seemed sudden and unfair. So I settled in for what I thought would be another year of crappy scheduling.

Fast forward to last weekend when I attended a party for the vice principal. He completed a course that all new VPs have to attend, after which a group of teachers to throw a party celebrating his “graduation.” Before the party, he only communicated with me through other teachers. I was surprised to find, when we finally spoke at the party, that his English is almost as good as some of my fellow English teachers. So we sat for over an hour drinking and talking.

VP Celebration in Ulsan

Unlike the principal, this guy drinks at work events. When he invited me to drink with him, my first instinct was to make an excuse to avoid him. But I listened to my colleagues and joined him for a quick on. To my surprise, he was nice and didn’t seem at all like the hard-ass manager that his new image would suggest. We talked for at least an hour before I had to leave. He told me that I wasn’t what he expected – I am “much kinder than [I] look.” I learned that he has a fascination with American police dramas, so he was excited to hear that I was a detective in the US before coming to Korea.

The next morning, I got an email from my coteacher informing me that the vice principal has chosen to compromise with me. Instead of shifting several work hours to Saturday each week, he agreed to give me every other Saturday off. I’m sure glad I didn’t snub him on the drink!

It’s easy to forget the power of good work relationships in Korea. Although a manager’s opinion of you is important in the west, it’s that much more important here. A few beers and a little friendly chat made the difference in enjoying my weekends and spending them working.

Until next time.

-Taft

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My Favorite Korean Food: Dwen-Jang-Jigae

Most of my friends and colleagues know that my favorite Korean food is a salty and spicy stew called Dwen-Jang-Jigae (된장찌개). Made from peppers and fermented soy bean paste (dwen-jang), it can range anywhere from mildly spicy to ass-kicking hot. It’s hearty, healthy, full of vegetables and absolutely delicious.

Dwen Jang Stew

This image was taken from another blog. See below for a link to her recipe.

I eat this amazing stew every chance I get – often making a meal of it at restaurants. This is a bit odd as it is generally served as a shared side dish, but I’m willing to be a bit unconventional because it is both delicious and cheap. A bowl of soup with a cup of rice can range from 2,000-5,000 won ($2-5).

I wanted to make this stew for a long time, but it always seemed like an intimidating endeavor. Some Korean coworkers told me that it is difficult to make. Despite this warning, I finally decided to try my hand at making a pot of Dwen-Jang-Jigae last weekend.

I was surprised to find that it was incredibly easy to make. Not only was it not difficult, but I learned that the recipe is quite flexible. It’s OK to add an ingredient, adjust the thickness of the stew or experiment in other ways. Most Korean mothers who make this stew tend to cook by feel rather than strictly adhering to a recipe.

Let’s get started:

The first step is to gather the ingredients. I went to the street market near my apartment, but most of these ingredients can be found at any grocery store. The only thing that might require an Asian grocery is the Dwen-Jang.

Ingredients

  • Dwen-Jang – 2 or 3 heaping tablespoons
    *Any Asian/Korean grocer will have Dwen-Jang. Also available online.
  • Dubu – One small package, cut into squares.
    *Most Americans know this as Tofu. Same stuff.
  • Dried AnchoviesAbout 1/4 cup
    *You can replace these with 2 cups of anchovy broth.
  • Green Pepper – 1 or 2, sliced thin
    *The best pepper for this is called Go-Chu (고추)
  • Green Onion1 or 2, sliced
  • White Onion1 diced in thick pieces
  • Zucchini1/2, sliced

The first step is to boil the anchovies. I used four cups of water and a handful of dried anchovies – about 1/4 cup. Simply place the anchovies in the water and bring it to a boil for 8-10 minutes. Feel free to adjust the amount of water and number of  anchovies.

Sardines boiling

While the anchovies are boiling, cut the vegetables and dubu. This is pretty simple. Most stews have thick-cut onions and thin slices of zucchini, but it’s OK to cut them however you like. It’s also OK to add other vegetables or mushrooms.

Vegetables cut up

Caution: If you use gochu (고추) peppers, don’t eat them raw, even if your roommate’s girlfriend dares you to. You might end up crying in front of everyone (or so I’ve heard)…

When the anchovy broth is complete, remove the anchovies from the water with a strainer. Add two or three heaping tablespoons of dwen-jang to the water and stir it in. Reapply heat and allow it to return to a boil.

Dwen Jang spoon

As the water is returning to a boil, add the peppers and the green onions to the pot. Allow these ingredients to boil for five minutes, then add the remaining ingredients (white onion, zucchini and dubu). Let the stew boil for 10-15 more minutes before serving. This soup is great with rice. I like to mix about a half cup of rice right into my stew bowl before eating.

Dwen Jang boiling

As I mentioned before, there are plenty of variations to this recipe. You really can’t go wrong as long as you include the basic ingredients (dwen-jang, anchovy broth and gochu). I suggest that you check out this post for another version of the same recipe. The author, Hyosun Ro, is a Korean-American who shares Korean recipes on her blog, Korean Bapsang. Thanks to the addition of meat and dry pepper flakes, I think her recipe will be even more flavorful than mine!

Until next time.

-Taft

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Dirty Kimbap

On my way home from school yesterday, I decided to take a walk through the old neighborhood and visit the kimbap restaurant that I frequented last year. It’s called Kimbap Heaven (김밥천국). I went there every morning and bought the same thing: tuna kimbap. The ajumma (middle-aged woman – pictured below) who worked the morning shift got to know me and even grew to like me over several months. But our relationship wasn’t always so friendly – my first time in the restaurant didn’t go well. This is the story of my first time in a kimbap restaurant:

Screenshot_2013-03-22-12-45-23It took me a week to work up the nerve to go into the restaurant. In three months I had never seen a foreigner inside, and I was certain that none of the employees spoke a word of English. The fact that most of the employees were in their 40’s or 50’s meant that they were not likely to be patient as I stumbled painfully through ordering in Korean. After I chickened out three times, I finally walked in and sat down.

I spent so much time worrying that I was surprised by the fact that nobody seemed to notice me when I walked in. None of the usual awkward stares and not-so-quiet whispers (look, a foreigner!). Even the employees didn’t give me a second look, which was awkward; they usually get as far away as possible for fear that I might attack them with my English.

I sat patiently as the woman delivered food to other customers. I used that time to practice ordering in my head. I knew that a simple sentence could become a tongue-twister in an instant if I wasn’t prepared.

Finally, the woman walked over and asked for my order:

Woman: 뭐 드릴카요? (What can I get you?)
Me: 잠지 김밥 하나 주세요. (Tuna kimbap, please.)
The woman looked at me like I had three ears.
Woman: ……….뭐??? (………what???)
Me: 잠지…김밥…하나…주세요. (Tuna…..kimbap…..please.)
Woman: 뭐 말했어?!?!?!? (What did you say?!?!?!?!?)
At this point, I was getting pissed. I pointed at the tuna as I spoke.
Me: 잠지…김밥…주세요!!! (Tuna…..kimbap…..please!!!)

I guess that pointing really helped, because she finally seemed to understand. But she seemed angry, even when I was leaving. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong, other than being a foreigner.

I told my Korean friend Leon about my experience the next day. I tried my best to order in Korean, but the woman was not impressed. I used respectful Korean and tried to speak clearly and slowly. For some reason, she was still rude. He asked me what I said to her. When I repeated my order, he started laughing hysterically.

“Taft, you should probably just order the tuna kimbap next time. Most places around here don’t serve vagina kimbap.” Oops…

The difference is subtle: 참치 (cham-chi) is tuna – 잠지 (jahm-ji) is vagina. Hence the confusion. I was so embarrassed that I didn’t go back in for a week. When I finally returned, I emphasized the CH sound.

I’ve never made that mistake again. But don’t worry – I have made plenty of others.

Until next time.

-Taft

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