Travel Blog: Dried Squid for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

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ODT reporter Sarah Marquet writes a blog about life in Seoul, Korea. With funding from the Asia New Zealand Foundation, she will work in the newsrooms of one of South Korea’s largest newspapers, the Joong Ang Daily, for the next six weeks.

It’s the must-have food blog that everyone seems to have been asking for. Those who really know me know that I can be a pretty picky eater and some have probably wondered if I would survive on Korean food or frequent Western-style cafes and restaurants.

Well, after a week in a Korean host family, I can say that my taste buds have been tested. I unknowingly tried foods that I probably wouldn’t have tried at home and will be disappointed if I leave without a few recipes.

Before I came here, all I really knew about Korean food was kimchi (fermented cabbage) and barbecue. It turns out that cabbage isn’t the only vegetable used to make kimchi. That’s what I think I’m being told anyway, my Korean is terrible.

Each dish of vegetables, always served cold, seems to be called kimchi but as far as I know not all are fermented – some are marinated, others are cooked in some sort of liquid that I still haven’t guessed – l sesame oil, fish sauce and maybe soy sauce and probably more.

Everything, without exaggeration, is covered in chili sauce.

At home, there are several kinds of vegetables and rice served three times a day. All of them are placed on the table, and if it’s a new batch, you take a little pile of whatever you want and put it on your own plate. If it’s not such a fresh batch, if only a little is left in the container, you all dip in and take that container out, like sharing a plate.

Sometimes there are little extras like a steamed egg with shrimp, grilled fish, or a “Korean pizza” as my host family calls it – basically when there is only a tiny little one left. little vegetable dish in the refrigerator, mother mixes a paste of rice flour and egg, mixes the vegetables and fry them like a pancake.

They usually put a small bowl of water on the table so that I wash some of the chili from my vegetables before I eat them. They laugh at me for doing it, but everything is quite spicy by New Zealand standards.

While the fish and the like come from various markets, all the vegetables come from the family’s garden – something quite unusual in Seoul.

About an hour’s drive from their home, they have a garden. Haven’t seen it yet, but I guess it’s quite big as they sometimes call it a farm.

All the vegetables eaten in this house come from this garden and parents spend their weekends there tending to their crops. It’s more expensive than buying in the markets, but they say it’s healthier.

At first I was pretty overwhelmed with all the new flavors and foods and quickly learned to try it first and then ask questions. Dried squid, a unique accompaniment to our meals, is now something I eat with breakfast, lunch, and dinner when I dine at home.

When I first tried it I thought it was fried onion and I’m glad I didn’t ask what it was until later in the day because if I had had known what it really was, I probably would have been a little leery of eating it.

Toenjang, a soup made from tofu, soy beans and soybean paste, was new today – I have a feeling the family could test me by concocting something new most of the time.

It was nothing that I had never tried before and I don’t know what to compare it to. It’s a little bitter, a little sweet and a little something else. If you haven’t tried it already, you’ll just have to trust me when I say it was weirdly delicious.

However, since I work every day, I don’t often have three meals at home, which gives me the opportunity to try other things.

There is a bakery near the office, Paris Baguette (it’s actually a big chain) that always has such weird and delicious baked goods in the window.

While I’m not supposed to eat gluten, I had to try something so I chose the strangest thing – some sort of sausage bread.

It was disgusting.

Korean bread is full of sugar and almost sweet, which for two reasons is actually a good thing – because I shouldn’t be eating bread anyway, and because Korean food is much cheaper than the western food here.

For 8,000 won (about NZ $ 9), you can buy a sandwich or panini at a cafe.

For the same price you can buy a plate of dumplings and a huge bowl of food like bibimbap (rice and vegetables topped with chili sauce) or naeng myun (cold buckwheat noodle soup with vegetables and, of course, lots of chili. ) from a Korean restaurant.

So while I expected to run out of food at home, the only thing I really crave is fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruit is sold in local markets but it is not the same as at home.

We cut a watermelon last night but it wasn’t juicy, it was almost dry.


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