Freaky Food: Dalk Bal (Chicken Feet)

Get ready for part 2 in the Freaky Food series! I anticipate many more will follow – for better or worse.
Ordering food in Korean restaurants is a big challenge.  I can read Korean, but I don’t know what I’m reading.  To get around this problem, I’ve learned some key words on menus. Guk, tang, and jiggae are all kinds of soups or stews.  Jeon is pancake, bap means rice, bokkeum is fried, etc.  Korean food is listed very literally on a menu, so once you learn the basics you can order a good amount.  For instance, kulgukbap is oyster soup with rice.  Kuljeon is oyster pancake.  Not too bad, right?
When I go out to eat, waitresses like to wait by my side like a little vulture while I squint at the distant wall menu.  This turns the already challenging restaurant experience into a high-pressure situation.  Tonight, Andy and I tried a local barbecue place and I noticed the word dalk (닭) on the menu (chicken).  To get rid of the pesky lady, Andy just ordered it.  His phone has a nifty Korean-English dictionary, so while we waited, we decided to look up the other two words in our order.  Our dish was called 불발 (bool dalk bal).  Andy’s facial expression quickly changed from mild boredom to trepidation as he looked up each word.   
불 – fire  
닭 – chicken  
발 – feet
In case you missed it, that last one says feet.
The waitress immediately started bringing us our sides and setting up the grill at our table.  I wondered if we should try to order something else, but it was too late.  Like it or not, the waitress was setting down a tremendous plate of chicken feet.  I’d say at least 25 chickens worth.
Me with a fowl foot

When in Korea, do as the Koreans do… right? We grilled the heck out of those feet since we have no idea when they’re fully cooked.  They were possibly cooked from the start.  I don’t know… all I know is they were blackened and crispy when I finally wrapped them in my lettuce leaf.
And they weren’t bad! Would I order them again? No.  Definitely not.  The taste was all right, but the random crunchy bits of cartilage were enough to put me off them for a while.
Freaky Food: Dalk Bal – Chicken Feet
Verdict: Once was enough.
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Freaky Food: Beondegi

Less than two weeks ago, Andy and I went to a restaurant near our apartment.  The food was great, and we shared a pot of honey makgeolli which was delicious.  But before the food arrived, they brought us some bar snacks and banchan (sides).  Nothing too out of the ordinary… seaweed soup, Kix-like crackers, and beondegi (번데기).  We knew we’d have to face beondegi at some point, but I assumed that was in the distant future, when we had finally bet each other enough money to try them as street food.  What are beondegi you ask?

sorry it’s so yellow… my flash was off!

Silkworm pupae.

Yup, we were staring down a bowl of bugs… but we promised each other we’d try everything in Korea, and neither of us was about to back down.  Chopsticks tentatively perched in hand; I struggled to pick up a single pupae.  They were surprisingly… moist.  I only tried one.

Freaky Food: Beondegi
Verdict: Gross!

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Wake up and smell the coffee, Korea!

To me, coffee is more than a tasty beverage, it’s a ritual.  When I lived in Madrid, I went without a good cup of a coffee for months.  I could get an espresso, cafe con leche, or even an americano (espresso with water), but no drip coffee.  I traveled all around the continent and results were the same.

So when I heard Korea was coffee-obsessed, I had high hopes.  It definitely lives up to the reputation – there are coffee shops on nearly every corner, and the Starbucks logo might as well be Louis Vuitton the way it’s displayed by men and women alike.  What’s the problem, then?

Koreans claim they love coffee, but they don’t.  They love instant coffee.  If you go into a coffee shop, you can get all sorts of fancy drinks: lattes, mochas, cappucinos, you name it.  When I saw drip coffee (드립 커피) on the menu at Angel-in-us, I was shocked.  Andy tried to order it one morning and they said, “Sorry, it takes too long.” Considering my kiwi smoothie (delicious, by the way) took ~35 minutes I don’t even want to know how long a cup of coffee would have taken.

Our school has an espresso machine, which I am definitely using, but sometimes I don’t want the bold flavor of espresso.  I just want to be able to make coffee at home.

Let me explain our coffee saga so far:
– No coffee maker, so we bought some instant coffee.  To be honest, it wasn’t bad, but it’s definitely weak and not full-bodied.
– Beth and Jess gave us a coffee maker! When we went shopping together, Beth recommended a brand of coffee (Tesco).  We loved it, but it was small and we quickly ran out.
– We went shopping again… coffee is really expensive, so we decided to try HomePlus brand.  After about 20 minutes trying to figure out what coffee was regular and what was instant, we feel confident in our decision.  And it was 1/4 the price!
– The next morning, we make some coffee.  It smells… burnt.  It tastes… horrendous.  I check the filter basket and the coffee grounds appeared to have turned into some shiny, tarry sludge.
– I google extensively and even ask around in a snobby coffee forum.  We try some solutions.  The coffee is worse.
– Two days later we cave and buy another Korean brand, Tasters Choice.  We spend a long time looking at packages, since they’re all in Korean.  We pick one.  Feeling good.
– Next morning… smells good! Tastes… okay.  I check the filter basket.  Sludge!! We decide we actually bought instant.
– Fast forward to this morning… we just make the coffee as instant, and it tastes marginally better.  I decide we will just buy the expensive normal coffee at 4x the price from now on.

When we go to Costco in the near future, I am hoping they’ll have a massive bag of normal coffee… I don’t even care how much it costs.  This is getting ridiculous.  C’mon Korea!

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Happy White Day!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, February 14 is Valentine’s Day in Korea as well as in the States.  Here, it has a different meaning – Valentine’s Day is when women give men chocolates as a token of affection.  If you received some chocolate… you reciprocate on White Day! Exactly a month later, this holiday is observed March 14th.  According to Wikipedia, men usually reciprocate with candy.  I was grocery shopping last night and I saw the candy aisles swamped with men.  They also were buying tremendous teddy bears, flowers, and other massive gift sets.

A White Day cake

Interestingly enough, White Day is called White Day (화이트데이) in Korean.  It definitely sounds a bit strange with the Korean accent!

Do you remember what happens if you don’t receive a gift on Valentine’s Day or White Day? On Black Day, April 14, you eat jajangmyeon… black noodles.  I wrote about these Korean-Chinese noodles in another post.  They’re pretty tasty, so I don’t think I’d mind too much!

Edit: One of my students gave me some candy today, so I’ve officially celebrated my first White Day! Yay!

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Photos from the beginning

Not much is going on, but I want to share some photos with everyone.  Soon I am either going to photograph our apartment or (rather ambitiously) make a short video… so watch for that!

These first two are of the view from my balcony on the 20th floor.  I took these on a hazy day, but when it’s clear you can see more mountains in the background and everything looks much prettier! You can click all of the photos to make them larger.

The tower is part of Woobang Land, an amusement park – you can bungee jump from it!
It was a Korean holiday so we displayed our flag
These next two are of the school.
Kim Yong Jin Language School (floors 6-8).  I teach floor 6.
My classroom and the front desk

Hope you enjoyed!

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First birthdays, Seomun Market, and some photos – finally!

Yesterday we finished up our first work week.  My students were all good but you could tell they couldn’t wait for class to be over… and who could blame them? I felt the same way!

Today was Mr. Kim’s daughter’s first birthday party, and all of our coworkers were invited.  A child’s first birthday is considered very important in Korea, so we were excited to be able to share in this unique cultural experience.  The party (aka an awesome buffet lunch) was at the Daegu Grand Hotel.  Unfortunately, I didn’t follow everything, but Ji Oo (Mr. Kim’s daughter) looked adorable in her pink hanbok! At a certain point, the child is presented with a table full of different items which each represent a potential future.  For instance, money symbolizes prosperity, food items may symbolize health, a book symbolizes education, and so on.  When it was time for Ji Oo to choose her item, she was fast asleep and couldn’t be bothered… so Mr. Kim placed a 50,000 won note in her hand and everybody cheered and took photos!

Mr. and Mrs. Kim with their daughter, Ji Oo

After the party, we went with Beth and Jess to Seomun Market, the largest traditional market in Daegu.  You can basically buy anything you want at Seomun since it’s so massive.  Fruits, vegetables, meat, live animals, textiles, jewelry, snacks, craft supplies, clothing, shoes… and the list goes on and on.  There’s a lot to explore there, so Andy and I definitely need to go back and really wander.

Hanbok for sale at Seomun Market

We went home after the market and unwound a bit, but not until we had taken a computer chair and coffee table out of the trash and re-purposed it for our own uses 🙂 We get enough stares in our neighborhood as it is, but never as many as today when we noisily wheeled a chair 2 blocks over uneven pavement.  Oh well, joke’s on them – we have a super comfy balcony now.  I needed a new charger for my Macbook (mine died two days ago) so we went downtown and I bought a new one.  Only 98,000 won 🙁 Then we met some friends for dinner and drinks – started at Traveler’s, ate at Pan Asia and headed to Organ, which seemed like a Western bar but I’m not 100%.  It had a more intimate vibe than Traveler’s and definitely cooler music.  We were having a good time when Andy realized it was almost time for the last train! Cabs are not that expensive, but the train is cheaper… so we booked it to Banwoldang and made the very last train, which happens to end at our stop.  11:45 PM if anyone’s interested.  I didn’t really mind calling it a night so early since we had had a pretty full day.  Best part: no work tomorrow 🙂

Sparklers downtown!

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Aloe – the Juice of Champions

The teachers’ lounge at my school has a really nice espresso machine (which is especially unusual in Korea).  In addition, our director makes sure we have lots of tea, hot chocolate, and other drinks.  Of course we can bring in our own things if we’d like.

Today I tried this mysterious beverage:

It was not clear to me at the time… but it is aloe vera flavored.  And I think it might be one of my favorite flavored juices in the entire world.  Why don’t we have aloe flavor in the States? Holy moly is it good! So good it gets its own post!

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Starting Work in Korea

 On Monday, we finally got our internet, phone, and cable hooked up.  It’s so great having a reliable connection.  Our cable box has two slots for USB so we can even watch our shows from home right on the tv! We also had our first day of work, which was crazy for everyone.  It was the first day that our school opened (for the younger grades), so everyone’s schedule was being rearranged and changed.  I had 5 classes, ranging from 1-9 students and grades 1-6… definitely a little bit of everything.

After work, we walked through the Monday market right next to our school.  We got 12 of these little pastries (she threw in 2 free!) for 2,000 won… no idea what they were, but they were delicious.  I think they were filled with fig?  When we got to Seongseo we walked around until we found a restaurant that looked good.  The place was called Nuri Potato Soup and we each ordered a soup/stew to help combat the cold rainy weather.

On Tuesday, we met Chang Ha early at work to get our photos for our ID card.  I had different classes but mostly the same lessons.  It was helpful to experiment and see what worked better.  Andy and I went downtown after work since we had to go to Daiso (fancy dollar store basically) and got dinner at a place called Gobul.  Nothing to write home about.

The next day, Chang Ha came to our apartment at 10am to take us to the hospital for our medical check.  We ended up getting blood drawn, a urine test, had our vision and hearing checked, were weighed and measured, AND got a chest X-ray.  I guess they’re pretty serious about who they let into the country! We needed this medical check for our visa (and to get approved for an Alien Registration Card).  Wednesdays at our school focus on conversation and speaking, so it was a lot more fun and casual.  I had only younger students and we learned the words “what” and “why.”
Since I didn’t have a full day this Wednesday, Mr. Kim let Andy and I leave a bit early.  He’s really a great boss – he even bought every teacher in the school Starbucks yesterday, and that stuff is pretty expensive here! So we met some friends downtown for dinner.  It was my first time having Korean BBQ in Korea – we went to a typical place and ordered samgyeopsal (pork belly) which was delicious.  After dinner we all wandered around until we ended up at Makgeolli 3000, where we had pajeon (scallion and egg pancake) and three different kinds of makgeolli (rice wine).  I tried regular, strawberry, and honey… strawberry was the clear winner with honey making a close second.  Delicious – and cheap! The whole night, including dinner, beer, pajeon and makgeolli cost 13,300 won – or less than $12.

pajeon – incredible!

Today we woke up late (when you don’t work until 1:30 you have that luxury) and headed
 to work.  My classes were all really great expect my last one… they basically just sat and stared at me for 70 minutes and it was brutal, even when we played games.  I taught the exact same lesson to the same aged students right before, and that one was a lot of fun – it depends on the class dynamic I guess.  I need to figure out how to get them to engage.  I’ve noticed my students will not answer if they do not know the exact answer, which is hard because in English they rarely do.  Even when we play hangman they will only guess the word, not letters – because they don’t want to be wrong.

We just got home from dinner… went to another Korean barbecue place.  So much food for just two people – I don’t know what we were thinking!

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Adventures Downtown

So yesterday Andy and I had ambitious goals of exploring downtown and furniture shopping, but the not-so-hot weather and jet lag changed our plans quickly.  A lot of stores aren’t open until 12 here, and I got up before 7am again… so we went grocery shopping instead.  We spent a lot of time in E-Mart this time just so we could explore every aisle.  It’s like a very large Target.

We headed back home and made lunch and just bummed around for a while.  We made some plans to meet Conor a block away and met a lot of his friends from EPIK.  We basically hopped onto the EPIK downtown orientation (aka bar crawl) but no one cared and it was a great way to meet a lot of people new to Daegu like ourselves.  The English teachers here are from all around the world which is very cool.  I think Americans and Canadians are the most common, but we met people from all over the UK, Ireland, South Africa, and New Zealand.  If a country speaks English, they have a teacher here.

Our first stop was Travelers, a popular foreign pub which boasts the best burgers in town.  As Andy and I were walking in, I turned to him and joked “I bet we won’t see anyone we know here…” New city and all, right? Except Jess was sitting a table with some friends, one of whom Andy had already met! So even though Daegu is a city of 3 million, it can feel kind of small at times, especially in foreigner hangouts.  I think Travelers might be a bit overrated but I do like that I can get a decent cider on draught.

Then we joined a group and headed over to a place called Go-Go-Vinyl, where you can get bag drinks.  Honestly the whole idea is very strange but it’s extremely popular! For 5,000 won you get a large bag of whatever drink you choose.  They have an extensive menu in English and Korean.  I suppose it’s the adult version of Capri-Sun.  Since drinking in public is legal in Korea, people walk all over downtown with their bagged drink of choice.

Next stop was a place called Thursday Party.  We had been warned this place was basically a frat party and I can definitely see how it earned that reputation.  There were actually two signs outside of the bar about fights and sexual harassment – basically, if the US Army caused one more problem they would not be allowed back.  I find it very disappointing when Americans, especially military, present themselves in such an embarrassing fashion.  It unfairly represents the majority of Americans (including servicemen and women) who don’t behave like culturally ignorant drunken idiots.  We didn’t stay very long, opting instead to check out a nearby hookah bar.

The transition from bar to lounge was great because we got to really talk to some new people.  Our group was large so we split up and went upstairs.  Andy and I were actually the only two Americans at our table – the rest were from England and Scotland.  It was great to get to know what everyone’s been up to, hear about their schools, and discuss differences and similarities between our countries.  They continued to go out around town, but we were exhausted at this point and caught a cab home.  We did make promises with many of our new friends to meet up for dinner or drinks later this week, and I can’t wait! Everyone is super friendly.

Today was a gross rainy day, so Andy and I relaxed and stayed in.  We went to a nearby kimbap place (Kim Pasa) and somehow managed to order food despite the language barrier… the employees were so sweet and understanding.  I ordered galbi tang, which reminded me of Andy’s stepfather’s flanken soup! It was a slightly spicy soup with short ribs, glass noodles, garlic, and green onion.  Perfect for a rainy day.

galbi tang – Korean short rib soup

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Bird Watching: Korean Magpie

So far the only wildlife I’ve seen in Daegu is pigeons and these cuties, Korean Magpies.  Apparently there is a controversy as to whether they are a separate species from North American and/or European Magpies.  Either way, they are beautiful and build large nests in the trees around our complex.  While researching what kind of bird these are I discovered they are official birds of many cities and counties in Korea.  They are pretty large birds and we see them while walking around or from out our windows.  I’m hoping in the spring and summer I can entice a few onto our balcony 🙂

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