Friday, August 31, 2007

Holy Chicken

After a busy but productive morning at the factory, CH and I decided to try a new Sundubu Soup shop that was recommened to me recently by JI. This dish is a spicy stew made with something which has been translated for me as "unformed tofu". That is, the tofu had not yet been pressed into the blocks as we commonly see, but instead it is a very loose mass, almost like pudding in texture. This dish is one of my favorites, and I was really surprised at this restaurant. Usually, this dish will simply be on the menu. But at this place, there were probably a dozen or so varieties to choose from! I had the mandu (dumplings) version, and CH had nakji (octopus). Here is a photo of mine, stolen from the restaurant's website:

This stew customarily comes boiling hot with a raw egg that has just been cracked into the bowl. Usually when I order it, I ask for TWO eggs in my bowl. That is one taste combination that I was surprised to discover here in Korea - eggs go really well with spicy foods. I wouldn't have thought so, but they really go well together. Anyway, at this restaurant, they have the eggs in a basket at your table. I didn't have to ask for two eggs, I just cracked two in myself.

EDIT: I almost forgot - this place had the Jangnanjeot (Salted Pollack Guts) featured in a previous post. Just to proove how tough I am, of course I had to try some. Surprisingly, it tasted just fine. Not at all what I imagined fish guts would taste like. I couldn't even tell it was fish. I only had a couple bites however, because this place prepared it really spicy. I've eaten spicier foods before, but this dish made my mouth burn. Since there were so many other better side dishes, not to mention the stew itself, I gave up on the salted pollack guts after my taste test. Naturally, this place will be one of the first restaurants I take The Stumbling Parents in October...

Speaking of the website, this place was introduced to me as a restuarant chain that began in Korea Town of Los Angeles, and has spread to Korea. JI and CH referred to it as "LA Sundubu". I found that company easily on the internet, it is called the BCD Tofu House. The letters "BCD" are initials for an area in Seoul for which the place is named. On their website, they indeed show some locations in Seoul, but not the place I visited. After further research I learned that the place where I ate was called BSD Dubu House (dubu is the Korean word for tofu). One fellow out there in cyberspace also made this observation, and commented that he wasn't sure if there was a business relationship between BCD and BSD Tofu Houses, or if BSD simply made up a similar name to fool the customers. In any event, this BSD chain is MUCH larger here in Seoul, and has a branch just 10 minutes walk from my place. I will be back.

In the same building as BSD Dubu House, there is a chicken restaurant I have seen before, whose name had me laughing in stitches. I snapped a photo of it with my cell phone. I'll have to actually eat there one day, to see if it lives up to the name.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Running On

I decided to sell my Health Club membership, and buy a running machine (that's Konglish for treadmill). After shopping around, I found a good one at a good price. I was surprised to learn that I couldn't buy the very cheapest treadmill because of my weight! There's just another reason for me to lose weight, exercise equipment will be cheaper! Well, it was delivered yesterday afternoon. It sure looks a lot bigger inside the apartment than it does in the store! It is a little bit overwhelming, as you can see:

Here you can see the view from my sofa, complete with a view of my toes! It really does grab your attention, being so large. I think I'll manage, however.

I used it last night, and it was very smooth. One issue I learned about from some Koreans, after I had purchased it, was the concern about the sound. Aparently it is very common in Korea to have disputes over the sound of exercise equipment located on the floor above your home. I communicated this the best I could to the shop, and as a result he doubled the thickness of this cushioning mat from 1cm to 2cm. During my first go on the machine last night, the motor sure sounded very quiet and smooth. Actually, I think the sound of my feet hitting the track made more noise than the actual machine.

Also, CH has wisely suggested that I limit my use of the machine from between say 9am and 9 or 10pm at night. That seems reasonable, and it is unlikely I would be inclinced to exercise outside those hours anyway.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Korean Breakfast

I've decided to go on a JJIGAE craze these days. These soups are reportedly some of the most healthy Korean dishes, and I really enjoy them. I worry that I've been too lazy about my cooking these days, and eating too many unhealthy foods. Pizza, sandwiches, hot dogs, etc. So, my plan is to only eat JJIGAE soups from now on. Here is a typical breakfast with Tuna-Kimchi Jjigae, rice and a fried egg.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Peachy Keen

I received a small bag of peaches as a gift the other day, and decided I should eat them while they are fresh. They really were sweet and delicious, and despite the skin looking a little whiter than those from the USA. I decided to try an experiment with the blender, despite the failure with the watermelon a few weeks ago. I know that I like peaches and ice cream, so it wasn't a big step to put some of each in the blender and see what happened. The result was delicious. No photo - I was too quick to start drinking it. If i do this again with the remaining peaches, I'll put up a photo. But it's REALLY simple to make. Even YS#4 could do it, as long as she didn't cut her finger peeling the peaches or forget to put the lid on the blender. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Corean Comet

At the store last time, I tried to ask for scouring powder, like Comet. Talk about a challenging item to ask for in Konglish and body language! I was finally sold this product.

With the clear reference to baking soda, I assumed this was a cleaning product that included baking soda as an indgredient. And furthermore, it was sold in the cleaning product section, not the cooking section. But I finally tried to use it tonight, and it appears to be plain baking soda. Is that common to use for cleaning sinks?

I have a vague memory of cleaning my tuba in High School with baking soda. But I don't ever remember using it to clean the kitchen sink. I thought I could get somewhere with the Korean on the label, but actually it is just the western phrase "Natural Shaker".

I am not the best judge of cleanliness, but the sink sure seems cleaner after scrubbing with baking soda. Although probably just scrubbing it with soap would have done a good job too.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Fish Guts

Not quite the "rolly polly fish heads" (see note below) that Young Stumblers #2 and #4 used to sing about, but close. Mamma Stumbler has been reviewing various Korean foods in preparation for her visit. A couple of days ago she sent me the name of a dish that she will never ever eat. I asked around to my Korean friends, and everyone knew it but couldn't explain it to me. Finally Mamma Stumbler explained in another email. "Salted Pollack Intestines". Yummm. I did a search on the internet for salted pollack guts or intestines, and got some interesting sites. Here is the best description:

Jangnanjeot (Salted Pollack Guts)

Pollack entrails are cleaned and pressed in a cloth under a heavy weight overnight before being salted for another twenty hours. The salted guts mixed with garlic, ginger, and red pepper powder are put in a jar and allowed to stand for about two weeks. The dish is finished by the addition of salted raddish and more garlic and red pepper powder. It needs to stand for three or four days before serving.

I found a photo of this dish by searching on a Korean site...

I am not sure if I've eaten this before or not. If I have, I certainly have not known what it was. A lot of the side dishes that are served at a restaurant are not easy to translate into English. Usually I must be satisfied knowing only "is this a plant or an animal?" Now that I know what to look for, I'll be on the alert next time I go out. And while Mamma Stumbler can't eat this, I am CERTAIN that Mr. John, should he ever visit Korea again, can gobble this stuff up.

Fish Heads Note:

Here is the poetic chorus from the aforementioned song:

Fish heads, Fish heads
Rolly polly Fish heads
Fish heads, Fish heads
Eat them up, Yummm

Those of you not familiar with this lyrical masterpiece should search for the full lyrics on the internet. And yes, there are soups here in Korea and I think Japan also that have the fish head inside. I've eaten them, the soups that is, I politely set the head aside and only ate the body.

Coin Washer

No no, not a coin operated waching machine. My waching machine gives me coins! After almost every load of wash, when I open the door, there is a very clean coin sitting on the edge of the opening. Here you see a 500 won coin, about 50 cents. I've often joked with CH that my washing machine pays for its own operating expenses by this method.


How is it that I had to come to Korea to learn about the Italian bread Ciabatta? I mentioned before that at Trevor's bar they serve a sandwich using this bread, and I learned that he buys it at the local Costco. So, last trip to Costco I bought myself some of these sandwich buns. They are really great for sandwiches, and I also used them for hamburger buns too. Don't know if they're available at the Costco store in the USA or not. I also got a package of three different kinds of sandwich meats, only one of which I can identify (the salami).

I was also able to track down tortillas. I asked at the Paris Baguette bakery a couple weeks ago, since one of the items they serve is made with a tortilla. After a lot of confusion, the owner finally realized my question and told me that I could buy them at the nearby Homever store. I had to postpone a Homever trip for over a week, because they workers were on strike. Finally after they re-opened, I wound my way through about 50 policemen stationed outside to shop.

Of course, it seemed to me the most logical person to ask was the baker. I asked a helper at the store bakery, and he had no idea what a tortilla was. A store manager then helped me, and using his radio, and a few stops at the wrong ailses, we finally found them.

This is the second time I have had difficulty with the bakery staff at this store. The first time was when I asked for Hamburger Buns. The clerk assured me that they didn't sell them, when at the last minute one of the senior bakers overheard the discussion and immediately came to help me. He assured me that the DID sell hamburger buns, and took me straight to them. I can understand a Korean not knowing about tortillas, but surely they all know what a hamburger bun is... strange.

A couple of weeks ago, when I went to dinner with JI and his English Academy friends, I came home on the subway. That subway trip was unusual, because I met two English speaking Koreans. First, while I was waiting at the station, I heard a fellow speaking perfect English on his phone. When he hung up, I went to him and asked how he learned to speak English so well. Turns out he was a Korean, but grew up in New York! He was a lawyer and this was his first trip back to Korea, working for clients on FTA-related matters. We had a nice but short conversation, as he only took two stops before arriving at his station. Just moments after he left the train, another Korean man came up to me and started a conversation in English. This man, MHG, had lived in San Francisco for a couple of years. He is now living in Korea, but his family still lives in SF while the children attend American school. This situation is so common in Korea, they have a name for this ... "Wild Geese" fathers. It turns out that he got off the train at the same station, and then I discovered he lives in an apartment building just a block away from me. We exchanged business cards.

Last night, I was watching "Ocean's Eleven" which I rented from the DVD shop. I want to see again Ocean's 11 and 12, before I watch the new one Ocean's 13. In the middle of the movie, I get a call from MHG asking if I would like to meet him for a couple of beers. I agreed, and we went to a place nearby that has live singers. I should say HAD live singers. The shop was closed! We ended up in an extremely small bar just across the street from my apartment. We had a very nice time, mostly speaking in English, but I got to practice my Korean a few times. Also, sometimes he and the owner would speak in Korean, and I was impressed that I am able to understand more and more of Korean conversations these days. I was surprised how much MHG knew about American history. I think this must be a particular area of interest for him. I had a pleasant time, and it was a welcome 1-1/2 hour break from my movie.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Connection? NOT!

Edit: It quit working again after a few hours. Tech Support is "still working on the problem". If only it would at least work during good calling hours....

I'm not jumping for joy just yet, but again this afternoon the phone suddenly connected. So far it's been steady, but if it holds on until tomorrow I'll consider it solved. Usually I get full signal strength, but in this photo I am in another room separated by concrete walls from the router. I'm crossing my fingers that the problem is resolved for good...


When The Stumbling girls were visiting last, YS#4 needed an Pencil Sharpener to do her school work. We went to the nearby office supply store and got one for something like 30 cents. I needed one myself this week, so I stopped at that store again yesterday. My first shock was the interior - I thought I had walked into the wrong place. Before, this store was two stories tall, but yesterday it was one huge room. I'm not quite sure what they did - the ceiling looks too short to have previously been the upstairs. It was quite disorienting. Anyway, the clerk pointed us to the sharpeners, and CH got there first. He asked me, "do you want a bear or dog?" While the sharpener that YS#4 got wasn't exactly adult styled, it was a simple and plain shape. The only ones he had yesterday were clearly for children, and I mean young children. Not to be deterred, since many people tell me that I am still a child, I proceeded to chose my style sharpener. I passed on the bear and dog, and setted instead on a car. If it is going to look like a toy, I want it to function as a toy, too.

Phone Phun

Mother Stumbler sent me an email last week, showing me the announcement that T-Mobile was introducing a new service to permit phone calls over wi-fi hot spots. This is of particular interest to me here in Korea, since I spend a lot of time on the phone to the USA. It turns out with this plan, a wi-fi phone here in my apartment will function just as if it is in America, giving me unlimited outgoing and incoming calls to/from American numbers for only $10/month. That is quite a deal.

Coicidentally, it was time to add a phone line to my T-Mobile family plan for YS#3, so I took advantage of this opportunity to mix things up and added this wi-fi calling plan. After some complicated logistics involving shipping of cell phones back and forth across the Pacific Ocean, I ended up with the Nokia wi-fi cell phone and a new wireless router here in Seoul, and YS#3 ended up with a formerly top-of-the-line Samsung slider phone.

I have waited to make this post, hoping to have a positive report. Alas, my experience has been quite frustrating. On Monday, the first time I tried to use the phone, it would not connect. I spent awhile with tech support, and they gave me a few things to check out. Meanwhile, in the afternoon I discovered that the phone was connected! Unfortunately, it was 1:30am in America, so I couldn't go on a calling spree. Instead, I checked my voice mail and sent myself a text message from the computer, both of which were successful. That evening, when the time was better for calling, I discovered that the phone was disconnected again and would not re-connect. It has not connected again since. I've spent quite some time on the phone with tech support, and my problem has been sent to a "level 3 engineering team" (!!!) to resolve. They are telling me that the problem is in their network, and is not my equipment or setup, so I guess that's reassuring. I don't want to think how I would get a phone repaired that is from a Finland company, made in Hungary, sold in the USA, and is being used in Korea.

I do realize this is a brand new service, and I'm using it in an unusual manner (although one that was promoted in the newspaper articles). On the positive side, there are several reports of people having successfully used this setup from overseas. At least two I've read about have been from China and Costa Rica. I hope to have it up and running soon.... real soon now....