Jump in! The water’s fine!

That morning the unknown was approaching and I could feel the wings of butterflies in my belly.  As I went through the rectangular doorway into the school and up the stairs the roar of children grew louder.  The smell of bread or cookies baking in the oven.  Where did it come from?  I could see myself in the granite tile.  Rectangular proclamations of triumph and praise hanging on the walls.  I hiked up to the third floor.  Removing my shoes and putting on red slippers and opening the door.  Why was there such a fanfare upon my arrival?  Was I a guest in their home?  I felt my identity was mistaken.  The owner of my school was a happy face and a generous soul.  Ready to overlook my faults.  She was cheerful and always padded the moment with laughter.  Her English was on the level of an infant, but she had plenty of servants to interpret for her.  She was the Queen and the school was her kingdom.  And I was a diplomat from a far away land read about in books, and seen in movies.  It was my first dive into Korea.
James and Jillian were rest stops along the way.  Places were I could stop and say, “what is going on? What does this mean? Why do they do this?”.  And I would get a Western mind’s explanation.  They were my fellow travelers.  James was a teacher from Tennessee and Jillian was a blonde from Oregon.  James gave me a small explanation of the schedule and a strategy for running the marathon.  After the brief in the war room, I was led into a class to observe how things would be conducted.After observing the teacher, it seemed like it would be a lot of fun and easy to manage.  After viewing several of these classes, I thought I would go out and explore unnoticed.  Soon I found a little monkey swinging on my leg….The morning classes I would be teaching were going to be fun: 6 – 8 year old students with a beautiful assistant helping in each class.
The morning was finished and our supervisor Mary wanted to treat us.  Nobly we rode in her car as honored guests.  Soon arriving at a Korean BBQ house near my apartment.  The restaurant had two sides: Western style tables and Korean style floor tables.  I voted Korean style, so we removed our shoes and sat on the square pillows.  It was painful sitting with my legs directly under my body.  Its a challenge if you have never done it.  Sitting on the floor is something Asians do naturally and is a healthy alternative to the chair.BBQ HouseMary called the waitress over and said something in Korean while we waited.  Soon an old face came to the table carrying a pink pile of pork and a metal tennis racket.  She turned on the gas and we waited for the red glow.  Mary laid the pork strips on the round racket as the smell of grilled meat filled the air.  Our mouths began watering- we were getting ready to eat Sam-gyup-sal 삼겹살.  This popular food is known as pork belly.  We took leaves of lettuce, placed a slice of garlic and dab of pepper paste inside followed by the cooked pork and ate like kings.  The rice was an excellent compliment.  We had seconds and thirds and then everything was gone.  I finished it all with a hot glass of water.  And like a stuffed turkey trying to stand up, I overcame gravity and balanced my way out the door.
We arrived back at the school and the leg of the race was about to start.  I thought it would be similar to what we had done in the morning, but I was simply introduced to the older class, given a book and the door was shut behind me.  Standing in a cage surrounded by chimpanzees, my thoughts were replaced with instinct.  I would stand my ground until the reinforcements arrived.  I looked for the lifeguard hoping she would see me…  drowning.  So I opened my book and began.
“What is this?! This is a cup!”, I proclaimed, hoping the sound of my voice would spell out authority.  Amidst the quiet roar of unfamiliar noises occasionally I was noticed and given a treat.  How could they be informed that what I came to bring to them was actually good and they should want it?  Hey kid, don’t you know that you’ll grow up someday and have to be responsible and learning to speak my language is good for you?!!  No response.  This mountain was big.  Where was my climbing gear?
Soon the referee burst through the door and sent the fighters to their respective corners.  We were given the rules again and then round #2 began.  I decided to put pencils in their hands and open their books in front of them, walking each child through the process of learning.  I asked a Korean teacher to have them draw their current state of emotion onto a piece of paper. I had taught boys gymnastics before and that was a joy and a challenge, but this was another level of difficulty that I had not encountered.  How do you direct them, if they can’t understand what you are saying?  Puzzled looks, needing hearing devices.  Leaning in to listen to me.  Soon breaking focus and continuing down their river of conversations.  How could I pull them safely to the shore?  This would be a process of learning and trying new methods and making mistakes and repeating them over again.  “You can’t succeed until you fail”, that is what they say…  when you find yourself in the midst of your problems, don’t leave–there is a solution.

The day was over and I threw the weight off my back.  I flew out of that place and we took a deep breath.  The smell of cookies.  A woman in a cart frying chocolate cream pancakes.  How lucky was I?  The stress melted with hot brown oozing as I pulled it apart with my teeth.  I could eat these forever.  After the fourth one I felt sick to my stomach and woke from the dream. ^_^Street cartIt was good to have James around.  He had been there 8 months before Jillian and I had landed.  He was our flashlight.  He showed us where it was safe to jump in and places we should avoid.  Really, the amazing thing about South Korea is the crime rate.  It doesn’t exist.  Drugs are no where to be found and the culture of family is very strong.  Korea is an isolated place, cut off from the big bad world.  Its like going back to the 1950’s in America when you could leave your front door unlocked.  As we carried on, we found our way to a place called Grand Mart.  It was a competitor with other department stores like, E-Mart and Lotte Mart.  We wandered in and found interesting things:  A happy pig made of jade, a ring with a Buddhist cross, and Korean spam.  As well as a Korean tailor, Korean Tony the Tiger and a radio called “Pooty”.
iWe made our way back outside and continued our conversation about our personal experiences and what had brought us to Korea.  It was an exciting time in life.  We were living an experience and no matter what the circumstances were, it would not be mundane.

김치찌개 Kimchi Jigae — a fiery bowl of passion!

Lets craft a dish our tongues will record in history!  Kimchi Jigae 김치찌개!!  Its so easy to make and you will never settle for Ramen noodles again!  It will also keep you warm in the winter!

Kimchi jjigae -  Holmes Korea AUD12

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The following ingredients are probably unfamiliar to you, so during the post, I will have photos of the ingredients.  I will also include a list of the ingredients written in the Korean language.  If you aren’t as gutsy as some, print the out the ingredients in Korean and use it as a cheat sheet.  When you arrive at the market, just show someone and they will be more than happy to help you.  Korean people can be very endearing and they are some of the most helpful people I have ever met.

Pungent kimchi ……..1.5 small bowls
Pork …………………………………………….120g
White rice cake (sliced)…………………. 1 cup
Thick green onion………………………..1 bunch
Minced garlic…………………….. 2 tablespoons
Sesame seed oil…………………. 1 tablespoon
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)..1 tablespoon (optional)
Jalapeno pepper …………………1 (optional)

Seasoned chili powder:
Chili powder………………………… 3 tablespoons
Minced garlic…………………………… 1 teaspoon
Minced ginger……………………….. 1/2 teaspoon

Meat broth…………………………………….. 4 cups

Ingredients listed in Korean (print them out!)
김치 … 1.5 보시기
돼지고기 … 120g
횐떡 … 1컵
굵은 파 … 1뿌리
다진 마늘 … 1큰술
참기름 … 1 큰술
화학 조미료 … 1 큰술

양념 고춧가루:
고춧가루 … 3큰술
다진 마늘 … 1작은술
다진 생강 … 1/2 작은술

육수 … 4 컵

. . . . .

Cookware and Eating Utensils

Before I send you on a mission to buy ingredients for Kimchi Jjigae, I wanted to give you the chance to really get into the culture, so I listed some items below that are an integral part of Korean cuisine.  Most of these items can be found at a wholesale kitchenware store or an E-Mart / Lotte Mart.

Dook-bae-gi 뚝배기 – This is a traditional-style earthen pot used for cooking fiery hot stews.  The name is pronounced, “Dook-bae-gi”.

winter 2013 014.Frying Pan – A frying pan is only necessary if you choose not to purchase a Dook-bae-gi.
Silverware – A pair of metal chopsticks and one soup spoon per person.  I recommend buying at least 4 to 6 if you want to have friends over.Soup Ladel – Necessary for scooping the stew out of the pot and pouring it into your bowl.
Tupperware – One medium sized bowl per person.  This is so that you can pour the stew from the Dook-bae-gi into an individual bowl of your own.  6 small bowls for side dishes (various side dishes filled with Sliced Radish Kimchi, Sesame leaves, Jalapeno Peppers in pepper paste, season fish, Lotus root in soy sauce, and Kimchi, respectively.  This is the traditional way of eating and sharing a meal). And 2 – 6 metal rice bowls for white rice.Traditional Korean Floor Table 밥상 – Pronounced, “Bap-Sang”, this is the traditional way friends and family eat in Korea; sitting on the floor at a table that is one foot from the ground.  Its a fun way to eat sitting on the floor.
Traditional Korean Floor Pillows – Traditional Korean floor pillows are square and come in a bright spectrum of colors.  You can find these at a pillow specialty shop or at E-Mart or Lotte Mart.
Gas Range Grill (with gas canister) – This is a portable gas range that you will set on top of the floor table when you are ready to cook.  A small can of gas can be plugged into the side of the grill.  These are easiest to find at E-Mart or Lotte Mart.
Rice Steamer – What meal in Korea isn’t complete without white Asian rice?  These steamers can be found at an E-Mart or Lotte Mart.  They will probably run you around $100, but its worth it.  And be sure to get a large bag of white rice to cook with.  [when using your steamer, take out the metal bowl, put in 2 – 3 cups of rice, fill up the metal bowl with water and massage the rice.  Then pour out the water and repeat 2 or 3 times until the rice is thoroughly washed.  Then, for example, if you put in 2 cups of rice, fill up the water to the 3 cup level inside the bowl.  And for 3 cups of rice, level 4 respectively]
Ingredients for Side Dishes – It is tradition to eat side dishes during the coarse of a Korean meal.  You can find a wild assortment of side dishes at a side-dish specialty shop or E-Mart or Lotte Mart.  What you choose to put in your side dishes is up to you, so have fun and try new things.  But if you would like some ideas, I can offer you some suggestions.

List of common side-dishes (in Korean and English)
깍두기     …..     sliced radish kimchi
맛김치     …..     tasty kimchi
깻잎     …..     sesame leaf
파김치     …..     onion kimchi
총각김치     …..     baby radish kimchi
양념 게장     …..     seasoned raw crab
콩나물 무침     …..     bean sprouts seasoned with vinegar
양념 구이     …..     seasoned roasted fish
연근 조림     …..     boiled lotus root in soy sauce
버섯 들깨 볶음     …..     sauteed mushrooms in parilla seeds

The sign on the left reads, "side dish"

The sign on the left reads, 반찬, “Ban Chan”, which means “side dish” in the Korean language.

Shops that specialize in side-dishes are also good places to find different varieties of kimchi.

Shops that specialize in side-dishes.

. . . . .

Locating and Finding a Wholesale Kitchenware Store

그릇도매” is how “wholesale kitchenware store” reads in the Korean language.  It is pronounced, “Guh-rut-do-may”.  If you cannot locate one of these stores in your neighborhood, I suggest writing “그릇도매” onto a piece of paper so that you can show it to a Korean person when you venturing out.  If you are unable to copy the Korean by hand, copy “그릇도매” using a computer and print it out at a local PC Bang(computer room).  If there aren’t any wholesale kitchenware stores near you, go to an E-Mart or Lotte Mart.

Wholesale Kitchenware Store

Wholesale Kitchenware Store

Wholesale Kitchenware Store 

[If you want to practice speaking Korean, remember the phrase, “Oh-Dee-Yay-Yo?”  It means, “where is it?”  When using this phrase, say the place you want to go first or what you are looking for, followed by “Oh-Dee-Yay-Yo?” ]

. . . . .

Shopping for Ingredients

The open air market is a wonderful place to get authentic Korean ingredients.  Locate one in your area and go there often. 

An open-air market

An Open-air Market

Kimchi:  when shopping for kimchi, little shops that specialize in Korean side-dishes are perfect.  You could go to the local E-mart to get kimchi, but the best quality is found in the small shops.  Plus, these shops usually have a large variety of kimchi to select from.  However, when making “kimchi jjigae”, its best to use kimchi that has a strong pungent vinegar taste.  This enhances the flavor.  Just let the shop owner know that you are making “kimchi jjigae” and he will be able to direct you.

A bottle of Kimchi

A bottle of Kimchi.

Lettuce Kimchi

Pork:  if you can find an open-air market when shopping for meat, great!  But, there are also plenty of butcher shops as well.  Either lean pork or fatty will work for the dish, it just depends on your preference.  I like fatty cuts of meat, because fat always holds more flavor.  Simply put the pork in a bowl and mix it with half a cup of oil and gently massage the meat.

Fatty pork

Fatty Pork

White rice cakeThere are shops that specialize in making “Ddeok”().  “Ddeok” is Korean for “rice cake”.  These shops are the places where you will find all kind of varieties of rice cake.  Look for the signs that say, ““.  Ask for sliced ddeok, but if you cannot find sliced ddeok, you can always cut it yourself.  Make sure that the ddeok is white.
When Korean Thanksgiving comes around you will find lots of ddeok in the area.  Korean Thanksgiving is called “Chu-sock”(추석).

A shop that sells "ddeok" 떡

White rice cake, "ddeok" 떡

“Ddeok” 떡 (White Rice Cake)

Thick Green Onion/ Garlic/ Ginger/ Jalapeno Pepper / Chili powderThe following items can be found in an open-air produce market.  If you are in Korea during the spring or summer time, finding an open-air market should be easy, but in the winter time, its more difficutl.  But if you are determined enough, you can find oneWhen purchasing these items, always examine them beforehand to determine its freshness. 

Green onions

Chili Powder

Sesame Seed OilSesame seed oil can come in a small bottle or a large metal can.  If you find a large can, it will have a plastic lid on top and writing on the side that says, “참기름”(Cham-gi-rum.)  You can find sesame seed oil in a grocery store.  Look for an E-Mart, Grand Mart, or a Lotte Mart in your area.Meat BrothYou can easily find a can of meat broth at a local grocer or E-Mart, etc.

. . . . .


KimchiWith scissors, cut the kimchi into coarse 2 inch pieces.

Coarsely chop the pork into 1-2 inch pieces, then put in into a bowl.  To make the pork more tender and flavorful, mix it with a small amount of oil.  Then work the oil into the pork by hand.

Fatty Pork (chopped)

Fatty Pork (chopped)

White rice cake:  Lightly rinse the cake in running water.  If the cake is especially hard, soak in lukewarm water until it becomes soft.

White rice cake, "ddeok" 떡

Ddeok” 떡

Green onionRinse in running water.  Cut the stalks in half, then coarsely cut the stalks into 4-5cm pieces.  After this, tear each piece into shreds, evenly from top to bottom.

Jalapeno Pepper:  Rinse in water, cut in slices and use discretion when adding.

Chili PowderChop the garlic and ginger until minced.  Then mix the minced garlic and ginger into the chili powder until it becomes like a paste.

First mince the ginger...

First mince the ginger…

...then the garlic.

…then the garlic.

Now you are ready to mix all three together.

Now you are ready to mix all three together.

...then mix the ginger, garlic and chili powder by hand.

…mix the ginger, garlic and chili powder by hand.

...add a little water until the mixture becomes like a paste.

…add a little water until the mixture becomes like a paste.

Now you have red pepper paste.

. . . . .

Setting the Table

Find a suitable place on your floor to put your table, and set the gas range in the middle of the table and put the Dook-Bae-gi on top of the gas range.  Set your medium sized bowl in front of you and place the chopsticks and spoon to the right of your bowl.  Put the side dishes to the left and right on the table where you can pick from them while you are eating.  Place the Korean floor pillow in the place where you would like to sit.

. . . . .


Begin by placing the chopped kimchi into the pot, followed by the spicy pepper paste.  After this put in the pork, coarsely chopped onions, minced garlic, sesame seed oil and the MSG[optional].  After this, pour in the meat broth until the pot is almost full- about an inch from the top.  Every ingredient except the white rice cake.  We will save that for last.
Next, bring the stew to a rolling boil.  Then decrease gradually until the roll of the boil is slight.  Let this continue until the kimchi has become soft and tender.  So every once in a while check the kimchi.  (It should take the stew around 30 – 45 minutes to cook.)  Once the kimchi has tenderized, turn the burner down to low and add rice cake.  Let cook for another 10 – 15 minutes.  Once the rice cake has softened its ready to eat.
Take your soup ladle, dip it into the pot of freshly cooked Kimchi Jjigae and pour yourself a nice steaming bowl!  And pat yourself on the back for a job well done!

. . . . .

In Korea it is tradition to say, “잘 먹겠습니다” before digging in.  This phrase is pronounced, “chal mo-ggess-sum-ni-da” and means, “I will eat well.”

And when you have finished eating, you close by saying, “잘 먹었습니다.”  This phrase is pronounced, “chal mo-goss-sum-ni-da” and means, “I ate well.”

Adapted from:괜찮은 찌개 다 들어 있어요! ed. 주부생활

Jumping into an ice cold pool…

The first thing I remember was the doorbell ringing.  My supervisor was here and it was Sunday morning.  I received a wonderful invitation to attend her church.  Like opening the refrigerator door we set off into the frigid air outside.  A thick fog blanketed the ground.  Rubbing my eyes, I followed this excited woman and her husband down a sidewalk lined with trees and little shops.  The surroundings were beautiful and the air screamed of freshness.  I remember the blinding sunlight playing hide and seek through charcoal trees.

We got to the church and there was an English service for foreigners.  The pastor was a missionary from Nepal.  He couldn’t really speak Korean either, but his English was perfect.  The service was so much fun.  Koreans have a childlike innocence about them and I could see it in the songs they sang.  There were three Koreans leading worship and they had choreographed dances for each song.  It was a lot of fun.

After the service, everyone in the entire church met for lunch.  The church was 5 stories tall and everyone met on the 4th floor.  We had Kimchee, rice and a hot soup.  It was getting cold in Korea and the soup hit the spot.  I met a few faces and joined them downstairs for coffee and cinnamon tea.  The amazing thing about Korean church is that it goes on all day.  There is an early service that starts around 5am and then several more services spread out throughout the day.  Attendance is optional, but most of the members are there all day.  In addition to this, there is an early morning prayer service at 5:30am every morning Monday through Saturday.  I was amazed to find out that the ministers in the church attend the 5am prayer service 7 days a week!  When do they ever sleep?  And yet, they never seemed exhausted, but always healthy and happy.  The 5am service is called Sae-byok-ki-do (새벽기도) which means, “dawn prayer”.

While visiting with new faces and unfamiliar accents, we shared a cup of cinnamon tea called Su-jong-gwa (수정과) near a warm gas heater.  The best cinnamon tea ever!  They drink this hot tea during the wintertime keep warm.  The ingredients include: dried persimmons, cinnamon, brown sugar and ginger.  It really opens up the nasal cavities.  And it can also be served cold as well in the summertime.  One of my favorite teas.  I even learned how to make it in my apartment.  It took a couple of times to get it right, but I am now a brew-master.

After the service I did a little exploration.  Down the street from my apartment, in the opposite direction, there was a big building called E-Mart.  This E-mart could be the equivalent to a Wal-mart in America.  The building was about 6 stories tall and several blocks long.  The first floor was a department store and the remaining stories above were a parking garage. Upon entering, you could find your way to escalators in the back going down further.  The second basement floor had sporting goods, electronics and goods for the home.  The third floor basement was where all the food was located.  It was down here that I could find fruit and canned tuna and bottled water, etc.  On Sundays, just like America, there are grocery clerks everywhere handing out free samples of food.  A little pinch of squid here and some interesting spicy vegetable dipped in a sauce over there.  And the milk was so good!  There was even a bakery where you could find bread balls stuffed with sweet cream.  I made myself sick eating too many!  There was an isle for dried ramen noodles of all kinds.

I couldn’t believe I was in another country and that I would living here for a year!