Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chicken Drippins'

This lady sells fresh-cooked rotisserie chicken from the back of her bongo truck. This photo serves as proof of hygienic cooking practices: raw chicken at the bottom, lightly cooked in the center, and crispy-cooked at the top. My friend said she would not buy that chicken unless she knew the cooking order. Well, here is her proof. Now she can give it a try! 12,000W for two birds ($6 each).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

On the way to the tanning bed...

Every weekend I walk to the Green Turtle Salon to tan. I enjoy the walk, mainly because of the people watching. Here are a few of the food-related sites I see every time. (Note: I'm only tanning for an upcoming vacation to Hawaii!)

The non-touristy Itaewon sign. (All the tourists take photos of the Itaewon arch.)
Vendors prepare everything from iced coffee to hot tea from these carts. The vendor often sets up shop in the middle of the crowded sidewalk. The drinks are served in small paper cups. I'm not sure of the cost or sanitation of these products.
The vendors are always eating something. Usually an ajumma from a nearby restaurant will deliver food trays to the street-side vendors. This guy is always selling produce a few blocks from Starbucks. Everything always looks so colorful and fresh.
How does this ajumma balance the food trays on her head? Sometimes I see this woman crossing the busy street or making her way through the weekend crowds - - without using her hands! I love how she wears her kitchen apron out on the street, a definite no-no according to American food sanitation rules.
Trash piles are ubiquitous, while garbage cans are not. Phew...I've finally made it to my destination! This intersection is the busiest in Itaewon; I call it the "hub." Over the years, American eateries have taken over this building. However, don't be misled: though American by name, the atmosphere and the foods are distinctly Korean (more on that topic later).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Korean Popcorn

Every month my friend and I walk to Korea Telecom to pay our bills. I always buy a sack of popcorn on our way back to work. If this popcorn were sold in the U.S., I would be a popcorn fiend. The popped corn is large and gently sweet, with no added oils. I didn't know that a natural popcorn could be so flavorful. I find it hard to believe that popcorn can naturally taste so sweet, but it does. Everyone who translates the label tells me popcorn is the only ingredient.
Convenience stores and street vendors usually sell the popcorn pre-packaged. You can find bags the size of large pillowcases for sale.
At first I thought that the vendors popped the corn themselves. Now I'm not sure since all the popcorn packaging looks the same.
The twist tie is the only safety precaution. In the U.S. one would not find popcorn packaged in this way. It would only be a matter of time before someone dumped staples or poison into one of the bags!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Food Pyramid at the Fair

On Saturday I took my food pyramid gear to the Boys & Girls Club Community Fair. My station was in "Totland," an area with little kids' games. Though I have limited resources (including a lack of creativity) I came up with a simple game. The kid would blindly choose a food model from a bag. He then would tell me the name of the food and its place in the food guide pyramid. Then he would win a prize - a toothbrush, water bottle, stickers, or 5-a-day food tracker magnet.
I had no idea if the game was age appropriate. Some of the kids could answer quickly and easily. Other kids had to be prodded and pushed by their parents. One Caucasian kid could not identify a pancake. He said 'bread.' It turned out he was not allowed to eat junk food like pancakes at home!
An ajumma stopped by and attempted to take five boothbrushes. The nerve - she did not even play the game!
I wasn't sure if I approved of the juice boxes (corn syrup) and fruit chews (corn syrup) and candy given as freebies at the adjacent table. Other food options included hot dogs, popcorn, and soda. It's time to start adding healthier choices to these events. If childhood overweight and inactivity is such a concern, then changes need to be made at all levels.
Fortunately, a thunderstorm rolled in, and I was able to pack and leave an hour early!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The sweet smell of freshly baked Delimanjoo cakes tempts me every time I transfer Metro trains at Samgakchi Station. Usually, the smell alone satisfies me, but sometimes I buy a small sack of the custard-filled mini cakes. I'm disappointed when the vendor hands me a pre-made sack; the best cakes are fresh off the griddle. That way the outside is crisp while the inside is hot and tender. The cakes aren't too sweet, and they're never greasy. One sack has about 320 calories according to the bag.
A small bag contains about 12-15 cakes (about 100 grams) and costs $2. You can only buy them at bus stations or subways, places that usually quell my appetite. Sometimes if you stand next to the griddle and look confused, the vendor will give you a free sample.
My mom enjoyed this treat but liked hotteok best. As for me, I like them all in moderation!

Monday, September 15, 2008

MY Bibimbap

Bibimbap is one of Korea's most popular and well known dishes. The deep bowl a medley of vegetables, chili pepper paste (gochuchang), and a fried egg. Add rice, mix the contents thoroughly, a voila, dinner is served. My mom and aunt ate the "bee bop," as they called it, every time we went out for dinner. Each time the server tried to grab our spoons and mix it for us. I guess we looked like clueless tourists. (I've been here 18 months, thank you!) The variations are limitless: runny yolks vs. cooked yolks; tofu, beef, or neither; hot pot (dolsot) or cold; types of vegetables (generally spinach, bracken, sprouts, bellflower root, mushrooms, or seaweed). We even tried a bibimbap with barley and cornmeal instead of white rice.
My dream bibimbap would contain brown rice, non-fried egg whites, ketchup, and veggies such as zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, and spinach. The final touch would be a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. In fact, some California restaurants are already serving my dream bibimbap!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hotteok at Namdaemun Market

We spent a few hours purse-hunting at Namdaemun Market. For a snack, we tried the Korean street food, hotteok, for a mere fifty cents. The Chinese brought this sweet-filled, fried dough to Korea in the 19th century. Suprisingly, wheat, not rice, flour is the main ingredient. The filling typically consists of brown sugar and nuts. It tends be greasy, though some merchants sell a healthier, baked variety. The vendor folds the hotteok in half and serves it in a small paper cup. It usually takes 10 minutes for it to cool enough to eat. (I always grow impatient and burn my fingers.)
My friend purchased a hotteok baking mix. I am looking forward to a hotteok-making party!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Tea House at Insa-dong

After touring Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces, we wanted to rest our feet. I took my mom and aunt to a tea house in Insa-dong, where we tried hwachae instead of Korean tea. Hwachae, or traditional cold beverages, are made with fruit or grains and water sweetened with sugar or omija (more on that fruit in a future post).
Here is mi-sook-gar-u (as spelled on the menu), a hearty drink of several grains. The consistency resembles that of a yogurt smoothie, but the taste is all grain.
Shik-he, made with rice, crushed ice, and lots of sugar, was my mom's choice. It was very refreshing after a long day outdoors! Vendors also sell this drink on the street. A canned version is also available. Don't let the rice fool you, though: this drink is as healthy as soda. One serving contains more sugar than a regular Coke!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Seoul Food Festival: Namsan Tower & Namsangol Hanok Village

"Slow food" is the opposite of fast food. No, it's not food served very slowly. Actually, it's healthy food served quickly. Great idea, but perhaps a different term should be used. "Slow food" brings back negative memories of frustration and hunger when receiving slow meal service!
The Seoul Food Festival included free food samples at various places around Seoul. We watched ajummas prepare bulgogi at Seoul Tower, which featured popular modern foods. We sampled tteok (rice cake) and soup at Namsangol Hanok Village, which served peasant fare.
When Sandy bought some water, a Korean lady handed her a paper cup of cold, sweet mi-sook-kar-u. (I'll do a post on this drink soon.) The woman had noticed we were foreign and bought Sandy the drink to be nice! She asked where we were from and introduced her husband. It's not the first time that Koreans have given Sandy free food or drink. We're still trying to figure out why she always gets the freebies.
A professional photographer asked to take our photo with the rice cakes. Often time event brochures and websites include photos of foriegners. Maybe we'll be pictured on next year's website!