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Archive for the ‘Food for Thought’ Category

Cheese kimchi dol sot bibimbap!

Just thought y’all might like to see what I’ve been eating for the past three months. Cheese kimchi dol sot bibimbap!

I think this is the third time I’ve blogged about bibimbap, but I could eat this every day. And oooooh, kimchi (notice that second bowl of it, above the main dish, because that’s what I eat first), it is so perfect. I think I have kimchi three times a day now . . . still don’t eat the yellow radishes, though. There’s something so off about them.

The soup on the left comes with every meal, but I suspect it has fish in it. Well, the kimchi probably has fish in it too, but I’m playing dumb for now.

I’m slightly lactose intolerant (thanks a lot, Papa!), but milk is good when the kimchi is too spicy. I can deal with very hot food now, but I still have my limits. Anyway if you can barely deal with spicy food, take it with milk instead of water, which helps heaps. I think that’s why my Punjabi friends back home drink so much of the stuff.

If you’re a vegetarian in Korea and are frightened of eating out, bibimpap is a safe dish. I mean, seriously. You can’t eat just rice and seaweed here.

And speaking of rice, bibimpap typically comes with more than what you see here, but I usually ask for a small amount, because I like a stronger cheese taste. Also, my students think I’m gross for eating cheese. I just think I’m nuts for drinking strawberry milk with my kimchi.

Yummy closeup.

P.S. You can’t tell, but the egg is always shaped like a heart. I don’t know why that makes me happy, but it really does.

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“I think you should not eat so much spicy food,” my Korean co-teacher told me one day, after watching me load up in the kitchen during lunch. “It might disturb your stomach.”

I shrugged sheepishly. These days, it’s hard to determine what my body desires the most–rice or kimchi.

Two of my favorite foods. But can it work?

In spite of my vegetarianism, I’m pretty adventurous when it comes to food. Growing up in a Filipino household, I often had to eat a lot of food that would make most people queasy–“chocolate” meat, goat meat, dog meat, duck embryos.

At an early age I grew used to the sight of whole, bronzed pigs on the buffet table. I’d poke out fish eyes and grind them between my front teeth. I’d pry baby ducks from their eggs and–while my parents weren’t looking–make them dance for my sisters. I’d break chicken bones and suck on the marrow with relish. Squid? Couldn’t go down my throat fast enough!

But, in truth, I’m not too crazy about Filipino “dinners”–mostly because I don’t like most fried foods. (In my defense, I do find Philippine bread and desserts excellent, especially those with rice.) I’ll eat my mom’s dinners–she makes awesome lumpia and halo-halobut rarely anyone else’s.

The point is, it takes a whole lot to faze me. So what might disturb your everyday expat only stirs my curiosity.

From a Western standpoint, it is only to easy to identify Korean food with Chinese or Japanese. After all, aside from bigger cities you’d be hard-pressed to find Korean restaurants. But each style has its own distinctive taste.

It took me a while to warm up to Korean food, especially after I saw cabbage lying in the streets last winter. The bloody appearance of kimchi didn’t help, either. But the spiciness eventually caught on and now I’m a full-grow kimchi addict. If I go a day without it, I’ll hit the bed feeling hungry. I just feel so much better after I eat it–my nose and throat is less stuffy, and my digestion runs more smoothly.

That isn’t to say that eating here is a walk in the park. When I go into a restaurant for the first time and tell them I’m a vegetarian, I still get dishes with ham or fish. (To be fair, my pronunciation isn’t that great.) If I happen to find a tasty dinner that hadn’t walked, flown or swam in its previous life, I tend to eat it every day for weeks, at the same restaurant.

Last spring, the staff at one restaurant near my work was a real godsend–they always knew I wanted cheese bibimpap, no meat. I ate there for three months. At one point I bought a rice cooker and tried to make my own, but it wasn’t the same. But then management changed, and I started seeing meat in my food again, in spite of my protests. So now I’m out of a good bibimpap place.

Now kimchi is my passion. I go wild for the stuff, even when it makes my eyes water and nose run. Yes, I know most types contain fish. I don’t care. Well, I do, but my nose isn’t strong enough to tell “fishy” kimchi from “it wasn’t breathing” kimchi.

After finishing each shred of cabbage, I take a square of seaweed, pick up some rice, and mop up the rest of the red juice. Even my students are a little confused by how much I eat (it can get too hot for them at times). “Teacher, you Korean!” they shrieked once.

However, they continue to be disgusted by my love for all things cheese, for which I am notorious.

What will happen to me when I get back to California? “Maybe I should take a cooking class and learn how to make kimchi,” I told my supervisor last week.

“Koreans use a special kind of cabbage,” she said. “You use American vegetables, it won’t be the same.”

What a dilemma!

And it ain’t just the spicy stuff that’s running through my veins. As I mentioned before, I love green tea. It borders on obsession, really.

green tea cheesecake at starbucks

As of now, I’ve had green tea cereal, green tea bread, green tea ice cream, green tea lattes, green tea cheesecake, green tea muffins (with green tea chocolate chips!), green tea tiramisu, green tea rice donuts, green tea dumplings, green tea smoothies and god knows what else. I even chew green tea gum and brush my teeth with green tea toothpaste.

And, of course, I’m well-stocked with actual green tea, should the apocalypse arrive any time soon.

I can’t even discuss my great consumption of rice cakes and tofu. Clearly, it’s going to be take a while before I start eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches again.

My taste buds aren’t the only things that have changed–so have my eating habits and manners. But I suppose that’s another post altogether.

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When I was nineteen I worked for my university’s cafeteria.

On orientation one of the most gorgeous Filipino (and half white–why are mutts always so pretty? Seriously, someone tell me.) men I’d ever seen sat next to me. He was tall, tanned, lean-muscled and had these large, soft, almond-shaped eyes. I was instantly smitten.

We hung out in different circles, so we never had an opportunity to speak to one another. I was the mousy, albino English major with huge, frizzy hair and buck teeth; he was a bit reserved himself but played for our college’s soccer team—add that to the fact he was good-looking and nice, and you have someone who was confident, well-liked and out of my league.

Day in and day out, we’d pass each other, layering sandwiches, slapping cream cheese on bagels, decorating pizzas and humming along to alt-rock on the speakers.

As I left for work one day, I saw him sweep through the parking lot on his longboard, eating a small bowl of cereal. For some strange reason, that intensified my crush, and I couldn’t get enough of him.

I found myself going to the cafeteria when I wasn’t working just to watch him pour and serve coffee. I pushed myself to engage in small talk with his friends. I even tried to learn how to skateboard (and failed) and caught random soccer games on television.

Unfortunately, he only seemed to see me at embarrassing moments–like the time I spilled a tub of marinade on myself, and the day I cried after a fight with a friend over the phone. And I was always a sweaty mess, with food smeared across my apron and my skin reeking of burritos and coffee.

As the weeks went by, I noticed that I was seeing more of him, without any work on my part. During my early weekend shifts in the ice cream shop, he’d walk in after practices. When I’d gather my hair into a ponytail, I’d find him staring at my neck. He made my turkey subs exactly the way I wanted (heavy on the avocado, Swiss cheese, no pickles, wheat bread).

Sometimes I’d look up just to find him . . . well, looking at me funny.

And although I was extremely self-conscious at the time, I realized that somehow, this Adonis had grown to like me, too. The problem was, we were too shy to actually do anything about it. With the exception of pleases, thank yous, and our one-time quibble over how healthy and yummy hummus is, we’d never had a conversation.

Considering how little we had in common, it seemed like that would never happen. Then, one day, I came to work early, just as he was leaving. A counter filled with plastic bowls of tiramisu caught my eye, and I instantly swerved towards it. Soon we were standing there, side-by-side, spoons in hands.

“We sell tiramisu now!” I sighed.

“But nobody bought it,” he said, surprising me with the disappointment in his voice. “They don’t know what it is . . . it’s all going in the trash.”

Lucky for us: as Filipinos we’re accustomed to consuming vast amounts of leftovers. We cleared that countertop, until all those bowls had been emptied of cheese, ladyfingers and espresso. We washed the dishes quietly, with small smiles on our faces, as if we’d just shared a secret little corner of the world.

It was the highlight of that autumn working in the cafeteria–that half-hour spent eating cakes with a beautiful boy. Soon after, I quit the cafeteria to make time for my studies and martial arts classes. He left as well.

Green tea tiramisu

But every now and then, we would just happen to catch glimpses of each other on campus. And we’d exchange grins–all over an insignificant moment between bowls of tiramisu.

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Kimchi, rice wrapped in fried tofu, sliced oranges, broccoli and sweet sauce.

I’ve spent enough time taking photos of what I eat.

So I figured I might as well give them a set of their own on Flickr.

Eating in Korea is an experience all in itself. (Although it sometimes requires an open mind, some daring and one eye closed.) What you’re looking at is just one of the lunches we brought to the World Cup Stadium last month.

Originally there was one more triangle of fried tofu/rice, but I ate it before taking this picture. I regret it because the picture looks unbalanced.

But my fingers always itch for food right after I open or prepare something–I have to take at least one bite before I bag my lunch or even take my plate to the table. My roommates used to tease me about it in college, and an ex of mine nicknamed me “Chipmunk.” (Actually, that was my moniker in middle school, too, for the same reason.)

What can I say–I’m a growing girl. My stomach will always come first.

Click on the picture above for more great eats.

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Yes, I know I haven't posted for the past few days, but I've been sore from my Taekwondo classes.

My mom's worried I'll get too skinny here–it's the kimchi, I swear!–so out of undying love for her I had a pasta dinner in Gwangwhamun while dining with D. Then I ordered two slices of cake at Café Mahsil. A cheesecake and an African chocolate.

I Heart Cake!

The latter was fantastic. Three layers or chocolate–so moist and decadent. I would seriously take a bullet for this cake.

D had a little story to tell me about one of her students, who had been watching a World Cup game at City Hall in Seoul, where they have a massive screen up for fans.

It turns out this gorgeous foreigner was sitting in front of her. His 12-year-old admirer didn't know how to address him.

"So she bought him a snack," D said. "She tapped him on the shoulder, said 'Have this, thank you!' and ran away.

"The next day she told me she was in love. The class had to write an essay, and all she could write about was his curly blond hair and how he was the love of her life."

I smiled to myself, remembering myself in middle school and how easy it was to fall in love with a guy over his hair.

If only it was so simple now–

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I've decided that when I go back to California all I'm going to eat is fruit.

Every week I set aside a certain amount of money for fruit. Vegetables are priced reasonably here, and a bag of white rice lasts forever since I don't eat that much. But fruit has become an indulgence for me.

Yesterday I spent more than seven dollars on four large apples and eight slices of pineapple wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam. The day before, I bought a small box of strawberries for almost four dollars, and I buy those from the local market at least three days a week.

I eat two apples a day, and four cost almost five dollars. So I spend around 30-40 dollars a week. On fruit!

And that's not counting the one or two bananas I swipe from my roommate every few days when her back is turned . . . and those are quite cheap in comparison. And yeah, I am aware of how sad that is.

And ooh, those gift packages of apples and pears at Wal*Mart. Personally, nothing says romance like one of those with a big red bow on top.

If I end up making more money from my next job, I will splurge on grapes–which cost about seven bucks a bundle.

I'm thinking of starting a quasi-charity titled "Feed Your Muse," in which my ten faithful readers can send me packages of prunes and dried cranberries and apricots.

Now that I think about it, a tiny tube of honey costs about ten bucks. So if you're feeling generous, toss a couple of bottles in there, too!

(Hey, at least I stopped smoking.)

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First Bibimpap!

I've been spending an insane amount of money on cheese and egg bibimpap from this restaurant near the school, and as a result my wallet has thinned out a bit.

Also, my waistline has expanded. Koreans usually eat in groups and food is a shared experience. So one bowl of bibimpap is meant for two or three people! And since I hate wasting food, I've been eating all of it.

Today I had an awesome idea: Why not try to make my own? I could control the amount and substitute brown rice, which I've always preferred to the glutinous white they serve here anyway.

Unfortunately, it wasn't as easy as I expected: 

You can't tell by this picture, but I undercooked the rice. It was as tough as gravel. But I was very reluctant to toss it, so I picked out the egg and vegetables.

My roommate M came home later that night, to an apartment smelling strongly of pepper paste.

After I proudly displayed my creation ("Couldn't you just eat it all up?" "Er . . . pass?") she pulled me aside and taught me how to cook a proper pot of rice.

The end result:

It doesn't look like much, but I am so psyched. Rice with sugar and raisins for breakfast, gimpap (Korean sushi) for lunch, rice cakes for dessert . . . I could go on and on and on.

Now all I need is a rice dispenser (it's like a water cooler filled with rice, for you non-Asian folk out there) and I'll be an unstoppable force. Where's my Food Network contract?

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