Pickle and Pizza?

Would you like some pickle and honey with your pizza?

That’s right. Last night’s dinner was quite interesting. We were suggested by the front desk to go to a restaurant called “Seoga and Cook” in Dongtan’s downtown. It was one of those modern, crisp and clean looking, American-ish restaurants. I ordered a Fanta Grape while K had some German beer. He also ordered some fries that came dusted with paprika, garlic powder and parmesan. The fries were served in different shapes. There was matchstick fries, regular fries and wedges. K had ordered Four Cheese Pizza and I went for a new dish called “Eggtata”. For some reason, K was doing an exaggerated Indian accent while saying the word “Eggtata” and it sounded so hilarious!

Eggtata - Frittata with pilaf

                            Eggtata – Frittata with pilaf

Eggtata is a skillet comprising of Frittata (kind of like a crustless egg quiche or a super duper fluffy omelet), some pilaf in the center (so the frittata beneath the pilaf gets pretty much flattened out like an omelet) and a fried egg on top drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It’s finished up like a regular frittata in the oven. I had a “kimchi pilaf eggtata” which had kimchi pilaf in the center. Kimchi pilaf tasted a lot like spicy fried rice made with pilaf rice. I was so not ready for this dish to be honest. Just the idea of all that eggy action for dinner seemed a bit much and I was not sure how a frittata would combine with kimchi to make one fabulous dish.

So when our main dishes arrived, the waitress walks up to us and offers us some pickle in a small cup. Pickled veggies for what? I assumed since I was eating my kimchi pilaf, they gave pickle to go with the Eggtata. I called the waitress using a handy device called the waiter button. Why does the rest of the world not have it? It is a small button that can be used to call the waitress. So you don’t have to raise your hand or repeat “excuse me” like a million times before you get the waitress’s attention. Just press the button and boom! there’s your waitress.

This is definitely one of the coolest gadgets I've come across in recent times

This is definitely one of the coolest gadgets I’ve come across in recent times

The waitress told me we had to eat the pickle with the pizza. Our jaws dropped on hearing that. We had never heard of this combination. I had read earlier that Korean pizzas can be quite different from the rest of the world. Sure enough, we did find some really surprising combinations on the menu last night. For example, there was one with sweet potato and blueberry. I could not fathom most of what I had seen in my imagination. But pickle with pizza was a whole other deal. When the waitress went back to her work, K point blank refused to try pickle with pizza. Being quite the explorer, I was curious and had a bite of the pizza with the pickle. It’s interesting…. It’s interesting but I don’t think I can do it again.

Pickle and Pizza?

Pickle and Pizza?

Then came my Eggtata. I was so weirded out to see so much eggy action going on. Fried egg on top of a dozen eggs? I was so skeptical. I cut up a chunk of eggtata and served it up on my plate. The first bite into it was …. deeelicious! You cannot look at eggtata in the same way as frittata. If you do, you would probably be skeptical as I was until that first bite when you change your mind and you go, now that’s something new and something truly amazing! It was super delicious. The eggs or the frittata part wasn’t flooded with italian herbs which is what I think made the frittata pair well with the kimchi pilaf. On the whole, I was satisfied. I obviously could not finish even 1/4th of what was served.

Tastes even better than it looks!

Tastes even better than it looks!

As K and I were almost getting done with dinner, I noticed a small cup of something that looked like oil. I called the waitress who told me Koreans usually dip pizza in some honey. Again, the jaw drop happened. I could not believe what I was hearing. Koreans have truly made pizza their own. It’s not the italian or the american italian style you would have eaten at so many places. It’s different and it’s quite the experience.

So my question is: Would you like some pickle and honey with your pizza?

Isn't that cute?

A blessing in disguise, korean earpicks and shopping

Last night K told me it was going to rain today and that I had to take precautions if I was going to venture out alone. I had planned to visit Myeong-dong (playing Cyndi Lauper’s “Oh Girls just want to have fu-uhn… Whoaaa Girls they wanna have fun.” over and over in my mind). Myeong-dong is an area in Seoul that sells clothes,accessories and all sorts of swanky Korean beauty products. Oh and their cute $1 socks.

I was worried in the back of my mind on traveling alone to Myeong-dong. If it was an English speaking country, these worries would never cross my mind. But to travel alone in a place where boards/signs are in another language, the people speak only their mother tongue and the public transportation system has a smartphone app that is all in Korean can be quite the challenge. All of this makes it essential to carefully plan and execute. And when K told me it was going to rain, I started to have second thoughts and decided to stay in half-heartedly.

We crossed the road to Starbucks this morning after finding out last night that they open everyday at 6:30 AM. I could not have been more thrilled about going to Starbucks for our morning breakfast. I had a bagel with cream cheese and K had a blueberry bagel with cream cheese. Both of us had tall lattes along with our bagels. As I was sipping into my coffee, the thought of not going was bothering me. And the game of “Should I should I not?” began. I think it was the coffee that gave me that push that I needed to say “rain or shine I’m going shopping!”.

Oh maps, what would I ever do without you?

Oh maps, what would I ever do without you?

We got back to our room. I packed essentials like my charger, passport, took some currency to buy bus tickets. I waved to K who was leaving as well and started my walk to the bus stop. I was waiting in line (Koreans wait in a single line at bus stops) for the M4108 bus to take me to Seoul (if you’re going to be staying in Dongtan, this would be the fastest option to get to Seoul besides a taxi). After a 10 min wait, a bus came along and before all of us could board the bus, the driver shut the door and took off. I saw the number 0 sign off in the front window and realized it was a count as to how many seats were vacant on that bus. After another 20 mins, another m4108 came along and so my day to Seoul began.

I boarded the bus and took my seat next to a young Korean guy about K’s age. The guy at the front desk had given me some really confusing directions on where to get off and since I wasn’t in the frame of mind to wait for some angel to come save me after I get off the bus, I decided to strike up a conversation with the decent young man next to me. And the conversation went as follows:

Me: “Hi there. So…um…” (I look at his puzzled face and pointed at my map to show that I’m going to Myeong-dong) “Kookmin Bank ye?”

Man (in a distinguishable American Asian accent): So where exactly do you want to go?

Me: Oh (dumbstruck and happy as hell) you speak English? (yay in my mind)

Man: smiles and responds “yes. I used to live in Phoenix Arizona. What about you? Where are you from?”

Me: I’m originally from India (like my face doesn’t say it all!) and I live in California… more specifically San Francisco.

Man: So is this your first time in Korea?

Me: Yes. You know… it’s hard to move around without knowing Korean here. I try to get as many directions as I can and still the unfamiliarity with the location gets me everytime.

Man: Ah.. yes. I remember the first time I went to NYC. Back then, I could barely speak English and I was lost in NY of all the places in the world!

Me: Oh that is so strange. Think of all the bulgogi places they have (bulgogi is a korean bbq dish) and it can still be difficult huh… So… I’m trying to go to Myeong-dong for some shopping. But I need to get to the tourist information office first before I proceed.

Man: May I have a look at your map, please?

Me: Sure (and waits for a helpful gesture)

Man: You need to get down a few stops before that one. I am getting down 2 stops before you need to get down. And when I get down, I can give you directions to go.

Me: Oh thank you so much (a little relieved and yet worried if I can follow the directions perfectly without getting lost)

I start to panic for no apparent reason and shot all sorts of questions at this man. “When would be the right time to press the stop button?” “So is this a fork I see here on the map?” “Which way should I go from here?” “Are you sure there are no other stops in between?” By this time, man lets out a sigh.

Man: You know what… I will walk you to the tourist information office.

I was stunned at this man’s offer to not just give me directions but to walk as far as my tourist office which was a few stops after his just to make sure I reached there without getting lost. I was obviously not going to inconvenience someone headed to work to go out of the way to help me.

M: Oh that’s alright. I am sure I can manage if you just told me how to go.

Man: Oh it’s no problem. My classes aren’t starting until after lunch. So I can take you to the tourist office.

Me: Umm. Thanks. Are you sure? I hope it’s not getting in the way of your schedule.

Man: Positive.

After that moment of panic settled down and when my stop came, the two of us disembarked the vehicle and started the walk to the tourist office. I came to know that he was a psychology professor at a university in Korea on our way to the tourist office. I thanked the professor for being a blessing in disguise when he walked me to my destination. He wished me a good rest of the trip and headed back to his stop.

From there, I went into the tourist office, chatted quickly with the woman behind the counter, got my maps and headed out the door. I crossed the road and saw a sign at a telecom shop that said that they provided 5G LTE connections. I was shocked beyond words to see the first sign of 5G and paused to click a picture there. Right beside the shop was a small alley. And a colorful board called out to me. A coffee shop. I decided to fuel up before continuing along the day trip.

What?! 5G??? I think I'm going to faint!

What?! 5G??? I think I’m going to faint!

Eye catching board that drew me in

Eye catching board that drew me in

I walked inside the quaint little cafe upstairs with a view of the streets below. I placed my order for a cappucino and headed to the restroom. Lo and behold, what I saw was a high tech toilet in a public restroom. I repeat, PUBLIC. Although I was mildly disappointed that it was all in Korean, I was happy on seeing a high tech toilet in a public restroom.

Don't you love some coffee art?

Don’t you love some coffee art?

Needs no caption

Needs no caption

After my cuppa, I started to walk the streets of Myeong-dong. So what you will see is a lot of American name brands and popular Korean brand stores lining up narrow streets to make up a cluster of shopping streets in the area of Myeong-dong. I found an extremely interesting Korean beauty tool – the Korean earpick. It’s a decorative little metal object that looks a lot like the spoon except the scoop is tiny enough to comfortably scrape out wax from your ears. I also shopped a few other things – socks, souvenirs, artwork after taking a good stroll around the shops.

Isn't that cute?

Ladies & Gentlemen, I present to you – the Korean earpick

These socks are the cutest!

These socks are the cutest!

By this time, I came to a 4-way intersection of narrow roads and decided to take a right turn as there were no more shops and I figured this might be the end of the shopping district. As I walked down the road, I saw many policemen standing in front of a building. And soon enough I was informed that it was a police academy that I was standing in front of after asking one of the policemen. I was unable to find this police academy on the map. I called out to the same policeman to help me find the way. He said “left. straight”. I said “thanks” and started my walk. I did the left turn and then went straight on when I came to a popular intersection where I made a right turn. Once I did, I was able to confirm that this street came up in one of the pictures I had seen online when I was reading up about Myeong-dong.

After spending a few mins strolling the last and final street of Myeong-dong, I pondered on what to do for lunch. So another quick stop back at the tourist office told me that Insadong was close. I started my walk and a few minutes into it, I came to a road that had medians. I looked behind me and found an entrance to the subway. I decided to go down and get out the other way. What I was expecting to find was a dingy subway with drunken men and a few talented unheard of musicians making their living. Instead I saw a whole shopping world underground. The subway was filled with tons of little shops with goodies like cellphone accesories, cosmetics, handbags, coffee shops and what not.

It was more like a subway shopping mall

It was more like a subway shopping mall

And just like that, I got out the other way much like the way wizards apparate and made my way straight down the road like the woman at the counter had instructed me to. The walk was very interesting. I saw farmers markets, a tv reporter reporting something, the Cheonggyecheon stream and Gwanghwamun square (statues of Admiral Yi Sin Sin and King Sejong). The walk seemed to take forever. And I was starting to see buildings that weren’t even on the map. I came across an art museum, the national museum of history and then the police museum. It was at that point that I felt like something was wrong. I then looked closely at the map only to realise that while I was so entranced by the subway, I had ended up at the totally wrong exit and came out at another place past Jeong-dong – a place that was never meant to be in today’s agenda.

Cheonggyecheon Stream

Cheonggyecheon Stream

Farmers Market

Farmers Market

Watch out for these signs to get to the nearest tourist information office

Watch out for these signs to get to the nearest tourist information office

National Museum of History

Streetcar model outside National Museum of History

A closeup of the scene

A closeup of the scene

I began to trudge my way back down the same road and reached my destination after a solid 30 mins. I quickly picked up a tourist map from the information center and went to a restaurant. And like always, I was served some spectacular soupy stew. And this time they threw in some vegetable pancake on the house. I thanked them after the heart-warming lunch they gave me and made my way back to the information center as it had started to rain and plus it was already past 4. I had no umbrella on me and I wasn’t going to make myself miserable by getting drenched in the rain. The information center told me to take the subway to Seoul station and then take the bus from there like always. I thanked them and made my way to the subway. On the way I noticed a street vendor selling umbrellas. I picked one up hurriedly and made a dash for my train. A lovely young lady on the train informed me that she will inform me when my stop has arrived when she saw me buried into the tourist map.

Wow! What a spread!

Now that’s a spread!

Vegetable Pancake

Vegetable Pancake

Just like every other subway

Just like every other subway

Once back at the hotel, I relaxed for a while before heading out to dubu house for dinner. I asked for the same cheese soondubu. It was mucho delicious. And now for some seoulful sleep to get me ready for another adventurous day in Korea!

Beauty masks, Rabboki and Jimjilbang???

For those of you who already know what Jimjilbang is, I am still undecided and wondering if it is not as creepy as it sounds. If you do not, well then, read on to find out.

I have a new favourite coffee place here in S.Korea. What already?! Yes, that’s right. Bad coffee provided by my hotel has pushed me desperately to find the perfect cup of caffeine to ingest into my body. Thank you very much!

I don’t know if it’s just me or do all tourists feel like they can’t get good coffee here in South Korea?

Right across the street from our hotel is a coffee place called “Coffeesmith”. They are indeed smiths who know their craft to the very end. So it was super surprising when the coffee I got yesterday was very good. And it’s even more surprising that they serve their coffees (I’m talking about the smallest size here) in gigantic cups like in the TV show “Friends”.

After some good coffee this morning at Coffeesmith, K and I walked back to our hotel’s cafe to have some expensive breakfast. Why? Apparently, breakfast is not really the “ingest all the grease and carbs you can find” kind of deal here in Korea. It’s usually a humble bowl of soup and there are not too many restaurants especially where I am at to get some cold cereal or eggs! K left for work after scrambling in how much ever he could eat and I finished a plate loaded with half a veggie omelet, some potatoes, a humble cup of vegetable congee (a rice gruel common to many Asian countries including India), some fine German style muesli and a regular sized cup of cappucino. Ok do not judge me. It was an expensive buffet!

Coffee in big cups

Coffee in big cups

After that athletic breakfast, I decided to get some laundry done as we had only packed enough clothing to last 4-5 days. I worked for a bit and made use of Korea’s uberfast internet to watch a bunch of Youtube videos on what to do and not to do in Korea while the washer and dryer did their heavenly work that God sent them to do here on Earth.

*Interesting fact: It is considered highly rude to talk loudly or hush all the way in buses or the subway in Korea.

A few days before we left for Korea, K was telling me how beauty regimes are very popular in Korea and how many Koreans to this day flock to get one particular treatment in a place called “Jimjilbang”. Jimjilbang is nothing but a public bathhouse where you get your body scrubbed off dead skin cells using an abrasive cloth. You can either do this yourself with all the materials they provide you or get yourself an ajumma, a woman who performs the service of scrubbing you down. It seems quite normal… except everyone is soaking in a variety of pools inside the Jimjilbang butt naked. Obviously, being an Asian country, it wasn’t surprising for me to hear that they have separate bathing areas for both men and women. While to an outsider who isn’t particularly accustomed to this cultural regime can find it utterly disturbing and strange, it is a weekly ritual for most Korean men, women and children to this day.

As I read up more about it, I understand that it is more of a “fear of the unknown” that crowds me when going to the Jimjilbang is maybe like going to the salon to get your legs waxed to many Korean women.  As I’m so confused on my what my thoughts are about this weird Korean cultural thing, I asked myself why not do this myself in my hotel room and make today a spa sort of day to take care of all that jet lag. So after doing my laundry, I had a quick chat with the guy at the front desk who helps me with restaurants. He asked me to try a restaurant right opposite the hotel after I told him I wanted to try Rabboki, another Korean comfort food. I took a short walk to Homeplus (soon becoming my favoritest* store) to get in on some of the Korean beauty trends.

*favoritest – not a word in the English dictionary :)

Firstly, if you ever speak to any Korean or anyone who has visited/lived in Korea a while, they will tell you how obsessed Korea is with beauty regimes. Secondly, they will also tell you just how popular mask sheets are in Korea. I have seen face masks come in tubes or in packets where you squeeze the goo out and apply them on your face and wait until the end of one tv episode before you wipe it off. But this was the first time I saw mask sheets which are wipes cut out to fit your face with holes to see, breathe and chomp down a bag of chips.

IMG_1015

Sheets of beauty…one before interview day, one before dates, one before sleep…and the list goes on

I got myself the tea tree mask sheet and a pack of the scrub towels they use in the bathhouses (also known as the “italy towel”). The best part is tons of free stuff. I thought India was obsessed with free goodies and the “buy one get one frees”.  Korea takes the cake. They gave me so many cool mask sheets, body wash and body lotion samples. I was feeling pampered already.

On the walk back to my hotel, I stopped at the restaurant right opposite my hotel that sells “gimbap/kimbap” which is a korean sushi roll stuffed with steaming sticky rice, veggies like carrots and pickled radishes, sliced omelet strips and meat. A fellow blogger this morning told me that Rabboki, pronounced labboki, is another spicy korean dish and that most places that sold gimbap would sell Rabboki. This definitely had to go on my list of foods to try in Korea. Rabboki is basically a thick soupy stew made by boiling ramen noodles, veggies, rice cakes, strips of fish cakes (which you can swap with omelet strips or tofu if you are vegan or vegetarian) along with gochujang paste (a korean red pepper paste) and topped with a hard boiled egg to soak in all the spiciness. It was delicious and I can imagine why rabboki is another food popular among college kids. It’s easy and quick to make. Rabboki tastes like ramen noodles cooked with veggies in a spicy marinara sauce mixed in with soy sauce. It sounds gross but makes you wonder why you never thought of this before.

Oodles of spicy noodles

Oodles of spicy noodles

Another astounding find in my exploration of delicious Korean foods is the cheese soondubu jigae last night for dinner. It is processed cheese mixed in with the traditional kimchi soondubu at the very end of the cooking process. I don’t know why Korea hasn’t gotten on the fancy/real cheese wagon yet but processed cheese is all you get in Korea. Plus it doesn’t taste as gross as it sounds. The processed cheese gives the soondubu a very unique flavor. Yet another weird combination that goes completely wrong in my mind but so right in my mouth.

So after all that delicious goodness, I got back to my hotel and relaxed for a while with the mask sheet on. I don’t know if it’s the mask sheet but something about beauty regimes calms me down completely and sweeps me off to another world. It felt so good doing all this after so many years. After that quick ritual and using the scrub towel in the bath, I was thoroughly relaxed and my muscles had loosened up enough to let me drown in the calm

While I was down at the laundry room earlier this morning, one of the things I did was download a book on how to speak korean for beginners. I am so fascinated by the language and the familiarity of the sounds with my own mother tongue. The language is nearly not as intimidating as the script itself. In fact, I am finding it easier by the day to communicate with the shop help, waiters and cashiers at restaurants and supermarkets. I spent the afternoon picking up a few essential korean phrases to help during my trip here.

*Question: Has anyone ever been to Rolling Pin bakery in Korea? These guys have some ginormous looking breads I’ve ever seen.

Now onto some humble dinner (which is a chunk of bread because it is too late to get dinner and I’m so stuffed from all that heavy breakfast and lunch) and a nice cup of hot tea to give a calming finale to my spa day.

Such beautiful colors

Sunday in Seoul

I haven’t written in this blog in a long time. It just shows how much fun I’m having as I write this on day 2 of my 10 day trip in Korea. You’re probably wondering why I am blogging instead of being out there and doing stuff. It’s because I had to work for a bit in the morning and I am so bad at remembering names that I decided instead of spending an hour captioning all my photos, I would write a blog as a way to jotting down names of places I visited.

I am not going to get into all the details of the whole flight from SF to Seoul. In a nutshell, it was pretty good. Airline food was awful as always. The best thing about the flight was the hospitality of the airline staff. It is actually nice to see such fantastic hospitality especially in Economy class which I haven’t seen in recent times (both domestic and international).

We landed on March 14. Immigration and baggage claim was a breeze. We took a taxi and I would just like to say not all drivers/taxi drivers are rash in South Korea. It was just the one we took to our hotel in Dongtan.

Dongtan is a relatively newer city in S. Korea. Dongtan has cleaner, broader roads with expensive skyrise apartments and is close to many workplaces specifically Samsung, LG and the like. Though it is not flooded with clothing stores and shopping malls like in Seoul, the cleanliness, utilities, facilities like a shopping mall, restaurants (including American fast foods like MacD’s, DD’s and even Popeyes) and just the newer feel makes up for the lack of hustle and bustle of Seoul if you’re into that kind of thing.

We reached our hotel at around 6:30 and decided to take a stroll near our hotel which was conveniently located near many shops, restaurants, cafes etc. After a while, we decided to get some food and head back to the hotel for a good night’s rest. Luckily K’s colleague and the guy at the hotel’s front desk wrote down “I am vegetarian. I do not eat meat, fish and eggs”. Rumor goes that many Koreans think of fish as vegetarian. Not sure if that is true, but we decided to get that written down anyway.

LG makes clothes??!!! They apparently makes even soaps, tooth pastes and more here in Korea.

LG makes clothes??!!! They apparently makes even soaps, tooth pastes and more here in Korea.

We had made up our minds to have a traditional korean meal like the Soondubu Jigae – Korea’s ultimate comfort food on our first night here. Unfortunately, it was becoming apparent that most restaurants (including American joints, italian) did not have the faintest clue of what was vegetarian. Our hunger levels were rising and both of us were bordering on cranky. We had to get something soon to alleviate all that frustration from not finding anything. We ended up at a small bbq place with dozens of feet meat of some sort on display. And took a chance anyway by showing the restaurant owner the piece of paper to explain our dietary needs. She let out a big sigh, spoke something in Korean (don’t know what she said but she definitely looked friendly), gestured us to follow her out of the restaurant when we  desperately told her “We would like some soondubu”. She pointed us to go down the road and said we would find Soondubu in actions.

As horrible stories go, we certainly did not find any soondubu place. We made our way brooding over our disappointment when I struck upon a sign that said “healthy food”. And told K “Healthy in any part of the world has to include veggies. I’m going in”. So we went in, showed the paper just like we did at the other restaurant expecting another gesture out the door. The friendliest looking woman gestured us toward the table, brought out a menu and it could not have gotten better than this. It was a restaurant that specialized in dubus or the korean hot soup. We explained to her that we were vegetarians and the owners were kind enough to get us a potato pancake and some steaming hot soondubu with veggies to the table. Man were we in heaven! The woman who helped throughout our dinner even went to the extent of showing us how to eat soondubu the right way! We could not have been happier. We left a tip even though it is considered unnecessary in Korea, thanked them profusely and made our way back to our hotel with smiles on our faces. As I write this blog post, I cannot help but think about going back for some hot dubu for lunch.

The next morning, we got an early start to Seoul. After taking directions on what bus to catch to Seoul, we walked to our stop, took a 40 min bus ride to Seoul. It can’t get more adventurous when everything works against your plan. The bus driver for some reason on entering Seoul decided to stop the bus and eject us all out after encountering heavy traffic into the city. He said all of this in Korean and we obviously knew something was happening as everyone had a panicky look plastered to their faces. K immediately asked a woman near us who replied in broken english “bus no go”. We got down and decided to ask the bus driver himself on what was the best option to get to Seoul station from wherever we were (Now I know it was near Namsan Park which is not too far). Suddenly the woman we spoke to called out to us like “Oi” and gestured in hand signals to come with her. Her elderly mother was saying something in Korean and I think she was trying to explain that we were looking for directions to Seoul. We crossed a very busy main intersection and when we came onto the sidewalk, the conversation went as follows:

Lady:  “where you go”

We: “Gyeongbokgung Palace” in the most precise Korean accent we could muster.

Lady: “ok take bus”

Me: “Taxi ok?”

Lady: “Yes. Wait” Called out an empty taxi passing by after like a couple of minutes. Explained to the cab driver that we had to go to Gyeongbokgung Palace.

We: in proficient korean replied “Kamsamnida” which means “thank you”.

Lady’s Mother: shakes hands with us saying “Kamsamnida”.

We bid goodbye to them and got on our cab to the palace of the Joseon dynasty.

Cultural show at Gyeongbokgung Palace

Cultural show at Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace

The Throne at Gyeongbokgung Palace

The Throne at Gyeongbokgung Palace

Us :)

Us :)

Stunning views of the surrounding hills from every part of the Palace

Stunning views of the surrounding hills from every part of the Palace

Gorgeous little walkways

Gorgeous little walkways

A small palace in a pond

A small palace in a pond

K explaining how they created a water mechanism  in the 1400s to make sure the water near this palace remained still even in the spring

K explaining how they created a water mechanism in the 1400s to make sure the water near this palace remained still even in the spring to perfectly reflect the palace in the water

A sneak peek at "Jango" - a place where they ferment pots and pots of kimchi.

A sneak peek at “Jango” – a place where they ferment pots and pots of kimchi.

Our ticket to tour the palace cost us about $3. There are free tour guides who explain what’s what in English ( you may end up with a guide who could speak excellent english or one who may explain in short phrases). We skipped the tour guide and instead got ourselves a guidebook which cost us 50 cents more. The book explains all that we would want to know about the palace. It is definitely worth a visit if you are traveling to Korea.

Chinese Zodiac statues

Chinese Zodiac statues

This one's for you Rats!

This one’s for you Rats!

That's K near his zodiac

That’s K near his zodiac

National Museum Of Korea

National Museum Of Korea

A typical Korean kitchen

A typical Korean kitchen

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Traditional Korean House

Traditional Korean House

Korean Wedding

Korean Wedding

Bride's Palanquin

Bride’s Palanquin

Traditional Korean Board Game

Traditional Korean Board Game

Korean Lunch Box. Yes, you read that right!

Korean Lunch Box. Yes, you read that right!

I could not resist clicking a pic.

I could not resist clicking a pic.

After spending about an hour there, we headed to the National Museum of Korea which looks a LOT like the Chihuly Museum in Seattle if you have ever been up there. The Museum is worth the visit if you’re into the history of places, culture and that sort of thing. I absolutely loved it. There are cool chinese zodiac statues in front of the building. K and I clicked pictures near our respective zodiacs – his being a dog (woof!) and mine of a tiger (chuff!).

We then headed to our next palace – Changdeokgung which is a good 20- 25 min walk from Gyeongbokgung Palace. In a nutshell, King Taejong renamed the new palace that was built as a result of fire damage at the Gyeongbokgung Palace after killing his half brothers.  There is a lot of history in both these places. On our way to Changdeokgung Palace, we stopped at a tourist information booth to ask them to suggest a good restaurant in the area after our visit to Changdeokgung Palace. They marked us a spot on the map where there are supposed to be some good restaurants. It was past our lunch time. So we decided to make a quick stop at a small cafe to get some coffee and some snack. We ended up eating a nice baked good called “Honey Bread” which is a big chunky loaf of bread that has been especially soaked in the center with honey. This was served with whipped cream and roasted sliced almonds on top. Ooh la la! So delicious. We made our way to Changdeokgung Palace after this quick snack. Our visit to Changdeokgung Palace was overall just as the good as the former Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Changdeokgung Palace

Changdeokgung Palace

Incense burning pot

Incense burning pot

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Such beautiful colors

Such beautiful colors

We headed to the spot which the tourist info guide had pointed us to only to find the restaurants in those streets were all closed because it was a Sunday. Walking in frustation while being extremely hungry was starting to become a pattern for the two of us. On our hunger-frustration walk, we ended up at another tourist info office only to find the same tourist info guide sitting there. We told her what happened and she asked us to check out the tourist info office in a shopping area called Insadong as we were headed there next after lunch. This was a quick 10 min walk from there. The tourist info office at Insadong pointed us to all the good vegetarian restaurants in the area. I remembered reading up about a restaurant in the area that served Buddhist temple food called “Sanchon”. This restaurant was part of the list. Glad that it was, we walked down the busy shopping street of Insadong to our restaurant. Sanchon is just the perfect place to have a calm eating experience amidst all that hustle and bustle of Seoul. The interiors are so connected with nature. it just transports you to a state of calm and quiet. We had a full course of Korean temple food. Let me just say that I haven’t had half the dishes on my platter.

After a satiating lunch at Insadong, we did some quick shopping and went back to our tourist office to get directions back to Dongtan as we had no clue where the Seoul station was. We were asked to take a cab to our stop and then take our bus from bus stop number 9, one of the many bus stops on a very busy road. When we went there, we could not find number 9. We were able to see bus stops until number 7. The rest remain a mystery to this day. We asked a young college kid how to head back to Dongtan. Again, the girl spoke no english but understood what we were trying to say. And told us that our bus would come at bus stop no.6. After thanking her, we turned to look at our bus stop when we saw our bus standing there. We made a dash to it, boarded safely and reached our destination in 30-40 mins. On our walk back to the hotel, we stopped at HomePlus a.k.a Korea’s Walmart to pick up some lotion and other things.

We were so stuffed from our afternoon meal that we decided to grab some bread and jam from a nearby supermarket for the night. As I hit the bed last night, my feet were in pain from all that walking. I could barely move. My nose was so numb from being exposed to that cold weather. But all I could think of was how perfect my day was despite the language barrier. I have felt like I’m visiting a foreign land for the very first time in my life because places like Korea and India are where your communication/survival skills are put to the test. Everything from the food to the people is so different. If you’re accustomed to the broad spaces of the West, you might not enjoy your time here in Korea. Having come from a place that is quite crowded myself, I was able to appreciate just how kind the people in Korea are even though you get pushed and shoved in busy streets – something common in over-populated countries. The warmth of Korean hospitality makes you forget the cold siberian winds. If you are able to look past the crowd, you will find yourself cozying up to a stone bowl of steaming hot soondubu jigae!

Blueberry Peach Kefir Smoothie

For those of you who have no idea what kefir is (pronounced kee fur) … it is a probiotic drink (that tastes very similar to thick and runny yoghurt) made from kefir grains (grains made of bacteria and yeast … resembles crumbled cheese/cauliflower). Long story short, Kefir has amazing health benefits. It is rich in calcium, protein, phosphorus and aids in digestion. What’s even better… it makes great smoothies.

Here is a recipe for a delicious blueberry peach kefir smoothie. You can use fresh or frozen fruit for this recipe. Put about 1/4 cup plain unsweetened kefir in a blender. Add about a handful of blueberries and 4 to 5 pieces of sliced peach. Then go ahead and pour in about 1 cup of milk (I use 2%). By all means, you can skip this step and substitute 2% milk with water or fat free milk. Add your favourite sweetener to taste. I added about a tsp of honey. Blend this baby up and what you’re left with is this gorgeous looking smoothie that is the best start for your day!

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Freekin’ Deelish!

For quite sometime now, Americans have been on about this new superfood “Freekeh” pronounced Freak Uh. Correct me if I’m wrong… Freekeh is a middle eastern/Egyptian/Palestinian wheat grain that is harvested when the wheat is young. It has at least 4 times more fiber than other grains — even than Quinoa! And what’s amazing about Freekeh is that it’s freeekin’ deelicious! This tastes way better than brown rice, quinoa and even couscous. It’s great for people trying to lose weight or even diabetic as it has tons of fiber.

I tried a freekeh salad a while ago at a random cafe and I didn’t like it. The salad was bland and lacked flavour. And yet, I found hundreds and hundreds of recipes and blog posts that went on and on about how awesome it is. So on a recent grocery trip, I picked up some Freekeh from dear ol’ Costco. I made some Freekeh and sweet potato soup for lunch. It was beautiful!

Freekeh –

I cooked Freekeh like I would cook pasta instead of rice. And drained the freekeh off all water. It tasted just fine. 

To a pot, I added oil, some chopped up garlic, ginger, a little campari tomato, a handful of spinach (optional: throw in peppers for a spicy kick). Saute them until garlic/ginger is soft, tomato cooked and spinach wilted. Add some chopped up cilantro. Stir and add in the cooked Freekeh. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with lemon. 

Thoughts: I wanted to add a little goat cheese towards the end to make a saucy dish and thanks to weight loss forever, I decided to skip the goat cheese and wound up the dish with a lemony kick. The result was spectacular. The focus was all on the freekeh and none of the other ingredients took over. 

Sweet potato soup – 

Throw in some dried herbs (more specifically, I added crushed mint, rosemary, lots of basil, bay leaves, oregano and thyme), chopped celery and sliced garlic in some EVOO in a stock pot. Saute and close with lid. Let it cook until celery and garlic are soft. Add sweet potato cubes and some water. Approx measure: to 1 cup of sweet potato, I added 2 glasses of water. Close the lid and let it come to a boil. Open the lid after 5-10 mins and let it continue to boil and wait for the water to come to about 1-2 inch above the sweet potato mixture. Take out that indispensable hand blender and puree to desired consistency. It came out pretty creamy so I didn’t add any milk or cream substitutes to it. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold. 

 

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Chiappa Sage Walnut Pesto

A while ago I came across a series of videos on Jamie Oliver’s Youtube Channel featuring the Chiappa Sisters known for their super – quick pasta sauces. Having watched tons of Italian videos, I was automatically trained to associate Italian chefs/cooks with a very noticeable hint of the Italian accent. And this is where I made the biggest mistake of assuming the Chiappas sounded, looked and cooked more Welsh than Italian. Boy was I wrong! Jamie, you’re right. These girls can cook and with a strong punch of flavor.

With a gorgeous herb garden at home that was longing to be used, I was waiting for the perfect recipe to do justice to these beautiful herbs. That’s when I bumped in again at the Chiappa pages on Youtube and stumbled upon this refreshingly easy and unimaginably delicious Sage Walnut Pesto sauce. The minute I read the word “Sage”, I was intrigued. I had to watch the video. At the end of it, I realized this was not only super quick to put together. It was also the kind of recipe that did pure justice to ingredients without butchering the original flavor too much.

A hop, skip and jump later, I was in my kitchen with a handful of fresh Sage ready to begin.

The Recipe (Serves 3-4)

Ingredients

Sage – a handful

Walnuts – a handful

Garlic – 1 clove

Lemon juice – 1 lemon

Olive oil – about 5 tbsps or until it forms a creamy glistening mess

Parmigiano Reggiano (please. no plastic parmesan that comes in a green bottle) – about 1/2 cup; 1 heaped tbsp reserved for garnish

Sea salt – according to taste

Method

  • Blitz sage, garlic, walnuts, lemon juice, olive oil, parmigiano reggiano and salt in a food processor
  • Cook a favourite pasta of your choice. The Chiappa girls used Penne, I used Fussili
  • In a pan, put the blitzed mixture with a couple of tbsps of pasta water. Wait for a few seconds to cook the garlic (do not brown the garlic).
  • Add the pasta, toss to coat and garnish with the remaining cheese.

Simple and extremely delicious.