Busy busy busy days have hit the city streets of my Seoul life. From writing for some expat magazines, to finally getting out into the outdoors without an umbrella (see: the monsoons are over, say my students), to taking my southern sister – who just came from rural China were black tofu isn’t really tofu, and privacy doesn’t even exist in bathrooms – around the huge and mostly modern city, to switching schedules from afternoon and evening shifts to early morning risers, life has been completely packed. On a run yesterday, too, I realized that in these past three days, I’ve worked three extra hours each day, but my sleep schedule still hasn’t budged: up at seven no matter what.
Not only am I presently busy, I’m thinking about what’s ahead of me. Korean country side. Japan. New York. North Carolina. Savannah. Massachusetts. Up-State New York. Driving across the country. It all seems super surreal that I’m the one that’s about to embark on this travel mania.
But amongst all this planning, and thinking, and relishing in the moments that I have to just sit and enjoy a cold drink amongst the humid heat-wave that’s enveloping Seoul, I’ve got to eat. And I have been eating – artisanal Italian sandwiches, burgers that taste likes summer, cold North Korean noodles, vegetarian temple foods, and homemade bibimbap. Throw a few watermelon slices, a carrot or two, some marinated lotus root, sprouts, and an iced Americano or nine, and I think you’ve got the makings of me in the summer in Seoul.
The North Korean cold noodles, or naengmyeon (냉면for all you adventurous types), aren’t as sketchy as you may think. Gasp, North Korea? Did you go there? Um, no. Although I did read that you could if you so desired with a highly regulated tour group that allows you only to see what they show you, and you are not allowed to leave the hotel without two government officials. But tangents aside (math joke! Success!), I recently was a food photographer for an expat magazine based in Seoul in search for the best Naengmyeon in the city. Turns out, there’s a ton of this stuff, and especially when it’s hot out.
What it boils down to is this: naengmyeon is an iced beef broth that is deep, complex, and almost overly subtle in which buckwheat noodles are placed topped with pickled radish, one slice of tender beef, chives, and hot pepper paste. Alone, the dish is mild and allows you to really experience the undertones of Korean flavors. It’s not your typical “Hi, I’m a Korean food and I’m going to make you reach for the water at all times” kind of dish, rather one you can think about.
But if you’re into the “hit me over the head with spice” aspect of this cuisine, you can reach for the salt, pepper, hot pepper flakes, spicy horse-radish-mustard, and vinegar sitting on the table. Both ways are amazing, and I hope that it (along with kimchi) comes to a table near you, soon.
On the other side of the table, I was on my email the other day and caught a friend that I hadn’t spoken to in a while. After catching up for a bit, he told me that he had been reading the blog. I was flattered, and in jest, asked if he wanted anything posted – seeing as he’d be reading it. If there was anything that I could make that I hadn’t really talked about.
Bibimbap. The simplest, most iconic of Korean dishes (save kimchi), and I haven’t really talked about it, nor cooked it.
So here it is. The dish that is my go to if I need me some nourishment. The dish that is served in a hot pot or cold bowl. The dish that is all flavors in one. The dish that has probably by this point transcended its Korean borders and made it Westward.
There are plenty of recipes out there, but I just kind of went with what I liked.
½ – 1 cup Rice (I used brown rice, because I get enough white rice where I live)
Marinated Burdock Root (우엉)
Gim (dried seaweed)
Pan Fried Egg
Boil the rice, and put it (warm) at the bottom of your bowl. Chop all of your vegetables to be match-stick size and width. Arrange. Gaze. Then add some thick-hot-pepper-sauce to it, and mix it up (bibimbap = mixed rice). It’s not supposed to look pretty. See?