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Rockin' Out Photo by Andre Francisco

Seoul’s new young, hip generation has a billowing new underground music scene popping out in pockets around the city. One of the greatest examples of this we have seen (and become slightly obsessed with) is The Rock Tigers. The group looks like a bunch of Korean punk rockers, but they wail like a fresh, up-beat Elvis Presley.

Rock Tigers Photo by Anna Waigand

The style is called “Kimchibilly,” a Korean version of the age-old American Rockabilly. Why and how this 1950s version of rock has become popular in Korean and even earned its own nickname is beyond me, but for the amazing nights I’ve had rocking out to it, I’m glad it has. We’ve seen them twice in concert and each time the audience has been kept rocking and moving to the beats.

Check them out if out if you ever get the chance. You will surely have a hip-swaying good time.

Rock Tigers, the whole group Photo by Anna Waigand

For upcoming performance dates, check out their website at http://rocktigers.com/.

For more information about the band, check out our friends’ blogpost at http://harmsboone.org/what-world-kimchibilly.

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Taking the subway every morning in Seoul can garner some widely varying results. Andre’s trek to work is like pressing the snooze button on the alarm: he is guaranteed a seat to relax in and free space to lounge. My trek on the other hand is a whole different kit and caboodle.

The first leg of my trek is packed to the brim. I am consistently squished up against the door with people propped up against me like Barbie dolls in storage, unable to move our legs, hoping that the train doesn’t stop too abruptly. Invariably though, it does and we all tumble over each other creating a live Korean version of dominoes. Eventually we all get our bearings and brace ourselves for the next stop hoping we, and the person next to us, has learned a lesson and fixes the issues at hand before the next stop.

After my transfer which consists of a hike up two flights of stairs, usually spent jogging since the Koreans love to jog to the escalator just to passively let it push them upstairs and I always get swept up in the fast-paced excitement, I have another packed train. Don’t worry, though, it is no where near as filled as the first. Instead, I actually have room to move my arms and even write this little informative piece on my way to work.

So, when taking the subway, beware. Each leg of the subway is different from the next, but here are some quick tips for when the going gets tough:

  • Koreans love to push. Never apologize for a nudge or a jab. Unless you have truly injured someone, apologies will fall on the footsteps of the ajumma that has already taken that seat you were rushing to grab.
  • When the train is packed and you’re in a rush, stay by the door. It’s the easiest to get out when you get to your destination. If you don’t, you risk being pushed further and further back each time new passengers jam in. And even worse, you risk missing your stop all together because you are just too packed in and the people around you are just too oblivious to your futile attempts to squirm out. The easiest way to stay in the front is to immediately go to the left or right upon entering and rest against the railing of the seats. No one can push you away from here. Stand your ground.
  • On at least one of the doors for each train there is a guide that tells you the best door to stand at for the quickest transfer route, depending on where you are going. This is really helpful, especially when there are those hellish, 15-minute, practically-walk-across-the-city transfers (and yes, they do exist). Also, each train car has a number and each door has a number. This is very useful if you are meeting someone on the subway.

Happy travels and may your trek be easier than mine.

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Sunday afternoon sun was coming through our window and our mountain-calibrated weather report said visibility was average. A morning of clicking keyboards and reviewing photos to classic rock had stirred our hunger. We have been trying to reform our weekend eating habits, which usually involve minimal snacking until late afternoon and then either a dinner out or a cooking extravaganza. Feeling like we had slighted lunch for a couple weeks, we thought it deserved some attention.

Much of my cooking style comes from the time I spent beside my dad in the back-hall like kitchen at his house. Outside of chicken on the Weber and tacos, our favorite meal was stir fry. With two guys living in the house this often turned into back-of-the-fridge stir fry – dicing whatever vegetables were around and tossing them with a sauce made from a well stocked fridge door. Though both my dad and mom owned The Joy of Cooking, it was spread open on the counter more often at my mom’s house. I seemed to pick up a style of improv, frequent tasting, and cooking by color from my Dad. A meal that got too white with potatoes or pasta had to be broken up with a green ball of broccoli or a yellow pile of corn. Now, Anna is the recipe cooker while I like to think up dinner after a good stare at the open refrigerator, which will often lead to me exclaiming an hour later that I have no idea what I’m doing, but that I think it will be good.

Photo by Anna Waigand

So, today’s lunch was a back-of-the-fridge grilled sandwich served on the latest example of the ever-present image of skating star Yu-Na Kim. Anna picked up a bagel this morning with Yuna and a bagel symbol seared into the top. I decided to try to make a sandwich to live up to Yu-Na’s talent.

The ingredients I had to work with were a grapefruit, cherry tomatoes, a bell pepper, stumpy mushrooms, pickled radishes, salsa, homemade bacon, two bags of garlic, some cheese, mackerel poaching liquid and half a dozen sauces. Fruit, spicy liquids and typical Korean ingredients were out so I decided to take the veggies and garlic. I roasted the garlic and mashed it into a spread with rosemary and then used our hand-held grilling grate to grill the pepper and mushrooms over our stove burner. The tomatoes and an onion were sauteed and the last of the cinnamon-cured bacon, which gives off a smell that can put anyone into an eating mood, topped off the sandwich.

Photo by Anna Waigand

The meaty mushrooms, juicy tomatoes and fresh taste of the grilled peppers were seasoned by the salty bacon and warmed by the garlic. It all came together into a big, juicy bite best enjoyed in the sun with a warm breeze. The grilling made some blacks and browns to balance the red and white of the veggies into a good color scheme. Anna preferred hers without the bacon, but I thought the salt and change in texture really helped the sandwich. Up to you whether to include it, unless you are a vegetarian. Then I guess you don’t have a choice.

There are a lot of steps, but the ingredients and techniques aren’t too complicated. Though this veggie combo worked out, I encourage you to make it up as the back of your fridge dictates.
Recipe after the jump

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Last night during a night out on the town for Andre’s birthday, we came across a new Korean dish: Pig Backbone Stew. Wanting some food, we had two rules: it needed to still be busy at 12:30AM (we didn’t want to walk in somewhere that was about to close) and it could not have chicken feet on the menu. What we ended up finding was an interesting new stew that we may or may not go back for.

Photo by Anna Waigand

It came as a stew and was everything a stew should be: hearty, heavy and hot. It seemed a popular choice among the young, late-night Korean crowd seeing as almost all of the tables were full by the time we left. Drunk 20-somethings kept stumbling in, eating and drinking until their red faces stumbled back out into the cold again.

We were uncertain about what we were eating until a Korean with very good English (he studied in Australia for eight months, apparently) told us that it was pig back bone meat. With that mystery solved, we dug into the fragrant stew that was bubbling on our table. We combed through the spinal bones to find the meat that was still ever so loosely hanging on. It was the most perfectly cooked spinal meat that I have ever had (although I suppose that isn’t saying much). We jabbed it off the spine easily with our chopsticks and it arrived at our mouths juicy and tender. To help it go down, the hearty broth provided a vibrant Korean style taste (think: Korean chili powder with some garlic and green onions) with a miniscule kick at the end. Vegetables swam through the stew providing some extra flavor and a slippery texture.

Photo by Anna Waigand

The problem that we found was the amount of meat that actually came in the stew. As one might imagine, spinal meat is not very plentiful. The size and shape of the bones were much more impressive than the meat volume of the stew. So, it was a delicious meal perfect for a cold late-night on the town, but not something I would want to eat on a regular basis.

If you live in Seoul and would like to check it out, the restaurant was off of the Sinchon subway stop, exit 2. Take a left after the big red tube, then your first right, then your first left. It’s across from the chicken feet restaurant (you’ll know which is the chicken feet restaurant because it has a big picture of a man with chicken feet and it says “Chicken Feet Restaurant”). If you check it out, be sure to let us know what you thought!

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Lunar New Year’s must have given us good luck because Incheon was just the escape from Seoul and city-life that we were yearning. The first thing that you notice upon arriving at the beach is the swarms of ajummas crowding the street (there is one main drag by the beach) yelling, waving their arms, knocking on passing cars all in an effort to get anyone and everyone into their restaurant. It may sound annoying but it’s really quite friendly. One ajumma even suggested another restaurant when she realized her restaurant didn’t have what we were looking for.

Ajumma ushering in hopeful customers

A hopeful ajumma inviting some passerbys to her restaurant.

At the first restaurant we ate, we picked out a plump red fish about the size of a football. We tried to tell our servers we wanted it cooked, but the roar of the language barrier was just too loud. We were shown our caught fish flopping around in a bucket before they brought it to the kitchen, sliced it up, and brought it back on a heaping mound of glass noodles. As most Korean raw fish seems to be, it was stringy but this one was full of flavor and as fresh as one can get.

Our banchan were, well, almost dead. Half of the banchan were either cooked, like the shrimp, or didn’t need to be, like the mayonnaise with apples and nuts. The other half were barely dead (if dead at all) sliding around and pulsating on the plates, filling our table. We had squirming, skinny red tubes that were chopped up into 1/4 inch pieces. There were bright red and orange sea squirts with a gelatinous film covering them. Sea cucumbers moved almost imperceptibly, but a chopstick shove proved they were, in fact, still kicking. And of course to top it all off, we had octopus tentacles soaked in sesame oil flopping around on the plate like a rave dancer in molasses. They moved around, suctioning onto anything they could. We were wary to try it but the restaurant owner gave them to us as “service”, which is what Koreans say when they are giving you something special for free (it’s a great perk to being a foreigner). Plus, our servers were constantly walking by telling us to eat it. So, peer pressure at work, we bit in.

Live octopus soaking in sesame oil

The boys dipped the tentacles in hot sauce, which seemed to make them very angry. When I took the leap, my little octo-friend decided to latch onto my tongue. It’s a very odd sensation having your food rebel inside your mouth. But after about a minute of chewing and being sure that it would not cling to my throat on the way down, I swallowed. The taste was fine, mostly overpowered by the taste of the oil, but nothing I have craved since. The experience of it was all I needed.

Clam kalguksu

The next day we treked over to a neighboring snow-covered beach. We wandered into a small restaurant directly on the beach with a central fire and most patrons still wearing their jackets for warmth. We ordered a soup that I can only describe as crave-inducing. It was a simple soup: a bowl half the size of the table filled with broth, noodles, clams, and a sprinkling of zucchini and green onions. The clams gave just the right amount of saltiness to the simple broth. The zucchini and green onions amplified the flavor of the soup and it was all satisfyingly weighed down by the thick, slippery noodles.

Clams grilling over an open fire

That night, Lunar New Year’s night, we decided to treat ourselves to something special: a big, juicy, meaty, fresh king crab. I do think we have never made a decision quite as good as that one in our whole lives. The first course was what we lovingly called a “clam bake” although it was actually more of a clam barbeque. Heaps of fresh clams still hiding in their shells were thrown on the grill in the middle of our table. The real gem of this course is the miniature, disposable aluminum foil pie tin filled with an unidentified, non-spicy red sauce, rice cakes, and, get this, mozzarella cheese. Yes, you heard that right, cheese. This was placed on the grill and, as the clams were bubbling over and being cracked open, the juices were poured into the cheese bake. The result was a straight-forward tin of melted cheesy-goodness. My mouth is watering just from typing about it. Mmmm….

Cheesy, cheesy goodness

Heaven in a little aluminum pan.

Alright, now that I have taken a moment to reminisce with my taste buds, I can continue. The next course was our beautiful king crab. The glorious creature practically covered our whole table. Each leg housed thick, lengthy chunks of crab meat. Each time someone pulled out a slab of meat I was shocked at the size. Greg, who worked at Red Lobster for a few years, could not stop commenting on the enormous amount of meat and the low price of it all. It was truly a glorious occasion.

The King Crab

The head of the crab was hollowed and filled with a cloudy liquid. I later found out from my 6th grade student that we were supposed to mix this with our rice. Apparently, it’s delicious. We missed out on that part because we were unaware of the appropriate way to eat it at the time, but this only gives us one more reason to go back again.

Later that night, we befriended a Korean family. On a snow-covered beach. By a bonfire. With sparklers. And tried roasted octopus.

All in all, I’d say, it was one delicious adventure that I will never forget.

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Round Two of Bacon
Photo by Anna Waigand

In preparation for my upcoming personal bacon day (Nov. 30, more on why in a later post), I decided to make another round of home-cured bacon. I picked up half a kilo at the butcher and decided to make a sweet version. Last time I made bacon I made a traditional dry rub and a Korean spiced batch. The traditional bacon wasn’t quite sweet enough so I decided to add a bunch more brown sugar and some cinnamon.

The cinnamon smelled amazing in the mix, but I had a problem getting the salt to stick. The much finer sugar and cinnamon mix took up most of the available surface area before the coarse salt could stick. So if you make this I recommend covering the pork with the salt and then adding the cinnamon and sugar. Instead I just added two extra pinches of salt to the bag before putting it in the fridge to make sure it cured properly.

Ingredients
.5 kg pork belly with skin
1 tablespoon natural salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Wash off the pork belly and pat dry.
2. Cover the pork belly thoroughly with salt. Make sure to get it everywhere.
3. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Cover the pork in the mix.
4. Place the pork in a heavy-duty sealing bag or in a Tupperware container. (For people in Korea, don’t settle for plastic bags from Daiso. Find a Home Plus for Ziploc brand bags. Double zipper.)
5. Refrigerate for 7 days, turning the bag over every day to distribute the juices and mixture. The salt will suck a lot of liquid out of the pork, don’t worry about it.
6. After it’s done curing, wash off all of the dry rub and slice into strips. Refrigerate or freeze and then cook like normal. Now is also where you would smoke it, but we don’t have an oven or a grill, so we can only cure it.

It has been curing away in my fridge now for a couple of days and will be ready for tasting on Monday night. I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you can’t get enough bacon, check out my taste test of my first attempt, see Anna’s photos on Flickr and, if you want to use some bacon, try our romanesco bacon soup.

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Hagfish: Skinned, slimey and still alive
Photo by Anna Waigand

When I first saw them they were just tubes of raw, pink flesh frantically writhing in a shallow red bowl. No skin, no scales, no head. Just a line of pink flesh with a white lattice of fat woven into it. In a couple of seconds, the slithering turned into an infrequent twitching, and then it joined the pink pile of now dead hagfish.

One narrow street of the Jagalchi Fish Market is where all the hagfish sellers seem to congregate. The method for killing hagfish is just as disgusting as the fish. Each hagfish seller has a board with a round peg that sits in a hole in one end. They take a live hagfish, stick their head under the peg and crush it into the hole. With the fish still moving, they do a couple of quick knife swipes to seperate it from its skin and organs. (Hagfish hides are actually made into leather as it turns out.) The fish are then tossed into a pile of their recently dead friends. To see the process for yourself, check out the video.

Hagfish: God’s Grossest Creatures from Seoulful Adventures on Vimeo.

Video by Andre Francisco. Editing by Anna Waigand.

You probably haven’t heard of hagfish before because almost no one but Koreans eat them. And why don’t they eat them? Maybe because they’re mud dwelling scavengers that burrow their way into nearly-dead fish that fall to the bottom of the sea and then eat their way out, even if the fish are still alive. Or maybe it’s because their other name is the slime eel because their defense mechanism is to produce a mucus that turns into unbelievable quantities of slime when mixed with water. Slime that suffocates other fish who eat them.

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