Archives for the month of: December, 2014

Mandu guk is a simple, yet very satisfying soup. The literal translation is dumpling soup, a meal typically eaten in the fall and winter.  The hearty, non-spicy broth is usually beef based in which the dumplings are boiled, along with green onions, garlic, kelp and sometimes anchovies. This soup often comes garnished with egg and dried seaweed.

Tteok mandu guk, or rice cake and dumpling soup, is traditionally enjoyed by Koreans on Lunar New Year’s Day. This version of soup includes slices of rice cake in addition to the dumplings. The whiteness of the broth symbolizes purity and the tteok, shaped like old currency, represents a prosperous year. Maturity also comes into play since Koreans turn another year older on New Year’s Day rather than their birthday. It is said that you won’t become a year older until you’ve consumed your tteok mandu guk. Maybe I’ll skip the soup this year and be 30 again.

Mandu (Korean dumplings) are not just found in this soup, they are frequently eaten on their own as a snack, appetizer or side dish. More often than not I see them steamed, but they can also be served pan fried or deep fried with a side of soy sauce for dipping. So far I’ve only seen two kinds of mandu—gogi (meat, usually pork) mandu and kimchi mandu. Both kinds usually include minced onions, mung bean sprouts, garlic, ginger, and sometimes glass noodles. I still haven’t decided which one I prefer, but I do think I enjoy them best in soup.

A steaming bowl of tteok mandu guk, which could easily become just mandu guk by removing the rice cakes.  As usual, kimchi, radish kimchi and pickled daikon radish are served as sides.

A steaming bowl of tteok mandu guk, which could easily become just mandu guk by removing the rice cakes. As usual, kimchi, radish kimchi and pickled daikon radish are served with the soup as sides.

Delicious kimchi mandu.

Delicious kimchi mandu.

Disk-shaped, thinly sliced rice cake is called garaetteok.

Garaetteok is a thinly sliced, disk-shaped variety of rice cake found in tteok mandu guk and tteok guk.

 

 

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I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! Korea is the only East Asian country to recognize Christmas as a national holiday, so that means I had the day off, yay! It was a little hard being so far from loved ones, but I managed to enjoy my day anyway. I had brunch with a few friends, then I spent the rest of the day relaxing and watching movies.

My apologies for the lack of posts lately. I’ve been a little under the weather and have been a bit lazy…more posts to come soon! In the meantime, here are a few photos from the past few weeks.

On the last day of classes for the semester at my small school, I had the students make Christmas cards for their parents and homeroom teacher. They surprised me by making them for me instead. So sweet.

I was showered with holiday love from my students.

My living room was quite cozy on Christmas. The previous teacher that lived here left a tree behind for me to decorate and get in the Christmas spirit.

My living room was quite cozy on Christmas. The English teacher that lived here last year left a tree behind for me to decorate and get in the Christmas spirit.

The great thing about my small school is having very small classes. The third graders are the cutest.

The great thing about my rural school is having very small classes. The third graders are the cutest.

Here I am with the fifth graders. We decided to have a photo shoot on the last day of classes.

Here I am with the fifth graders. They love pictures.

I have much larger classes at my main school. This is one of my 4th grade classes. They all wanted to stand next to me in the picture so I got squished in the middle.

I have much larger classes at my main school. This is one of my 4th grade classes (the smallest of the classes at this school). They all wanted to stand next to me in the picture so I got squished in the middle.

Its been very cold lately. It was 8 degrees on this particular morning. I hate the cold but must admit the dusting of ice and snow made the view that morning quite beautiful.

Its been very cold lately. It was 8 degrees (Fahrenheit) on this particular morning. I hate the cold but must admit the dusting of ice and snow made the view that day quite beautiful.

This is the view from my office. I had no idea it was going to snow so often here.

This is the view from my office. I had no idea it was going to snow so often here.

I went on a temple stay last weekend (more on that later) and this sign was on the door of my room. I have yet to see any "wild animals" in this country.

I went on a temple stay last weekend (more on that later) and this sign was on the door of my room. I have yet to see any “wild animals” in this country.

Palsangjeon in the sunlight at Beopjusa Temple.

Palsangjeon in the sunlight at Beopjusa Temple.

Beopjusa Temple

Beopjusa Temple, Songnisan National Park

Beopjusa Temple

I’ve been to this temple multiple times. Winter seems to be the only time it’s not cluttered with people.

Look at the size of those icicles!

Look at the size of those icicles!

‘Tis the season to bundle up and eat hot soup, so I thought I’d post about another traditional Korean dish that I like particularly like when it’s cold out.  Doengjang jjigae is a stew made with fermented soy bean paste, or doenjeang, which is an essential element in Korean cuisine.  I think many foreigners are initially turned off by this dish, mostly because doengjang is so pungent.  Fermented soy bean paste doesn’t necessarily sound too appetizing, either.  However, the hearty flavor of this dish is unlike any other soup or stew I’ve tried, and I love it.

The broth is usually comprised of doenjang, anchovy stock, garlic and Korean red pepper powder or flakes (gochugaru), which creates a perfect blend of spicy saltiness.  Onions, zucchini, tofu, mushrooms and potatoes are added to the broth, making a deliciously balanced stew (clams, pork or beef are also sometimes included, depending on the recipe).  Doenjang jjigae is often served as a side dish at barbecue restaurants, but lately I’ve been ordering it on it’s own with a bowl of rice for a cheap, healthy and quick dinner.  If you ever have the opportunity to try it, I highly recommend doing so.

Doenjang jjigae is served sizzling hot in a stone bowl along with a side of rice.

Doenjang jjigae is served sizzling hot in a stone bowl along with a side of rice.

This version was made with onions, zucchini, mushrooms, tofu and chili peppers.

This version was made with onions, zucchini, mushrooms, and tofu. I have yet to try a version with clams or any other type of meat. I also haven’t tried making it on my own yet, but I plan on doing so soon as I know this will be one of the dishes I’ll miss when I leave Korea.

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”  -Anne Bradstreet

It’s technically still fall, but I woke up to five inches of snow on Wednesday and declared it winter.  That means I’ve entered the fourth season of the year in Korea, and I think this one might be the most difficult.  I really dislike being cold, and that’s particularly unfortunate in a country where I’m a teacher and heating is not generously provided in public schools.  This week the temperature has been in the upper teens and low 20s (Fahrenheit) which feels particularly harsh when I just can’t warm up.  The hallways, cafeteria, and bathrooms are not heated at all, and the heat (which was finally turned on two weeks ago) is stuck at a very low setting in my classroom.  I will remain bundled up in my coat, scarf and gloves all day long for the next several months.

Being so far away from loved ones during the holidays also makes this time of year a bit of a struggle.  I worked through Thanksgiving (although I did eat some turkey with friends from around the world a few days later) and for Christmas I have the day off, but I will have to go to work in the icebox they call school the day before and after.  The good news is I have underfloor heating in my apartment and lots of yarn to knit with so I can improve my knitting skills.  I also recently found Christmas lights to string around my apartment which means I don’t have to use the hideous overhead fluorescent lighting all the time!  It’s certainly not the same as curling up in front of a cozy fireplace, but it does add a little bit of warmth to the atmosphere that I’ve been craving since getting here.

Thankfully, I have some delightful students that love winter and know how to cheer me up on bleak winter days.  I also know that I can look forward to next year when I’ll be closer to my dear friends and family.  Until then, I’m going to eat a lot of kimchi jjigae, teach myself how to knit a hat, and continue to be grateful for the opportunity to experience a year in Korea, even if it means missing the holidays and constantly shivering.

The view from my apartment on Wednesday morning.

The view from my apartment on Wednesday morning.

When I got to school, the students were already hard at work shoveling.

When I got to school, the students were already hard at work shoveling.

"Emily Teacher, I'm going to throw this snowball at you, ok?"

“Emily Teacher, I’m going to throw this snowball at you, ok?”

Happy students playing in the snow.

Happy and totally oblivious to the cold.

This is when I realized why they were so happy about shoveling. They couldn't wait to build and igloo.

This is when I realized why they were so happy about shoveling. They couldn’t wait to build an igloo!