GARRGH!!! The internet at where I’m living right now is driving me CRAZY! Who would have thought it’ll be so hard to find internet access here in tech-savvy Korea? I’m about to go crazy, because there is nothing to do here and I’m just stuck at home with no Internet and bad TV.
Other than the fact that I am tearing my hair out with angst from Internet-withdrawal, this trip to Korea is infinitely better than the one a year ago. I don’t find myself hiding behind my parents when I meet my relatives in humiliation. Nobody is putting on a fake smile, cautiously touching me in fear that they may break me accidentally.
Instead, the speech that my parents always give—that God will heal me, that my eating disorder is naught for vain—is repeated, but this time as a proud testimony. And this time, none of my relatives looked at me and my parents with deep sorrowful pity, but with gratefulness, hope, and…faith.
Seeing my relatives again, it reminded me again how much I owe my life to my parents. My relatives may have faith now, seeing my much restored health with their own eyes, but my parents have always had faith, even during the time I was hooked up to several wires and tubes in the Intensive Care unit of the hospital. God, my parents are amazing.
So I thank my parents. For keeping me alive with their faith. And I thank my extended family in Korea. For making me feel alive with their abounding joy and delight, and for celebrating life with me.
The first relative I met in Korea was my paternal grandmother (my grandfather passed away 3 years ago). My grandmother isn’t really my grandmother by blood. She became my father’s step-mother after my real grandmother passed away 25 years ago, before I was even born, so she is the only paternal grandmother I know and love. She’s 80 years old, but she could pass off for 20 years younger, me thinks:
She now lives in Seoul with her niece, and my parents and I took an hour’s bus ride to visit her. We wanted to take her out for lunch, but she and her niece insisted that we come over for a home-cooked meal. And let me tell you—you never want to turn down an offer for a real home-cooked meal in Korea. Because there are no hosts more gracious than Korean hosts, and you can almost guarantee that they won’t serve you ready-made lasagna from Costco or God forbid, steamboat. Just look at this spread:
These are the typical meal you would be served in a Korean home. My grandmother did not provide any red meat dishes though, because she knew my father detests meat. Instead, all these dishes were vegetable and fish heavy. Let me introduce a few dishes to you. Here’s a curious one:
Acorn jelly, sliced and dressed with a soy sauce-garlic-scallion dressing and fresh-chopped greens.
This is Jap-Chae:
Korean festival noodles, mixed with stir-fried spinach, carrots, onions, black ear fungus, and shitake mushrooms. I have a recipe for it here if you want. It’s gluten-free, because the noodles are made with sweet potato starch!
Our hosts also served us a rather precious delicacy:
Marinated spicy dodock kimchi. I must have expensive tastes, because this was my favorite dish! Dodock is a precious commodity in Korea. It’s actually a root, but has a lovely chewy consistency, and tastes a bit like spicy dried fish or something.
There was also dried salted spicy fish:
And spicy pickles and cockles (also a variation of kimchi):
And sweetened black beans and pickled garlic to rev up the appetite:
Finally, last but not least, the main dish:
There will almost always be some sort of stew or soup in a Korean meal. Ours was called Mae Oon Tang, or “spicy stew”. This is a traditional Korean stew that consists of a spicy seafood broth, cooked with all sorts of different seafood, but always with a whole fish. It’s served in a great big pot, and then ladled out in individual portions, like so:
That was my portion. I asked for fish but no shrimp or abalone. We ate all these dishes, plus a whole bowl of steamed, glistening white rice. Koreans don’t cal la meal a real meal unless there is soup and rice.
After this grand feast, my parents and I positively waddled out of the house! I was starting to feel really sleepy from the heavy meal, but we still had a long road ahead of us: a 4-hour drive down to my hometown, Jeon-Ju.
I normally abhor bus rides…but I love riding the buses in Korea, mainly because they have AWESOME terminal stops. I would endure a long bus trip just for the food they sell in the terminal stops! My parents and I were still full from the big lunch my grandmother provided but we still went all out with our mid-stop snack. It’s almost impossible not to buy something, when you see women like this griddling up fragrant pancakes like these:
This is a Korean glutinous rice pancake called Ho tteok, stuffed with brown sugar and peanuts.
My parents and I bought a pack of three to share:
Mmm…So good, especially hot from the griddle, when the brown sugar is hot and caramelized in your mouth, together with the crunchy peanut bits.
Another awesome snack are these fried whole potatoes, called Tong Koguma:
These are peeled mini potato balls, coated with sugar and then fried on a griddle until crispy and caramelized on the outside, and then sprinkled with coarse salt and more sugar. SO good!!!
And we certainly can’t forget the fried glutinous sesame rice balls!
This is my favorite item in the Korean bakery, except this is 10 times better because it is deep-fried instead of baked like the usual sesame rice balls. It is chewy like mochi, with a gooey sweet bean paste inside:
But my absolute favorite is the glutinous corn:
I usually dislike whole corn, but the corn here is SUPER good. It’s not the normal sweet yellow corn you find in the States—this is less sweet, and paler in color, and each kernel is so, SO chewy. They are steamed with a bit of sugar to sweeten it up a bit, but otherwise, it’s like chewing on little nuggets of savory, corn-flavored mochi cakes.
If you can’t tell already, my parents and I really, really love chewy carby stuff. And it made me so happy to see how delighted my parents were to indulge in their childhood favorites, and to be back in their native land. I guess it’s the same euphoria I feel when I am back in Singapore.
We finally reached Jeon-Ju in the evening, and took a cab to my aunt’s (my mother’s younger sister’s) house. That’s where I’m staying right now, and I’ll be staying here for almost a week more. My aunt’s place is a really nice apartment, save for the fact that the wireless Internet just sucks ass.
My maternal grandparents rushed over immediately when they heard we had arrived:
As soon as I saw them, I had a totally different feeling with them than from the time I met my paternal grandmother. The sad truth is that both my grandparents health are deteriorating exponentially. I don’t know when they will pass away, but I doubt they’ll live for more than 3 years. They’re one of the main reasons I’m here, because I was desperate to let their hearts be at peace about me before they passed away.
It was a rather touching moment. My grandfather started sobbing when he saw me, and my grandmother couldn’t stop grasping my hands and marveling at how much I’ve changed, and how thankful she is to the Lord.
My uncle came along too, and he brought my little cousin along!
God, I couldn’t stop staring at him. He is SO adorable! I didn’t realize I had a gooey side within me but I fell in love with him the moment I saw him. I guess you can’t just deny blood ties!
He’s an eater, too. This little boy eats well, and it’s so pleasant to see him enjoy his food. My mom called him a Doong Gae or “Fat Puppy” in Korean. Don’t worry, it’s not an insult, but an endearing term if said in a right way. But whatever this Doong Gae was eating, it looked good, so I made him share some with me:
Korean glutinous rice cakes. Chewy. Dense. Yummy.
At 11pm, my other cousin finally arrived from school. Yes, at 11pm. She’s been in school from 8am-11pm!!!!! Don’t even get me started on the ridiculous education system in Korea!
My cousin’s name is Yoonji, and her mother is the aunt whose house I am staying in right now. She is my favorite cousin, period. She is about 4 years younger than me, and she is so, so, so lovable.
She’s the kind of person you just can’t help falling in love with at first sight—adorable, happy, cheerful, generous, kind. We went to a local cafe, Java Dave, for something sweet. One thing about Korean cafes is that it’s very, very high-class and well decorated.
Each cafe has their own theme and charm, and they always look so chic and modern.
I ordered a yogurt gelato:
And she ordered a Toffee Nut iced latte:
Yoonji also happens to have the very object of my desire, a Canon EOS 550D. And she likes taking pictures of her food, too:
A food blogger in the making? Maybe it’s in our blood, huh?
Those are her glasses by the way. It’s “in” to wear mega glasses bigger than your face these days. Just as it’s “in” to study your ass off in Korea, it seems. I came at a bad time, right smack in the middle of examinations for my cousin. Even when she’s back home late at night from school, she’s still studying till early morning!
Thus there is nothing to do but mope around the house bemoaning my lack of social network. So I guess it’s ta-ta! Off to mope…
Question of the Day: What was the best home-cooked meal you had (by a host other than yourself)? What is your favorite thing to eat during road trips? And tell me—do you love your cousins as much as I do?