Saturday, May 14, 2011

5.14.11 We're Legal! Also, More Food...

We haven't done a documents post in a while, because the majority of the paper chase happens before you get to Korea. There are, however, a few other documents you'll want to get once you arrive.

You are required to undergo a health check within 30 days of arriving. Our handler, the indispensabe Kate, was very proactive on this, and we went in for our tests during the first week that we were here. It was a very basic physical; blood and urine samples, height, weight, pulse, blood pressure, eye test, and chest x-ray. Unfortunately, the clinic we went to first was not certified for government health checks, so we had to go do it all again about 10 days later. The second time they did all of the above plus hearing and color-blindness tests. I failed the color-blindness test utterly (in fact, I failed it so soundly that I think it is actually a cruel joke. There is no number in the dots, and everyone is in on it but me. You guys are mean...).

While we were waiting for the results of those tests, our employers did criminal background checks through Korean law enforcement and Interpol. Luckily, Becky's sordid past as a black market mongoose wrangler didn't surface (thank goodness for the witness protection program).

Once all of those checks came back negative, we were issued our "Certificate of Alien Registration" cards. With these in hand, you are ready to take the final step in becoming a fully functional hangul-illiterate waygookin - which is having someone who speaks Korean take you to the bank so you can set up an account. Kate and the director of our hogwan took us to Joenbuk Bank today, so we can now be paid for our endeavours via direct deposit. You can see our alien cards, debit cards, and passbooks (they still use passbooks here!) in this picture, along with a beautiful fan that Becky got on our last trip to the Hanok Village.

Now, on to the part of the post you are all actually interested in - food. We have a lot of catching up to do, so here goes (all of the pictures will enlarge when you click them once or twice).

Here is another chigae (stew), but this one has pork-filled mandu (dumplings) in it. Like everything here, it is served insanely hot - usually still boiling when it reaches the table (my Aunt Susan would love this tradition). The dolsot (thick-walled stone bowl) that it's served in really holds the heat. We often have to wait 5 minutes or so before we can even try to eat it. Luckily, they always serve several side dishes with every meal. In this picture we have two kinds of pickled radish and kimchee (of course). This is a perfect dish for a rainy day, and our local gimbap shop serves a big bowl of it for 3500 Won ($3.21). I eat some kind of chigae about once per week.

This is a Korean omelette. The red sauce on it is just ketchup, but the filling is a bit of a surprise - spicy fried rice, bell peppers, and, of course, kimchee. Like everything else I've had in Korea, it is served quickly, and well prepared. Although it looks very large, the eggs are spread very thin during cooking; my guess is that it only contains 2 eggs. Whenever I get the urge for breakfast foods, this is the solution. If you are squeamish about trying new foods, I recommend this one. It is quite similar to omelettes in the West, and a gentle introduction to Korean ideas about spiciness. The texture is just like the omelettes at your local Waffle House, but less greasy.

Another good choice if you're not excited about jumping right into the deep end of Korean cuisine is pizza. It's like American pizza, but the crust is a bit softer and sweeter - many have sweet potato in them. This one is a bulgogi (beef barbecue) pizza with "cheese bites" in the crust. It was delicious, although it was a bit more expensive than the usual pizza here - it was 12,500 Won ($11.46). We had this for dinner the other night, and there were no leftovers at all. It is a nice combination of Korean and American cuisine, without ruining either set of flavors. When you are missing Pizza Hut, this is a good solution (there is Pizza Hut in Korea, but it is quite a bit more expensive).

This is the fried chicken I mentioned in an earlier post. It comes from BBQ Chicken, a chain here in Korea, and it's a bit like the sesame chicken you would get at a chinese place in the States, but with more fire to it. Sweet and spicy, with a lovely crunchy texture, it is served with a side of pickled melon - a remarkably good combination. They carve chickens differently here, however, so the only pieces that are immediately recognizable are the legs. They tend to chop breasts and thighs in half, so you get some odd little pieces, but all are delicious. This has forever supplanted KFC, Church's, and Popeyes in my heart.  It's not a food you can be dainty while eating - it requires many wet naps to clean up your fingers afterward.

The dish that Jeonju is famous for, bibimbap, is available all over the place, and it is amazing. The dolsot version has a raw or nearly raw egg added to it just as it is served, and the hot bowl cooks the egg. This particular batch came from our favorite little gimbap shop and it is not served in the dolsot, so the egg is fried, sunny side up. It is a lovely presentation when it hits the table, but I didn't remember to take a picture before Becky started stirring it. You are seeing here it as it looks while you're eating it. Very yummy, and quite good for you, too, or so our boss believes. She is quite motherly, and wants us to eat more vegetables...

I saved this one for last, so that the more squeamish readers could just turn away. This is Soondae. It's a sausage made by stuffing pig intestines with noodles, then soaking it in pig blood and spices. You boil it in a salty brine until it is an alarming purplish black, then serve it with slices of pig organ meat - heart, liver, kidney, and some other bits I couldn't identify. All of this is salted and dipped in a sweet/hot chili sauce. This is drinking food, Korean style. It goes well, I am told, with both beer and hard liquor, and it is a staple of the late night crowd. I have had it twice - the first time was not great, but the second time I finally figured out how you are supposed to use the salt (that's what the foil packet contains) and sauce, and it was delicious. Almost as alarming to look at as the cup o' bugs, but much tastier. Friday is a huge fan of the kidney bits.


  1. The bibimbap brings me back! We always had it served in the dolsot and it was pretty much the only Korean dish I could eat (if I picked out the little bits of beef they added to it).

    Wow. I'm so glad everything is going so smoothly for you guys!

  2. The basic bibimbap here is usually meatless, but you can order it with chicken, beef, or pork. Jeonju is really proud of its produce, so they emphasize the veggies. :)

  3. I love how adventurous you two are with food. :D
    I've been really curious about soondae so, if I ever get to Korea, I think I'll have to be brave and try it.

    *starts saving for a Korea trip now* ;_;

  4. The trick to eating soondae is to be either really, really hungry, or drunk. ;) Come to Korea, it'll be fun!

  5. So I guess your veganism is a fond memory, eh? Is it hard out there for a vegetarian?

    I know it's hard out there when you're the only one not in on the joke ;)

  6. I didn't realize there were all these customs to go through when you want to live in a foreign country. Interesting post.

  7. Raksha - It's basically impossible to be vegetarian here. Everything has meat in it, and if it doesn't have meat in it, it has an egg on top. However, I feel much less guilty about eating meat here because it comes in such small quantities. Koreans basically use meat to season their food, not as the central point of the meal, so even though all their dishes contain meat, they still eat much less than Americans.

    Debbie - Thank you! All the paperwork can be a pain in the butt, but we think it's worth it. :)

  8. Being a vegetarian or vegan would require much greater comprehension of Korean than we currently have. The label reading required would be staggering... :/