Archive | February, 2012
February 12, 2012

The Daily Kimchi

When I decided to take a year and move to another county, food was of course a key consideration in my planning. I wouldn’t say that I have a particularly sophisticated palate, as “SpaghettiOs” are still one of my favorite meals. Other than my mother’s fried chicken or a good great diner breakfast, grilled cheese and tomato soup is still my favorite meal. Before departure I loaded up on pizza from my favorite Columbus joints (including investigating a few new ones), as well a few final visits to El Vaquero and Junior’s Taco Truck before bidding farewell to my idea of “haute cuisine” from the states.

In addition to the wonderful mandoo dumplings featured in my earlier posts (Oct. 6, Daejeon Market), one of them most common topics in my research was the Korean obsession with kimchi. It is  also the subject of more questions over any other from folks back home. This traditional fermented dish (김치) is delicious in just about every form and can be had everywhere, usually a a complimentary side dish brought to your table before your meal arrives. It dates back over 3000 years and varies widely depending on the season and length of fermentation. Now that I have gotten used to it being served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I have really grown to love it and look forward to it before every meal.

Kimchi also figures heavily into my new favorite dish here, Kimchi Jjigae. This steamy and very spicy hot jjigae (stew) is made with beef or pork, scallions, and sometimes tofu or seafood, in addition to older, more fermented Kimchi. It provides “good” dietary bacteria like yogurt does, and is a great way to warm up on a cold winter day. I seem to be able to tolerate much spicier dishes than when I first arrived, as the red pepper paste (gochujang) found in just about everything would to bring me to tears just 5 short months ago. The paste is terrific on all varieties of barbecued meat and is terrific when liberally applied to one of my other staples, bibimbap.

Another popular signature Korean dish, bibimbap (비빔밥) which means “mixed meal” or “mixed rice” can be enjoyed any time of day. The variety I have become addicted to is called Dolsot (stone pot) Bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥,) which is served in a steaming hot crock filled with warm white rice topped with namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables) and the above mentioned chili pepper paste. Topped with a raw or fried egg, you mix up the bibimbap with your long spoon and chopsticks ( 젓가락) before enjoying. This fast and inexpensive treat also varies widely depending on location but is commonly served with a warm bowl of guk, a simple clear broth with a mild flavor. The most famous version of bibimbap is available in the city of Jeonju, the capital of the North Jeolla Province, and will be featured on a future Rock Traveler road trip quest in the Spring.

Another food item and cooking style that Koreans do exceedingly well is the Korean barbecue, Gogigui, literally “meat + roasting”. What would quickly become a tangled mess of grease fires, 3rd degree burns, and subsequent lawsuits in America, Korean has turned into a culinary treat that is truly something special. Most BBQ joints can be found easily by following the amazing smells and simply looking for the abundance of individual vent units over each table inside. Whether choosing barbecued beef, pork, seafood, duck, or poultry – raw or marinated meat or short ribs are brought to your table for you to cook over open gas or charcoal flames. Best eaten with a large group that fosters a festive, communal feel, the grilled meat is either eaten plain, dipped in to spices and sauces and/or wrapped with a variety of vegetables into lettuce or sesame leaves.

In addition to the terrific native cooking and adventure of barbecuing, I have grown to love Japanese cooking even more since arriving here. I have had some amazingly fresh sushi and also lunch regularly on gatsudon donburi, a deep fried pork cutlet served over rice with a fried egg and other condiments. With a side of thick, hot udon noodles and still more kimchi, this menu item is making me almost forget all about any appetite for canned pasta made by Franco American or hot soups from Campbell’s. The terrific snack hotteok, makes a great desert or snack anytime and can be found on most food stands and street vendor carts.

Ramen noodles are another story for another blog post but, suffice it to say that I have not gone hungry and am acclimating my palate to a broader and spicier range of foods and tastes. Until I am once again back stateside, I have found that the quality, availability, and variety of inexpensive food choices here is certainly a highlight of my trip so far and I look forward to illuminating this subject further as the new year progresses. Until then, bon appetite.

Kimchi Jjigae from Matthew M. Vacca on Vimeo.





February 9, 2012

Meanwhile…in Korea

E-mart in Daejeon is like 5 floors of Wal-Mart plus Target all on steroids. I was out shopping for stickers for my students and, of course, all things Domo or Hello Kitty. I can not help laughing at this song that is always playing every time I visit there. Turn it up and enjoy!


Meanwhile…in Korea from Matthew M. Vacca on Vimeo.