Monday, December 28, 2009

Catie: Finally, a new post.

So much has happened!

I will give you a brief overview and then focus on what is really important: our move.

Since we last posted:

- We discovered Old Downtown on a trip to Costco.  Usually, we take a bus and then the subway, but we didn't want to have to walk to the subway (actually, I didn't want to.. :D), so that day we took two buses instead.  The first bus, number 2, dropped us right in the middle of Old Downtown.

Old Downtown is crazy.  We had been there once before, to get to the International Center, but we'd never gone exploring.  There is a huge, underground shopping center.  Yes, underground.  It's cool, basically a long subway tunnel with shops on either side.  It stops at the river and then starts up again on the other side.  It spans maybe... half a mile?  That's an uneducated guess.  There's also a huge, traditional market.

On the day we really went to explore, it was snowing tons.  Tons and tons of tons.  So, it was freezing-freezing, but it was really fun to walk through the outdoor market in the snow.  Most areas are either covered, or vendors shelters overlap one another enough that you're basically covered.  Some Koreans carry umbrellas in the snow.  The traditional market sells (of course) mandarins and navel oranges, persimmons, lots of beans and grains, vegetables, fresh eggs, a lot of various street food, dead fish, live fish as well as lots of other live sea food like king crabs, oysters, clams, lots of squid, sting ray is popular, also dried fish, prawns and shrimp in various forms.  Basically, they sell everything in the world, mostly food.  Like our traditional market, only huger.

For dinner, there's this sort of square type place -- by square I mean something like a "village square" -- that was crazy-decorated.  We're not sure if it was just for Christmas, but it was nuts.  There are these huge, white metal arches all along the length of it -- it's more of a rectangular.. square -- with scrolling all in them and lights all over them.  First, in the spirit of starving, we got our first Korean waffle.  You see these waffles everywhere.  Koreans consider waffles to be desert, so they're often served with ice cream and other sweet toppings.  They're all Belgian waffles, thick and airy.  They're also delicious.  Most street vendors sell a single waffle for W1,000, and spread some sort of honey/jam on one side, and a sweet kind of cross between butter and whipping cream on the other side.  I've never had any sort of cream like it and I assume it's at least partially non-dairy, but it is yummy.  We've had several waffles since and I like Korean waffles.  Next, we found a place selling wraps.  They're a little gyros and places that have these spits, like gyro places in America have.  You know, with the legs of lamb, turning around and around and they carve off pieces as it turns.  Only... here, they're piles chicken and chicken upon chicken, layered with pieces of chicken fat, onto the spit in the shape of a leg of lamb.  Then, as though it were a leg of lamb, they carve it as it spins and the pieces fall into tiny bits instead of slices.  But I am not complaining.  This was the best wrap of it's sort that I have ever had.  I know I've said it before, but I will say it again.  They take a really thin tortilla (I think it's the same kind we buy at Costco -- there's so many small businesses, I think a lot of them actually shop at Costco), put a plain, white, "yogurt sauce" on it (which may actually be straight up yogurt), then a mixture of shredded vegetables, mostly green cabbage, with some red cabbage, carrots and sometimes lettuce, then sliced yellow onions, and tomatoes.  They put the "lamb" chicken on top of that and then what I think is honey mustard (Koreans only really eat honey mustard, it seems like) and the most delicious spicy, red sauce I have ever tasted.  I could eat it with a spoon.  Have I said how I'm becoming accustomed to the spice in things?  Because I am and I love it.

We ate the wrap.

And then we found the coolest thing we've found yet in the history of street food.  It was a whole potato (they're tiny here), spiral cut pretty thin, stretched out long on a wooden skewer and fried.  It was like really thick potato chips.  When you buy it (for W1,000, like all street food - cheap), they roll it in a lightly sweet, seasoned salt.  It is yum.  You would like it.

So, Old Downtown in fun.  It is very, very loud.  There are tons of shops.  There's a North Face and other familiar brands like Unionbay have stores.  There's a Baskin Robbins, an Outback Steakhouse, a Pizza Hut, seventy-three million 7 Elevens, and a Starbucks, too.  Plus other places I can't remember.

Also, a yarn store!  But, I think it pretty much turns out that all yarn stores in Korea are about the same.  So, while it was fun to find another one, I don't think, in the end, I really need one.  That makes three that I've found, though!  Plus, one tiny fabric kiosk I found in our dong.

Moving forward.

- We got a membership at the International Lending Library.  To do so, we had to donate four paperback books (or three hardbacks -- who buys hardbacks?) and bring in our alien registration card (like a green card).  Ben had run out of things to read -- completely run out, he ran through his newest batch of New Yorkers and other magazines like a wood chipper with shavings coming off the sides! -- so I took the bus down there one afternoon and got a membership.  The problem, then, was picking out books he'd actually like, but thankfully, you can only get two books at a time per membership.  We only get to keep them two weeks, too, but there are only 2,000 books in the whole library, so it makes sense.  So, Ben is now rereading the full Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as some political book called Terror and Consent.  Sounds so light and fun!  It's nice to have the membership, and we've figured out that it's much faster to get there by taking the bus to the subway and the subway to the Int'l Center than by just taking the number 2 bus.  Number 2 takes well over an hour.  It's good for him to have books.

- Christmas Eve was spent with Ben's co-workers at a Korean spring roll restaurant.  It was so good.  I can't even tell you how good.  There is some Korean food that I may not even be able to live without when we come home.

Okay, so here's how it worked.

Korean meals, like Chinese meals, are very communal.  There are a bazillion side dishes and, depending on the size of your group, there may be multiple bowls, but usually no more than one per three people.  So, in the middles of the tables, there were grills (most restaurants have some form of either grill or pot in the middle of the table), with pots sunk in the middle and then in the front and in the back, there were these little metal tins of warm, red water.  Then, each person had a little set of dipping sauces and everyone shared piles of round, rice paper and several giant platters of shredded vegetables, including: red and green cabbage, two kinds of bean sprouts, seaweed, turnip, zucchini, carrots, a leafy green that tastes a bit like.. mint?  It's everywhere.  And other ones I can't remember.  Then, the waitresses bring you platters of meat, some of which they arrange on the grills, and some of which they plop into the pot of hot salt water brine/broth that makes up the base of any and all Korean soup pots.  They cut the boiling meat so thin that it cooks in a matter of seconds and the grilling meat cooks pretty fast too, with yummy dark grill marks.

So, what you do is you take a piece of crispy-hard rice paper with your chopsticks and drop it in the red water then immediately take it back out and lay it on your plate.  It won't be soft then, but it will get soft on your plate while you pile vegetables onto it.  Plus, the red water makes it pink, so it's so cute.  You do want to make sure you get it out while it's still hard, though, or you'll be trying to peel apart this slimy piece of pink rubber.  Like peeling apart plastic wrap, only worse.  Then, you grab vegetables and meat (we had bulgogi [beef], duck sausage, and a very ham-like pork, but uncured, of course) with your chopsticks and make a pile in the middle and you roll it up into a spring roll!  YUM.  You can dip it in the sauces you have.  One was so, so good and sweet, but RED hot, another was red and sweet, but not hot, one was ginger wasabi (ick) and then there was a garlic, red pepper, sesame and onion infused oil and also another sauce, but I don't remember what kind.  The red hot sauce and the not hot red sauce were the best.  Ben liked the sauce I can't remember what it was.

It was the best meal ever.

Then we had kimchi.

And, a lot of the time, at the hot-pot type restaurants (one with a pot in the table), they will come at the end of your meal and mix some rice and vegetables in with your remaining broth.  So, they did that, and mixed it until it was almost a rice porridge.  It was pretty good, very oniony, though, like most things.

The most delicious meal I've had since we got here.

- Christmas Day, we had Brian and Aaron over.  I made a pot roast with carrots and vegetables in our crock pot, gravy from the beef stock that came from the crock pot, a hashbrown casserole, a green bean casserole, and a lemon meringue pie and a chocolate cream pie.  It was a big hit and the pot roast had been in the crock pot all day long, so it was SO yummy and tender.  They don't have roasts here, but they do have chuck, the shoulder meat that chuck roast comes from, so I drew a picture of a cow, divided into cuts of meat like they have at butcher shops, and wrote out the Korean for chuck roast in the shoulder piece of the cow.  The butcher got it right away and apparently, "chuck roast" in Korean is, "chuckaroasta", so....... I probably could just have said it.  Although, "Costco" in Korean is "Costaco", and unless you add the extra syllable, they have no idea what you're talking about, so actually, I probably couldn't have just said it.  Regardless, the chuckaroasta came in six.. basically steaks, instead of one piece.  So, I tied them together with some string, and it worked like a charm.  By the end, I didn't even really have to untie it, the meat was falling apart so much.  It was SO good.  I will do it again.  That was Christmas.

- And yesterday, we moved.  But this post is really long.  So, I'll talk about the move in another post.

I need to take more pictures, too, I don't have anything to show for any of this!

We hope everyone's holidays are going well!

- catie

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