Restaurant Review: Kimchi Jjiggae

By Jimmy Denfield.
Author of Eat. Drink. Gwangju. blog

Last night I had the pleasure of finally going to Kimchi JJiggae downtown. I have walked past this restaurant a few times, but had since forgotten about it.

kimchiPete and I checked out what it had to offer. The interior of the restaurant is like that of any other Korean restaurant in town; floor seating and plenty of it.

The menu is short, literally kimchi jjiggae, beer and soju. Within about eight minutes a massive cauldron of boiling kimchi stew was sitting in front of us.

We were both a little surprised at how good it actually was. The kimchi was stewed and very tender and the portions of pork were pretty unbelievable.

You get your money’s worth here and it’s fantastic. Come on an empty stomach and leave feeling rewarded. This meal will only set you back 6000 won, and oh yea, it’s all-you-can-eat.

How to get here: Take a bus to Migliore downtown. Walk past McDonald’s, it’s across from Al- Arab.
Also ask about their other locations.

The Other Korea: North Korea from the DMZ

By Brian Yaeck

When most people decide to do some sightseeing in Korea, it mostly involves something culturally interesting or fun, like a visit to temple or a hike in the mountains, or visit some places in Seoul.

But, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Korea does not neatly fall into one of those categories.
That place is of course the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the heavily fortified border that separates North and South Korea.

The DMZ ranks up there in the world of dark tourism, along side Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Chernobyl, and the Toul Sleng Genocide Musuem, as famous places to visit that aren’t necessarily fun and relaxing, but seem worth investigating to learn about some of the more upsetting aspects of the 20th century.
It is also the only affordable option to get up close to the strange and intriguing world of North Korea.
The only way to enter the DMZ for an up-close tour is through an organized tour company. Though, you can easily get close to North Korea, this is the best way to actually experience it. I did a tour through the USO, which many say is the most affordable and best tour to take.

The tour begins with a cruel early rising, as everyone must get to the meeting point in Seoul by 7:00am, no later. The bus then leaves at 7:30am and heads to the Joint Security Area near the village of Panmunjom, the only place inside the DMZ where tourists can visit.

This is where the United Nations has buildings where the armistice was signed and is the location where talks between the two sides still occur from time to time.

The journey to Panmunjom is surprisingly short, and is kind of shocking to realize just how close the border is to Seoul and how easily the city could be damaged by North Korean artillery should the remote chance of some future conflict occur.

Panmunjom is a mere 55 km away from Seoul and takes less than 2 hours to get there. The landscape changes quickly along the highway from the high-rise landscape of Seoul to the barbed wire fences and military patrol watch towers along the rivers that keep a look out for North Korean spies.

Eventually you start to see patrols of South Korean soldiers and come across the occasional check-point. The journey just to Panmunjom really reinforces the reality that this is one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world with millions of solders deployed on each side.

On the plus side, the lack of human settlements on either side of the DMZ has made it one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world along with Chernobyl. It seems where we aren’t, nature does just fine.
After passing through the checkpoints the tour bus arrived at the JSA, a United Nations base that is located within the DMZ and extends all the way to the demarcation border line between the two countries. After a debriefing on the DMZ and the dos and don’ts on what’s acceptable, the tour group is taken to a set of buildings right on the demarcation border line between the two countries where half of each building sits on the north and the south side of the border.

This is where you get a chance to say you’ve been to North Korea as you can walk into the building and be on the North Korean side of the negotiating table. 
 
 Visiting the buildings were pretty intense, as there were North and South soldiers staring each other down, standing just meters away from the border.

The South Korean soldiers looked kind of cool though, as they select the tallest troops to intimidate the North Korean soldiers, wear sunglasses, and stand constantly in a ready taekwondo stance.

The day I went was apparently a lucky day, as the North Korean soldiers were just outside the building, mere footsteps away. They apparently are a little shy of the tourists groups and aren’t always available for taking snapshots.
When we did take pictures of the North Koreans we were told to not provoke them by pointing at them or posing with them in the background. That really makes them mad, so don’t do it, or you’ll get punched! Seriously, I heard someone got punched.

After this the tour bus takes the group to a few other interesting places near the JSA. A bridge where soldiers were exchanged at the end of the war, which had a nice view of a nearby North Korean village that played communist propaganda 24 hours a day.

After that, it was time to head to an observatory to get a scenic view of the North Korean side of the border. It was fairly interesting to see what it looks like on the other side. The mountains are often hollowed out on the inside and contain military bases. �?Team America: World Police’ was not lying after all!

Finally, the last stop the tour group takes is a trip to one of the invasion tunnels North Korea tried to secretly build in order to sneak troops behind South Korean lines should a war occur.

The tunnels are deep underground and actually are quite chilly as a result. It was interesting to see one of North Korea’s bizarre plans as well as hear some of the interesting lies they told the South after they found it. They said they were actually digging for a coal mine and even painted the tunnel walls black to prove it.

Overall, the trip was definitely worthwhile to get a sense of the division that exists in Korea. It was also good to understand ‘the pain and sorrow’ the Korean people feel as a divided nation.

Since regardless of ideology, the Koreans are all one people, and it’s quite a depressing situation that Korea got itself into in the 20th century. After a humiliating and repressive occupation by Japan they gained freedom only to be divided by the random consequences of geopolitical victories and standoffs and then suffer through a terribly brutal war that ended in a stalemate.

Taking a tour through the War Memorial Museum in Seoul before or after the trip will only help to add further context and detail to a DMZ tour experience as well.

The trip is also interesting since it gives you the only easy opportunity to see North Korea in a cheap and convenient way. Since a trip to North Korea is ridiculously expensive and the other shorter tours have been put on hold indefinitely, a DMZ tour is the most realistic option of seeing this communist country stuck in an Orwellian totalitarian state.

North Korea is as strange as a late era David Lynch film, so although there may be many fine books about the place, this is your one chance to get up close and personal to this bizarre place that seems interesting to read about but never ever live there.

I can only hope that reunification happens soon and that a DMZ tour in the future might be more similar to that of the Berlin Wall presently, to bring a people together and stop the insanity that passes for governance in the northern half. Until then, there are plenty of chances to take it all in. DMZ

Want to see it for yourself? Check out these links to learn about tours and details of the experience.
Tours
The USO DMZ Tour
A tour that is said to offer the most comprehensive tour of the DMZ at the most reasonable price. Visit their website here: http://affiliates.uso.org/Korea/default.cfm?contentid=347

Further Reading
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty
By Bradley Martin

The Aquariums of Pyongyang: 10 Years in the North Korean Gulag
By Kang Chol-Hwan

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
By Guy Delisle

Restaurant Review: Tomo

By Jimmy Denfield/Eat.Drink.Gwangju.

The weather is getting cold and snow and ice are welcoming the streets of Gwangju. Tonight dinner and review were meant to be had in Sangmu, but for whatever reason I had a change of heart. I walked around my local neighborhood of Poongam-dong and discovered a hidden gem; “Tomo.”

“Tomo” is a fusion restaurant. Before you get cynical and bypass this entry all-together, let me just say, this is the good kind of fusion. Tomo’s sign claims it to be a Japanese restaurant, but their menu says different.

Tomo’s menu included sushi, tempura, fried rice dishes and tons of chicken, beef, pork and seafood pots. I was explained by the head sushi chef that “Tomo” is a fusion mostly between Japanese and Chinese cuisine. The menu was all in Korean, and the chef said to me that their full menu wasn’t available until after Christmas. I opted for the sushi which ran me 20,000W.

I was welcome with an interesting appetizer plate. On the left were excellent sweet potato chips, made fresh. The middle were rice balls, flavored with soy and ginger. On the right was a fantastic oyster on the half-shell.

Next, came a big steaming bowl of mussel soup. At first taste I thought to myself, oh God, this is going to be bland. Then it hit me, the garlic, chives, leeks and mussels. It was good; really good. Throughout my dining experience, I kept reaching back for the soup, until it was entirely gone; sans the shells.tomo

Finally, out came the sushi. There were only nine pieces, but I was already feeling good from the soup and appetizers. All of the pieces were incredibly tasty and fresh. I must warn you for those who go heavy on the wasabi with soy sauce; it’s not needed! The wasabi used on all of the pieces were thicker, and less creamy. I’m led to believe that it is made in-house. The fish wasn’t slimy nor frozen, which is common at conveyor belt restaurants and “Miss Roll.” The fish tasted good; fresh. After my meal, I was served some nice chill apple slices.

The highlight of “Tomo” is it’s eclectic atmosphere; there is enough art to house a small gallery. It was nice to be in a restaurant that makes you feel like you’re in a big Western-city’s’ restaurant. (New York, L.A., San Francisco). There was a lot of thought and design put in to Tomo. This would be a great place to enjoy an evening whiskey, sake or even soju, after work. I do recommend you go with a friend or two. Aside from sushi, most dishes on the menu are for groups.

Overall, for 20,000W, I was greatly impressed with “Tomo.” If you’re even in Poongam-dong, check out the Hand-drip Coffee shop, and head up to “Tomo” for some Japanese-Chinese fusion (in a good way).
-JD

How to get here: Here is a map, the restaurant is across from the small park. MAP. Take bus 59, 71, 45, 74 or 78 to Poongam Je-Soo-Ji (풍암저수지), walk down past the Cabane (log cabin restaurant) and make a left. Walk up the hill until you see “Tomo” on the left side. Or, you can take a taxi to Poongam-dong Je-Soo-Ji.

Korea on the Rocks

There are some great outdoor opportunities in Korea. From the 19 amazing national parks to the endless unspoilt islands to the millions of hiking trails that snake through every mountain and hill in every city and town, Korea is a great place to be outdoors.rockclimbing

I’ve recently come into contact with a super cool girl named Sonia who has been researching her tail off on the best rock climbing spots in the ROK for a book on the subject.

“I spent almost 8 months researching the book, living out of my car (camping, crashing with friends. . .), traveling the country. It was amazing!
“My first 3 years I visited all the mountain National Parks. When I returned, I added all the Coastal Parks as well. Provincial parks are really the hidden gems, though! Sununsan and Maisan (literally) rock!
Check out her site here for some ideas and tips on where to hit the rocks in South Korea.

K-Pop Will Never Die

By Brian Yaeck

Like many English teachers here, I’m in my 20s and like a wide range of music but must accept the inevitable reality that my kids may not really appreciate Radiohead or Ghostface Killah the same way I do.

In order to try to win cooperation from my students I will agree to play the latest Korean pop hit as a treat.

You may find the occasional student who really likes Green Day, Sum 41, or once even Marilyn Manson, but for the most part they are all crazy for Korean pop music, which I will refer to from this point on as ‘K-pop’.

What started off as a necessity to somewhat connect to my students has turned into a mild interest I must admit. I can confidently say I am familiar with my major K-pop groups. I can distinguish my Girls Generation from 2NE1, or Big Bang from Super Junior, I know these things…sadly.
My embrace of K-Pop music culminated in my attendance of the 6th Annual Asia Song Festival on September 19th at Seoul World Cup Stadium. My girlfriend noticed that free tickets could be won through applying for the tickets online in the Korea Times Newspaper and we got some free tickets and went.

The Asian Song Festival is an annual event meant to showcase Asian music as well as give music fans a chance to see pop stars from other countries outside of Korea. So if you are intrigued by K-Pop as I am, there is always 2010 for you.

While it was neat to observe the obsessed fans, the music was still quite interesting, even though pop music is not my first choice for live music.

The same signature style of K-pop was present in every country present. China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia. Even Ukraine sent a very interesting representative in the form of Ruslana.

The only country that really switched things up a bit was Japan through Mihimaru GT and Gackt. I would have to say that Gackt was the highlight for me, as the group had this goth-metal-pop thing going on, which was a change in pace.
Mihimaru GT was cool as well since the group actually featured a freakin’ guitar.

So, I’ve been going on and on about pop music so far in this column, without actually describing what its like. Now, let me break it down for you.

In a nutshell, especially after seeing the Asian Song Festival, the music scene is like this. Imagine a world where the three biggest musical influences are New Kids on the block, Spice Girls, and Michael Jackson.s_Girls_Generation_1

In Asia, and especially Korea, pop music is overwhelmingly popular, even more so than North American pop music in comparison to other music genres. Some rap groups are also popular too, while rock music is delegated to indie status in most cases. There is no Korean version of Green Day or any other giant rock band from what I recall.

K-Pop is not that different from the pop music that’s popular in America. There is typically a group of singers who sing to some electronic pop music powered by synthesizers instead of live instruments.

To make the songs sound a little more like American pop music, random English is often sprinkled into the songs, especially in the chorus. Sometimes its just one word repeated over and over again like Super Junior’s ‘Sorry, sorry’ and sometimes it may not even make much sense such as Kara’s ‘Pretty girl’ with the chorus singing ‘if you want a pretty, everyone a pretty’.
Besides the ban of live instruments and use of random English the other necessary ingredient for K-pop music is dance moves, baby.

Perhaps this explains the lack of musical instruments; they get in the way of all those cool synchronized dance moves. See, each song just can’t have any kind of random dance move; it needs a very specific dance move to make the song stand out from the rest of the pack.

Studying several K-Pop music videos will explain this phenomenon. Note the differences in dance moves Girls Generation uses in ‘Gee’ and ‘Genie’. Speaking of Girls Generation, this brings us to the next essential feature, almost a rule really, about K-Pop: the more members in the group, the merrier.

Gone are the days where there can just be one singer with other backup dancers like K-pop music star-turned-actor Rain. Four is the bare minimum for pop music these days, 5 members will also do. But why stop there? Girls Generation has 9 members. While Super Junior is the champion and holds the record as the world’s biggest boy band with 13 members! It’s good because there is always a lot of dancing going on when one person is singing.

One other final and interesting thing to note about K-Pop is the role the music plays in selling products. Just like in North America, the sale of music has taken a bit of a dent due to online file sharing. However, K-Pop groups one up their North American counterparts by not just lending their music to commercials, but also appearing in them and singing songs solely devoted to selling this product.

Using Girls Generation once again as an example, they have been one of the more bankable groups by appearing in commercials promoting products such as instant noodles, banana milk, and banks, amongst other things. They released a single called ‘Chocolate Love’ to promote a new cellphone called…Chocolate Love. In fact, very few cellphones in Korea can be released these days without a little help from a popular K-Pop group to tell teenagers how cool this phone is.
So there you have it folks, this is what the world of K-pop sounds and looks like. It is an entirely different world to discover and observe. The pop songs are actually kind of catchy, and K-pop is an unstoppable trend that will may possibly avoid burning out or fading away.

For more info about K-Pop and the Asia Song Festival check out this http://www.allkpop.com/index.php/full_story/2009_asia_song_festival_was_hot/.

Another good K-Pop website: http://www.soompi.com/

To get a sense of what K-pop is all look no further than Girls Generation’s ‘Gee’ which was a #1 single for 9 weeks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7mPqycQ0tQ.

Home Food

By Heather Bucurel
http://thekimchichronicles.blogspot.com

If you’ve eaten one too many orders of mandu from your local Kimbap Nara and want something new, or perhaps you’re longing for comfort foods from back home, look no further than the Underground Grocers in downtown Gwangju.
Currently located behind Migliore and a 5-minute walk from McDonald’s, this shop contains many delights within its walls.
There are baking goods for those who love cookies and cakes; assorted spices and curries for the Indian/Nepalese/Thai food lovers, pastas, Mexican food ingredients, cheese, and the list goes on.
If the store doesn’t have what you’re looking for, chances are that Mike and Tim (the owners) can find it for you if you put in a request. Just recently, they received turkeys on special order for the holidays.
The store has seen a great increase of business since its first move from the underground shopping street near the subway. This is due in part to the increase of the foreign population in Gwangju, and its word-of-mouth among expats.PB280040
Thus, the Underground Grocers will be moving once again, to a larger location in a building across from Zara department store. This location will allow for Mike and Tim to add to their ever-increasing stock of items and to accommodate for future demand.
Also in the works: a Chinese restaurant. Once things settle down after the move, Mike hopes to start up a Mexican restaurant, first serving tacos before expanding into other menu items.
It will take a bit to train Korean staff in making the western food, but it sounds like a great idea for the future!
You can currently visit the Underground Grocers at their present location behind Migliore while final plans are being completed.
The store hopes to open in their new location by the second weekend in December.

For more information or to find out updates, check out their group on Facebook: The Underground Grocers in Gwangju.

Restaurant Review: Jane et Alice

By Jimmy Denfield
http://www.eatdrinkgwangju.com

Located in Sangmu is a tiny hole-in-the-wall that serves up sandwiches and cereal. Its name is Jane et Alice (Jane and Alice).
It’s a tiny shop near E-Mart by the 5.18 pedestrian overpass bridge. You’ll spot it next to a vacant Rice Spoon and a Seven Monkeys coffee shop.
The menu is extremely limited, offering sandwiches, one burger, one bagel, cereal and a couple of drinks.
I’ve heard their turkey and cheese was good, as well as their steak sandwich. My friend Chris came out for the review and tried the steak sandwich.
The steak… well, more like bulgogi was cooked fine. The sandwich was ridiculously small for it’s hefty 7,000W price tag. The hash-brown was an extra 2,000. In addition to cheese, lettuce and red onion (which were nice) there was a very strange relish taste to the sandwich (which in my opinion, ruined it).
I opted for their bacon-bagel. It just sounded good. The description of the sandwich was written in Korean, and the only thing I could make out was “치 즈;” cheese that is.
I figured it was going to be a bacon, egg and cheese bagel, which at the time sounded lovely.janeandalice
Instead I was met with a BLT; bacon, lettuce and tomato. The bagel was raw and was also filled with dried cranberries. There was way too much lettuce, just trying to “beef” up the bagel. The cheese was plastic. The bacon on this thing was awesome though… sort of a waste of bacon.

Weighing in at 5,500W, Mr. Cranberry was well over-priced.
Jane and Alice are lacking a few things.

One of them is service. It took a long time to get our food. The menu was pretty boring. The food was so-so. The atmosphere and decor are the same as most cookie-cutter layouts found in Korean coffee and sandwich shops.
If you are in Sangmu and want to overpay for an average sandwich (kind of like going to Kraze Burger) then check this place out.
Our bill came out to almost 20,000W; that is just too expensive for a couple of plastic sandwiches.

How to get there: Take a taxi to Sangmu E-Mart, or catch a bus to Sangmu 5.18 Park.

^_^ Smile and other Korean Emoticons

Learning Korean can be hard, but a lot of fun. One of my favorite things about any language is learning what language their animals speak. For example, in America a frog says “Ribbit! Ribbit!” But in Korea, that very same frog would say “Kagul! Kagul!”

Another interesting thing to learn about Korean is the emoticons. You know, those things your co-teachers and Korean friends write on their texts and Facebook messages to you. It’s like a whole new language. And to understand whether they are laughing or crying or sleeping or winking, you need to learn it.Emoticon_WP___04_by_elusive

Here’s a few of them. (Thanks to this website)

(^_^) = smile

(^o^) = laughing out loud

“keke” or “kkk” – Laughing (like covering your mouth)

d(^_^)b = thumbs up (not ears)

(T_T) = sad (it’s a crying face)

(-.-)Zzz = sleeping

(Z.Z) = sleepy person

\(^_^)/ = cheers, hurrah

(*^^*) = shyness

(-_-); = sweating (as in ashamed)

(^_^);; = sorry! my mistake

(?_?) = nonsense, i don’t know

(^_~) = wink

(o.O) = surprise

(>^_^)> = hugging

Find This: Gwangju Scavenger Hunt

Korea is full of intriguing sights. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t find myself surprised at something unique about where I’m living. I also find myself at a loss as to how to explain all of the Korean-ness to the people back home. It’s difficult for my Canadian friends to completely understand how bizarre couple sets are or what a hanbok looks like or to just what extent a friendly Korean can make your day.

Gwangju Scavenger Hunt/Joanne Cronin

Gwangju Scavenger Hunt/Joanne Cronin

marion photo

Gwangju Scavenger Hunt/Joanne Cronin

All of this is even more captivating for a newcomer. This past month, Joey Cronin found a way to help many of us capture all of the eccentricities of Korea, as well as make the new wave of teachers feel more comfortable in their surroundings.

After brainstorming for exciting new things to do with friends, Joey, along with Stew Wallace and Tamara Rose, organized the first Gwangju Scavenger Hunt downtown on October 17th, which was sponsored by Teach ESL Korea.

No one knew quite what to expect, but we all showed up with bells on, excited to see just how many bizarre things we’d have to do that day. There were prizes for the winning teams, including drink vouchers from Speakeasy, Crazy Horse and Songs, gift certificates to the Underground Grocers and Basta restaurant, and a grand prize of a one-night stay at a hotel in Busan along with a one-year subscription to 10 Magazine. The competition would be fierce.

Twelve teams of five arrived downtown to enter the hunt. After an explanation of the rules and a drinking contest, we left behind the organizers to pounce on any Korean person willing to help us finish our tasks. Fortunately, the Gwangju 7080 Recollection Festival was happening at the same time, making it easy to find friendly people willing to let loose on camera.

Some things on the list of 100, like posing with a music vendor or statue, were easy to do. Others, like eating boondaegi (silk worm larvae), were meant to test our nerve. The best ones were meant to break down cultural barriers. My favorites were ‘help someone make and sell street food’, ‘hand out samples by a makeup store’, ‘have a drink with an ajoshi (older man)’, and ‘play an arcade game with a Korean stranger’.

“Everyone enjoyed themselves!” said Joey. “Drew Roben was a bit of a champion — he ate a full cup of boondaegi and I felt bad for him. He could still taste them a few hours later!”

Drew, along with everyone who came out that day, managed to do no less than forty five tasks while meeting new people, experiencing Korean culture in a new way, and creating an array of hilarious new
photos to send to the people back home.

I can only imagine what the Korean people thought of us that day. There’s no doubt that the Koreans we met probably experienced a similar loss for words with their own friends and families. Being the recipient of one of these tasks would have made great fodder for dinner conversations in Korean homes that night. “You will never believe what happened to me today…”

Cook up your own kimchi jjigae

By Whit Altizer

My Korean friend Lucy loves Korean soups. Watching her prepare to eat one is like watching a monk prepare for prayer.
She puts her face in the rising steam above the boiling hot soup, inhales slowly, and closes her eyes seemingly thanking the Korean gods for this bowl in front of her.

Then she begins to eat, slowly, methodically, purring with pleasure at each slurp. It is truly eating at its best. I use to smile, almost laugh, with amusement watching this ritual by this slender Korean female, but now I understand. Korean soups deserve such respect.

Now, two months removed from Korea, my wife and I do our own version of Lucy’s ritual over the kimchi jjigae (김치찌개) we fix at our North Carolina home. Gone, for now, are the days of ordering the delectable stew from a nearby diner.We must fend for ourselves. Slowly, we have come up with a recipe that is comparable to the stew we consumed almost nightly in Korea.You can fix it in the Land of the Morning Calm, or in your home country.

Boseong.Yulpo-17

Here is how we do it:

1. Put about 2 cups of kimchi into a frying pan. Cook the kimchi by itself for about 5-10 minutes on medium. You don’t want to burn the kimchi but get it nice and hot. This allows some of the juices to be released from the cabbage.

2. Once you are satisfied with your kimchi, add water. I add enough water to cover the kimchi and then some so I have plenty of broth. Keep the stove on medium.

3. Add your other ingredients:
a. 1⁄2-1 pack of tofu
b. 1-2 stalks of green onions or scallions
c. 1-2 jalapenos
d. 1⁄2 an onion
e. 2 spoonfuls of gochugaru (red pepper flakes)
f. 2 spoonfuls of gochujang (red pepper paste)
g. Several dashes of soy sauce, enough to taste.
h. 2 cloves of garlic
i. I add 1 1⁄2 cups of tuna in oil making it Chamchi Jigae (참치 찌개 or Kimchi Jigae with tuna). But you can also add pork belly chunks.

4. Let it slowly come to a boil. Then serve.
Honestly, I add ingredients based on the taste I am going for. Not spicy enough? Add more gochugaru and gochujang. Too spicy? Add more water. You want a deep red broth for authentic kimchi jjigae.Also, don’t forget to steam some rice and find some bite-sized gim(seaweed paper) to wrap the rice and dip in your stew.

When everything is in place on your dinner table, put your face over the soup, inhale, give thanks and purr with each slurp of delicious stew.