Monday, August 30, 2010

Foreign Rice Hunting and Tasting Taco Bell in Korea

Being a fish out of water I long for certain foods that I can use to make familiar and tasty meals at home. For example, I have been on the hunt for long-grain rice. Sure Korea has their hands full in all kinds of rice. I get to sample most of it at work when I eat the school lunches.

Varieties of Korean Rice Mixtures:
"Purple Rice" (흑미) (Name associations contributed from JH)

"Beany rice" (잡곡밥)

It is great that you don't get the same plop of white rice at every meal and that they mix the rice with beans and other grains. They also enjoy brown rice but I have never been served this at school. I did buy a bag of brown rice for home, but noticed it takes a long time to cook and has a different texture from the brown rice I am familiar with back in the States. 

Speaking of rice it is a staple of Korea and mostly all Asian countries. They consider it as part of the main meal and not a side dish. I told JH how in the west we consider rice to be just a side dish and usually meat or veggies becomes the main part of the dish. He scoffed at this.
Rice varieties:
Korean rice is centered on the short grain type. Back home I am use to eating the long grain types and really enjoy basmati rice.

Therefore I set out to the foreign food markets of Hannam and Itaewon in search of some long grain rices. What I found were a few surprises.

Hannam Foreign Food Supermarket:

It has been over a year since I last spent time down there and didn't know what to expect. Turns out there have been some changes. The back "supermarket" style side of the shop has been converted into a cafe. And the merchandise was moved to the front. Definitely the feel has been condensed and the amount of products drastically reduced. Maybe this is why it is called, "Hannam Dandy's Supermarket." hmmm
I am not sure what is going on with that cafe, since it wasn't open and the arrangement seems kind of strange. 

I did manage to find a very large bag of Thailand long-grain Jasmine rice. But it cost 50,000 Won! I wasn't quite ready to shell out that much for rice. 

I browsed around the rest of the shop and found a box of couscous for the reasonable price of 8,000 won. Afterwards we headed to Itaewon to see what the Foreign Food Market near the old What The Buck store (it moved) had for sale.

Foreign Food Market (Itaewon):
Just as the Hannam market reduced its space and stock it seems the Foreign Food Market in Itaewon expanded their stock. There was now an additional section inside for Thai and Vietnamese ingredients and items. 

The rice selection was a heck of a lot better, offering varieties of long-grain rice such as basmati and Thai. Yet the prices were in the same range. A large sack of Thai rice cost another 50,000 Won. However, they had smaller kilo bags in the back corner for much less. You could pick up a smaller sack for 10,000 - 15,000 Won. I chose both Thai and basmati to check out which ones I would like most.

I figured that after I come back to Korea to start a new job in March I will go out and buy the 50,000 Won sack, which will be better than buying the mini-sacks. Who knows, maybe I can even share it with friends.

Taste of Taco Bell in Korea:
It's old news now but Taco Bell opened up in Itaewon several months ago and at first there were lines out the door, but now things have calmed down. 

The thing is out of all the choices you have in Itaewon making Taco Bell one of them is probably not really worth it. There are great Indian, Turkish and modern cuisine restaurants to find. However, I would say that visiting the Taco Bell just once would make your Itaewon trip well rounded. This is because it is fun to see Korean people trying a different kind of cuisine. 

I took JH there because I wanted him to get the experience and try out the taste. 
I ordered for JH, selecting the "Stuffed Chicken Burrito" for him and the "Fiesta Chicken Burrito" and "Taco Supreme" for myself. 
Turns out he didn't really like his burrito noting that he was not interested in the re-fried beans inside.
However, he liked my "Fiesta burrito" a lot better and so we made a swap. 

The overall taste was genuinely Taco Bell and the prices were good. Service was excellent too and there felt like no delays. I guess they have their act together now since opening. One thing I discovered is that if you want the hot sauces you need to ask for them when picking up your order, otherwise there is just ketchup packets to take. 

Unless I get an incredible craving for Taco Bell I don't find myself going there again. I still find Dos Tacos to be a lot tastier and fun to go to. What's your favorite Mexican inspired restaurant in Korea?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

International Artist Community Show: Domestic Bliss

Last Saturday I headed out to Insadong to catch an art show featuring a variety of foreign and Korean artists called "Domestic Bliss", put on by the International Art Community. We took the bus out there as a way to not stress about the traffic and parking.
JH enjoyed the bus ride by taking a nap and nodding off. I kept my eye on the view outside, and sometimes on the advertisement on the seat in front of me.
We arrived in Insadong hungry and so headed to a restaurant we haven't been to in a while. This place specializes in black tofu (흑두부). The restaurant was called "Oh Soo" or 오수 and was tucked in the back of an alley.
Very cozy feeling inside.
Below is the black tofu itself...being slightly cooked on a hot platter.
Above is one of my favorite sidedishes of 감자조림 or candied yams..with a spicy pepper taste to them. The other side dishes~
We also got a very satisfying serving of bulgolgi, which had a lovely hint of fresh ginger in it.

After our satisfying meal we headed over to the SK-Hub building to catch the opening part of the show.
At Anguk St., find the entrance to the SK-HUB bld., which is between Exit 5 and 6, where you find “Storyway, a convenience store, nearby. Walk up the stairs or the escalator to the stairs top, where you are at the B1 of the SK-HUB Bld., which is called “Art Center”. Inside, you see some galleries like Miz or Na. Passing through them southward, you can see an open-air garden outside.
A band was getting set up and people were already there checking out the art and sampling the food and wine. The vibe was certainly easy-going and fluid, which prevailed despite the intense humidity.

The art itself was a hodgepodge of different artists works based off of the theme "Domestic Bliss." This was a theme that was meant to relate towards the sense of home and our goal towards domesticity and all that. In this show you saw pictures of houses and other home-like interiors. But I have to say that there wasn't an overall cohesiveness to this show, and it did lack in sculptures and other mediums. However, it was still a good showing and brought out an interesting crowd of foreigners and Koreans alike.
I enjoyed this piece, by Hye Sook Jung,  due to its construction, materials and subtle composition.
After an hour of jazz by the artist 김찬준 C. J. Kim, we were treated to an ephemeral performance by Eric Scott Nelson. But before I get into that let me say that while I was at the show I ran into another blogger from The View From Over Here. She spotted me first and called me out to say hello. Certainly was great to meet someone from the interwebs and at an artsy event. I hope to run into her again sometime.

Eric's performance started without any real bells or whistles, he just got into it. He picked the open area between the galleries and started pouring rice from a water-sprinkling bucket. The rice was coming out in a light blue shade so at first you weren't exactly sure what it was.
With the rice he drew a house around him and then when that finished he poured the remaining contents over his head. To me this was evocative of the idea of the warm feelings home can give you. How sometimes even homesickness can drown a person out. But I did speak with Eric after the show and he told me his performance was more related to the classical story involving the "Sirens". Because after he built his "rice house" and poured the rice all over his head a woman came out in a hanbok and started pouring her own rice and singing in that kind of hallowed "siren" way that lured him out of his "rice house".
From there he followed her trail of a darker shade of blue rice, while she bellowed out a tune. Below you will see my video compilation of the event and you will be able to tell that these women are really talented in their singing.
Footprints left behind in his "rice house".
What transpires is that the first woman then builds him a house using her rice. He stands in it, but then another woman comes along and makes a new trail of rice. I interpreted this as how women lure a man into domestic life. What came next was particularly curious as Eric lied down and the woman then continued to pour the contents of her rice bucket on his face. A sight that I thought symbolized the end of life.
The crowd's reaction~
The remains after the performance:
Then some staff and volunteers cleaned up the rice.
After the performance and talking with Eric for a short while we headed back to catch the bus home. Although JH seemed somewhat discombobulated and out of sorts after experiencing the art show, I felt pretty good for coming out. I tried to tell him that he might not want to come since it is out of his element, but he insisted on coming. Afterwards, as we were walking down the low-lit back alleys of Insadong he said, "Ok, Joy you can go by yourself next time." ^ ~
**Check out my video of the event: **

Friday, August 27, 2010

Those Last Days of Vacation

The Fall semester will be starting next week but that doesn't mean I have forgotten about my two week vacation that I had three weeks ago. Before I set off to the land of kimchi and left behind my home, I did some final visiting with friends and family.
It is amazing how much can change in one person's life when you are away from them for a whole year. I visited my friend that I have had since high school and learned of some family troubles she was going through. But we made the best of our afternoon together, and I reassured her that I would be back in the winter to help out.
We visited a yogurt ice-cream place where you get to pour your own and put on your own toppings. This kind of place is catching on out there in the States.
Our next stop was a cozy used book store.

After our "goodbyes" I headed back home to take my dad and stepmom out for dinner. We went to a Thai inspired restaurant in town.
Before leaving home we went out for brunch at Ike's Cafe. This felt like tradition and the food was served up really good.

I had the cinnamon and walnut "flap jacks" with real maple syrup. It was gooooood. (That's a load of brown sugar and bananas on top.)

I left my dad's place around the afternoon of the next day and headed out to San Francisco. I checked in at my hotel, which was south of the city in the suburbs. I was on my own and did some last minute clothes shopping and sushi eating. 

The next day I checked out of the hotel and headed to a cute little downtown area where I had a bagel and orange juice. I walked around and found myself in an organic food store.
That was probably the highlight of my day before getting on a plane for a 11 hour flight. How I wish I could just walk into that place now. Ah well...maybe internet shopping?

My vacation, although short and fast, inspired me to keep myself happy and positive. Even when I feel like I am getting sucked into the drama and drone atmosphere at work I will try to push myself up and focus on what matters in life. Keeping the love and warm feelings I felt from my trip close to my heart and mind.
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