Friday, February 20, 2009

How to Order Korean Delivery

You have nothing good to eat in the house, you're getting hungry, and you're too lazy to go out to a restaurant. What do you do? Order some delivery, of course. But since you're in Korea, this is going to be a bit of a trick. Delivery isn't the same thing out here. Here are some helpful tips.

First, take a gander at the array of menu magnets someone keeps leaving on your door while you are out. You have quite the choice here. If you want, you could even have the convenience store downstairs bring something to your room. It's free is it's over 10,000won ($7.50). But no, you need a meal. Skip the Dominos. Go with something more Korean. 부대찌개, say BuDayJjeeGay, sounds good.

Next step. Call the number on the magnet. Of course, practice the relevant phrases beforehand.

Step 3, hand the phone to someone who knows how to speak korean after failing miserably. "Oh they were asking for my address?!?"

Delivery person knocks on the door. Exchange confused looks and hand him the 12,000won ($9). Take the big plastic box he brought... and say KamSamNeeDah AnYoungHiKaSayYo (Thank you goodbye), the only phrase you've really mastered so far. Just remember, don't tip him! That would just add to the confusion.

What's inside that thing anyway? It takes some unpacking. Let's see, we have a portable stove, a big pan, some brown water, ramen noodles, and banchan (side dishes). That's must be why it is so cheap, you have to make it yourself!

What exactly is Budayjjike? There seems to be everything in this dish. I mean... everything: ramen noodles, green onions, mushrooms, tofu, ground beef, thick rice noodles, more vegetables I don't know, hot dogs, spicy red pepper, and spam. SPAM??? How did that get in here? Well, Buday Jjike literally means "Army base stew". It originated in the time after the Korean war when there was little food to go around. So, story goes, Koreans had to eat the leftover food from American army bases. They just threw it all together, added Korean spices, and made it delicious.

But Spam? Why keep Spam in the recipe? Koreans seem to love this stuff. It is even given as a gift more often than chocolate. Remember around the Lunar New Year? Why did you buy that gift set 12-pack of spam? I know it was a cheap price, but seriously, you will never eat all that spam. At least is came with a cool Spam travel bag.

SPAM "For Your Smile" Gift Bag

Back to the food. Turn on the stove and throw everything in the pan. Make some rice on the side, too.

Let is boil for a while...

But don't add the banchan. That tupperware, which has bean sprouts, eggs, and (of course) Kimchi, is just a side dish. You would get something like this in any restaurant in Korea at your table along with your order. They still include these freebies in delivery.
Time to eat. Throw some of that rice in with the noodles.

Pack up the dishes in the delivery box...
And leave it outside your door. The delivery personnel will be there shortly to pick it up.

For anyone who enjoyed this post, come back later for the next installment in the food series, "Chicken Poop House".

Sunday, February 15, 2009


In response to Ben's comment,

"Typically, the food is served on a plate, utensils are provided, and you are expected to finish the food at the stand."this sounds like a really good idea. do they have sinks at their booths? or do they bring all the plates/silverware home and then wash them?

Gretchen added,

I didn't think about the plate/utensils issue until Ben's post. There is potential for some serious sanitary issues. But, I'm paranoid. I'm sure you're managing.

I actually didn't think of this at the time either. Sometimes they they put a plastic baggy over the plate, so they don't have to wash that. Sometimes they don't though. And they must go through hundreds of plates a night on weekends. Who knows.

But in general, Koreans are less germophobic than Americans by far, at least when it comes to food. A lot of dishes at a restaurant are served in one giant bowl or plate that everyone shares. So everyone is dipping their spoon or chopsticks into the same food. It looks like this:
Chicken and baby octopus (맛있어!!)

Other times, they put a thousand little bowls on the table, and everyone eats directly from those. It looks like this.

Dinner for 2. Seriously, just 2.

I really first realized how little Koreans care about food sanity when I went to drink some makkoeli (막걸리) with some Korean friends. Makkoeli is a thick, sweet, milky, rice-based liquor that you can drink straight or with lemon-lime pop. So when the teapot of makkoeli arrived at our table (it is served in a gold colored teapot), my friend Lee pours in some 7up. He then proceeds to stir the pot with his finger. I must have looked suprised, because he laughed and said, "Korean style!"

One more example. Around the entrance to large Buddhist temples, there is usually a spring-fed stone basin of water. Around the basin are plastic dippers used to sip the water. This is part ritual, a way of cleansing the body and mind before entering the main prayer hall. But it also just used as drinking water. Temples are almost always on a mountain and you have to hike in a bit. A Korean girl told me she used to hike with her dad to the temple to get a few gallons of drinking water for the weekend. But to me, this looks pretty unsanitary. First of all, everyone shares these cups which probably never get washed. But more importantly, even if it is from a spring, you should filter your water. Giardia is no joke. In the end, I had some water anyway. When in Rome...

So are Koreans less careful about germs? Maybe. On the other hand, if you have a cold, you are expected to wear a surgical mask in public. Busanites don't drink their tap water, even though it is perfectly safe (I researched. but still boil it). So maybe not. Cleanliness is a funny thing. Germs are invisible and usually harmless. We have customs that we think protect us from this invisible dirty force. It becomes an emotional thing. It was a little offputting to see toilet paper hanging at a food stand to be used as a napkin. But why? And for anything that makes me think Koreans are unsanitary, I am sure there is something else I do which would break their code of cleanliness.

By the way, the next installment of the food series will be "How to order delivery in Korea". It will be a good one.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bulguksa and Seokguram

I finally got outside Busan this weekend for a daytrip to Gyeonju. Gyeonju is a southeastern Korean city famous for its temples and historical ruins. A very rough sketch of Korean history might help.
Creation-57 CE: there are many competing tribes/groups
57-668: 3 kingdoms--Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje-- rule different parts of the Korean peninsula
668-935: Silla conquers the other two, unifies korea
935-1392: Goryeo overthrow Silla
1392-1897: Joseon overthrow Goryeo
1897-1948: Korea under Japanese control until WWII
1948- present: US and USSR split Korea in two, Korean war, stalemate.

Anyway, the place I went, Gyeonju, was the capital of the Shilla group. That made it Korea's governmental and cultural center from 668-935CE. Near the city center, there are ruins of the old palace, royal tombs, an astrological observatory, and touristy shops. Pretty cool, but really more for history buffs.

What I came for, though, is Bulguksa, and that required another 25 minute bus ride outside the city. Bulguksa is Korea's biggest, most famous, and most badass Buddhist temple. It is also Korea's official Historic and Scenic Site No. 1 (Korea ranks historical places and artifacts). The fact that the best Buddhist temple and the Silla capital are so close is no coincidence. Silla money was used to build the temple in 528CE and it has remained an active temple ever since. The Silla dynasty was in many ways the apex of Buddhist influence in Korea. Especially during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), Buddhism was replaced by neo-confucianism as the state sponsored religion. Buddhist monks became second class citizens and were sometimes persecuted. Buddism never disappeared, but it also never regained the influence and popularity of its Shilla/Geoyeo days.

So what did I see at this temple? What are buddhist temples like? I won't bore you with an essay, I'll just post some pictures and make a few comments.

Temple on the outskirts of Busan

Like Bulgoksa, temples are usually hidden away in the mountains or along the coastline (cp. European cathedrals). They can be huge, but more often it is just an couple unassuming prayer halls along a hiking trail. The exact location of the temple depends on a geomancy-- magical geological forces.

At Beomosa, Busan's largest temple

Even today, the temple's natural surroundings are important and very well kept. Notice the huge bamboo shoots in the picture above. I've only seen that at a temple.

One thing at every temple is this huge bell. These are usually outside the temple proper. This one was at Seokguram, which I will get to in a minute. This bell, which is not unusually large, is about 8 feet tall. It is struck only on important holidays, like the lunar new year and the Buddha's birthday.

Now let's visit Bulguksa:

Pay 4 dollars at the temple entrace. Remember to use side doors, side staircases, and side entrences. The middle is just for monks.

At Beomosa

Actually sometime the middle staircases are not even open to monks. Only spiritual beings, Buddhas and Bodotsivas, up these stairs.

The first gate you see is called the iljumun (일주문), which literally means one pillar door. This is because, from the side, the massive roof appears magically supported by a single small pillar. It symbolically represents the paradox of... something.

rock out.
Then you go through another gate that has four huge wooden statues. Bow to them before proceeding. These guys are supposed to scare away evil spirits trying to enter the temple. Like Buddhism itself, these gods were originally from India (Hindu). You can still see evidence of their journey: Indian faces, Chinese crowns, and a Korean sword.

Then you pass through a pleasant garden with a winding path that follows a stream. Practice your walking meditation.
Korean pines hide the main temple building until you are standing right in front of it.

Before going further, drink some fresh spring water.

Walk around the main staircase to a side entrance. Here's the main courtyard with two large stone pagodas. One is covered in scaffolding-- damn. The other is quite a sight though. Together, these are the most invaluable treasures at the Bulguksa. Pagodas like this are used to house relics of of the historic buddha and other important bones.

In the courtyard, notice the drum, gong, and fish-shaped wooden knocker. The sounds of these instruments voice compassion for land, air, and sea creatures respectively.
Another thing you will notice, at big temples and tiny ones, are little stacks of rocks, pebbles, and coins. There are also areas covered with little toys. When you offer a toy or stack a rock, you can make a wish for good luck. I have heard temples are packed with anxious mothers on the day of the all-important university entrance exams (a day so important commercial airlines reschedule to reduce distracting noise).

So that your tour of Bulguksa. Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed of the prayer halls, where the great statues can be seen.

About 4 km away is another treasure of Buddhism, Seokguram. Seokguram is a cave carved out of solid granite which houses what some call the finest statue of the Buddha in the world. This site was lost for hundreds of years before being discovered by the Japanese about 100 years ago. Unfortunately, a pane of glass separates visitors from the main chamber and pictures are not allowed.

I took one anyway.

Here is a better picture.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Street Food

I love Korean food because it is extreme. Food doesn't get much spicier, saltier, fresher, or more colorful. As one who has been known to drop hot sauce in black coffee, that suits my own taste. There is a lot to write about Korean food. I have a lot of things to try and hopefully I'll get around to most of it. So hopefully this will be the first in series of reports on this subject.

For now I want to focus on Korea's proud tradition of street food. Food vendors are everywhere on Korean streets, serving everthing from sweet snacks to full size meals to booze. For a little research on the topic, I took a trip to downtown Busan (Seomyeon) on Friday night. Seomyeon is a busy place, especially at night. Many of the narrow roads that wind through the heart of Seomyeon are closed to cars, so street vendors can set up shop facing the street.
A downtown street from above

Food vendors along a side street

The first thing you notice about korean street food is just how much there is. It is not like seeing a lone hotdog stand by a big intersection. The vendors line up for blocks, each selling only one or two kinds of food. Typically, the food is served on a plate, utensils are provided, and you are expected to finish the food at the stand.

Probably the most common thing is a tteockbokki, which includes rice noodles, hard boiled eggs, and flat fish noodles (odaeng), all drenched in a spicy red sauce. Like all street food here, it is a a cheap option (about 2 bucks) which will definitely fill you up. Tteockbokki stands also usually serve odaeng on a stick. Busan, being the biggest port city, is famous among Koreans for its odaeng. Interestingly, bowl-cups are provided for people to drink the water used to boil the odaeng noodles. The warm odaeng water has a strong fish flavor, but seems to help if your mouth is burning from the spice.

Odaeng sticks and Tteokbokki

Odaeng with a ladle for jus de odaeng
Another commom street food is dalkoji, which is basically chicken on a stick. This comes in both deep fried and grilled varieties. The spicy flavor of this thing is almost unbearably hot. Koreans don't f-around with spiciness, and this is the hottest of the hot.

deep friend dalkoji
Dalkoji is not the only thing that gets fried. Another kind of vendor sells everything deep fried, including rice and seaweed rolls (kimpap), peppers, squid, and sweet potatoes. This was a fun one to eat. Instead of ordering and paying in advance, you just grab a plate and fill it with whatever you want. You can eat it alone or dip in soy sauce or spicy red sauce. After you are finished, you let the vendor know how many of what you ate, and pay as you leave.

Fried stuff

Sweet Potato Fries
The scene round the deep fry stand

Another great option is roasted chestnuts. Even though I guess people eat these in America, or at least sing about them at Christmas time, I think this was the first time I tried them. They are served either in the shell or with the shell removed ("nude").

Nut Stand
Finally, something sweet. Many of the vendors serve different kinds of bread, little pastries, and crunchy rice cakes. But best of all is Hopta. Hopta is a fried bread with a sweet nutty filling inside. The best hopta is served with crushed nuts on the top, and served in a cup for some reason.


Egg bread
Ok, so I'll end with something weird. Can you see inside the second pot in the picture below?

How about a closer look??

This is bundigi, or silkworm larvae. This little bug is boiled in big, steaming, pungent pots and served in a paper cup. You can stab the little critters with a toothpick, unless you prefer to dump a lot in your mouth all at once. At least they're dead. HOWEVER, I know for a fact that live silkworm larve is sometimes served with Korean bbq (where eaters grill their meat at the table). Here, the silkworms are still alive and moving, before you plop them on the grill.
Anyway, here is my review:

By the way, I was with a korean who didn't know the english for "silk worm larvae". The cell-phone translator came up with "chrysalis, pupa". So, at the time I thought I was eating a butterfly. But no, it is actually silkworm.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Haeundae Beach

Yesterday I had some extra time before work, so I decided to get off one subway stop early and walk the rest of the way. This way, I could walk along Haeundae beach. Here are some pictures of the beach and some pictures of the area at night. I can't wait for the summer!