Browsing Category: Seoul

Preschool Adventures in Seoul: Marvel Avengers STATION Exhibition at the Korean War Memorial and Museum

*This exhibition is OPEN RUN with no ending date announced at the moment.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a new Preschool Adventure in Seoul, mainly because my big boys entered kindergarten last fall, and although I thought it would be easier, it’s actually much more difficult to explore the city with my now-3-year-old because I have to be back at the boys’ school to pick them up at 1:50pm. But it’s summer vacation now, and we can’t just sit at home and do nothing! 😉

The Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. Exhibition (website in Korean only) has been at the Korean War Memorial and Museum since May, and I was reluctant to take my kids simply because of the cost. Tickets to the exhibition are 20,000W for kids (age 3 and up) and 25,000W for adults, so for my kids and myself, it would cost 85,000W. However, Ticketmonster currently has discounted tickets for 13,000W for children and 16,250W for adults (good only until 9 August 2015), which kind of took the sting out of the ticket price… Plus, we’re in the middle of monsoon season. Rain, rain, rain in the forecast for days on end. And it’s about 8000 degrees in our house. We needed to do something!

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The exhibition is not in the main building, but to the east of the main building, next to the Children’s Museum, which is located behind the outdoor exhibition space (where all the planes are). Tickets can be purchased at the ticket booth on site (although the discount is only offered online). As you enter the exhibition, you’re given a Samsung smart watch, and at the first station, you scan the QR code on your watch and enter your name and birthdate. At the second station, your watch is scanned again, and you get your photo taken for a STATION ID badge, which you can purchase for 5,300W at the end of the exhibition. You will also have a photo taken of your entire party before entering the exhibition space for yet another souvenir photo (5,300W). Once that’s done, one of the exhibit guides explains how the smart watches work inside the exhibition space. Your watch alerts you to missions that can be completed in the exhibition space. The kids were getting pretty darn excited at this point, until the guide informed us that the “missions” and the “quizzes” are only available in Korean. Bummer!

From there, you enter a high-tech “briefing room” where a STATION employee explains what you’ll be doing in the space. In Korean. I really can’t complain though that everything is in Korean considering that we ARE in Korea… 😉 My boys loved this small white space with laser beams crisscrossing across the floor. My 3 year old daughter, on the other hand, was immediately uncomfortable as the doors shut on the space. Once the briefing video ends, another set of doors slide open and you’re in the exhibition space.

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The exhibit itself explains the history of the all the major characters. It’s all very high-tech and glamorous, but there’s a great deal of reading, which isn’t so great for my beginner readers. On the bright side, most of the text is in both Korean and English!

The interactive stations aren’t so linguistically sophisticated; however, the exhibition guides will take you through the screens and explain what’s going on. There are a number of fun activities for young children that allow kids to compare their strength to Captain America’s. My boys were bummed that they’re no where near as strong–hahaha!

 

The interactive portion of the exhibit includes a virtual reality station as well as a full body, interactive video game station.

IMG_3459 IronManMy boys didn’t really have much to say about the virtual reality glasses, but they LOVED the full-body Hulksmasher game. The coolest part for them was watching their own bodies on the screen in front of them transform into Iron Man because what little boy doesn’t want that??

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There are also some cool life-sized models, but the vast majority of the exhibition is digital, which makes sense considering the exhibit is sponsored by Samsung Galaxy.

My 3 year old daughter had a tougher time with the exhibition overall. Because most of the exhibit consists of digital monitors, the space itself is fairly dark. Also, a number of the interactive portions are quite loud. She started off a bit uncomfortable when the doors shut in the briefing room, but when we got to the Bruce Banner/Hulk portion of the exhibit, a large digital image of Hulk suddenly moved and roared at us, causing all 3 of my kids to run screaming from the room and my 3 year old to begin crying and shaking uncontrollably. From that point on, she wanted to be held or otherwise wanted to bury herself under my shirt.

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It took a bit of coaxing for my boys to go back into the Hulk room, and even after getting acquainted with the space, they refused to walk in front of the particular screen that had scared the crap out of them.

As you exit the exhibition space, you’re given the option of purchasing the photos that were taken at the beginning of the exhibit. Prices are clearly listed, and you can see the items before purchasing/printing. To the left as you exit is the gift shop. My kids were especially excited for the gift shop because they brought their own money from their piggy banks to buy something–something small. BIG MISTAKE. The shop is incredibly overpriced, even for a museum gift shop. The are absolutely no items under 7,000W. Most things in the shop are 25,000W and up. So if you’re taking your kids, I suggest skipping the gift shop altogether because your kids will want to buy ALL THE THINGS and you will be forced to say NO to all the things because you just spent an arm and a leg getting your kids into the exhibit!

Overall, I felt that my kids were simply too young for the exhibit. My boys are 6, heading into 1st grade. They don’t read Korean, and they’re beginning readers in English. They weren’t interested in all the text, and the handful of interactive stations just didn’t justify the cost for me. We were in and out of the entire exhibition space in less than an hour. And it was absolutely a waste of money for my 3 year old!

I would recommend the exhibit for kids aged 9 and up. Kids who can read independently. And I would absolutely recommend it for adult fans of the Avengers! However, if you’re an adult fan of the Avengers and you grew up reading the comic books… You’ll likely be pretty disappointed because the entire exhibition is about the recent MOVIES (unlike the Transformers exhibit last year at DDP, which covered the entire history of the Transformers).

IMG_3455The boys had a good time, but even they admitted to me that they didn’t like it as much as they thought they would. They thought it was too short, and there really wasn’t enough for them to do, but that goes back to the age-appropriate thing. I’m sure they would have liked it more if they were just a few years older!

 

 

Making Kimjang Kimchi: A Family Tradition

The beginning of December is a VERY busy time for families in Korea–not because of the upcoming holidays or the rush to buy gifts for family and friends (because strangely enough, Christmas is more of an unmarried couple’s holiday)–but because it’s the time of year to MAKE KIMCHI. Lots and lots of kimchi. Koreans prepare and make enough 김장김치 (kimjang kimchi) to last an entire year. Kimjang kimchi is different from the kimchi you’re probably used to: the stuff you find in restaurants or what’s sold at the grocery story. This is old school kimchi. The kind that was buried underground in kimchi pots. The kind that kimchi refrigerators were created for.

Kimjang kimchi is not for the faint of heart. Imagine the fermented taste of regular kimchi. Then multiply it by 100. You’ve got kimjang kimchi. But it’s the kind of kimchi that’s perfect to eat with grilled pork. It’s fabulous in kimchi jigae (kimchi stew). And if you’ve got fresh tofu, wrap it up in some kimjang kimchi and enjoy!

If you’re lucky enough to enjoy have a taste of homemade kimjang kimchi, then here’s what you should know about how it’s made. Chances are, anywhere from 5-20 women (and men too!) came together to worked on it for days. Often, it’s relatives (sisters in my mom’s case), but since families are now more spread out, friends often set up a schedule and go from home to home to help with the process.

There’s a rather strict schedule to follow. The cabbage has to be harvested before the first hard frost. It has to be cut, washed, salted and rinsed. The seasoning has to be mixed and combined with the prepared cabbage. The kimchi has to be divided and bagged and properly packaged to be placed into kimchi refrigerators. And since younger generations of Koreans don’t have the free days and days off from work, the older generations make enough to package and ship to their children’s families.

Here are my mom, her sisters, and their husbands preparing and transforming 300 heads of cabbage in kimjang kimchi!

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Each halved head of cabbage has to be seasoned. The kimchi mixture is inserted into the layers of the cabbage leaves.
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Oh, and look! My mommy is wearing a hat I crocheted for her! 😉
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Here’s my uncle stirring a VAT of kimchi seasoning.
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That’s a lot of kimchi seasoning…

And lucky me–I will be receiving my part of this wonderful kimjang kimchi in the mail tomorrow! 🙂 Will have to take the beer and soda out of my kimchi fridge to make room!

 

Preschool Adventures in Seoul: Outdoor Fun in Gangchon

If you’re a regular here on my blog, then you know that my sweet baby boys–who aren’t babies anymore–are about to start kindergarten. And to bid farewell to our carefree days at home and welcome in a new era of having school-aged children, we decided to take a fun-filled family trip out of Seoul! Having experienced the insanity of travel on weekends, my husband decided to take a couple days off from work, and we planned our trip for Sunday through Tuesday. That way, we could avoid the mass exodus out of Seoul on Saturday mornings and the hectic trip back to Seoul on Sundays. The last time we traveled to the Chuncheon area, what should have been a 90 minute drive took us nearly 3 hours. Lesson learned… We left Seoul on Sunday morning and made it to our destination in 90 minutes flat. The drive home was even better. Door to door in 80 minutes! How’s that for efficiency?? I found a wonderful little pension–Dabol Pension–just outside of a town that we’d driven through the last time we were in the area. We’d seen a little amusement park, another bike rail park, and lots of ATVs and bike paths, and we had promised the kids we’d take them back. The drive from the pension to the little town of Gangchon took less than 10 minutes, and the place was perfect. I specifically searched for a place with a pool, and this place delivered! The pool was perfect for my little 5 year old swimmers. The water was no deeper than 2 feet, and the slide… Well, it was endless hours of entertainment! The only downside (for parents) is that the pool water is pumped directly from the little mountain stream that runs behind the pension. Meaning it’s COLD. ICE COLD. The kids didn’t seem to care. At all. Dabol Pension Pool Dabol Pension offers several different accommodation styles from Western style rooms for couples and/or families (with lofted bedrooms, kitchens and private patios) to Korean style rooms for larger groups (up to 10 people) and caravan/campers. Our family loves to go camping, and our kids especially love “car-houses,” so we opted for the camper. It was perfect for our family of 5. Dabol Pension Camper Inside, there’s a full sized bed and a set of twin sized bunk beds, a small kitchenette with electric stove, fridge, and dining table, and a bathroom. It also has air conditioning–woohoo! The built-on patio also had a charcoal grill and a table with weather screen in case of rain. It didn’t rain while we were there, but the screen did a decent job of keeping the bugs at bay. Prices vary by time of year and day of week, but for our quiet non-weekend trip, the rates were very reasonable. 130,000W per night for 2 people, plus an additional 10,000W for each of our older children. Our youngest–who is 2.5 years old–didn’t count. 😉 The various rates are published on their website, but here are the general prices: Caravans (2 people included in rate/4 person maximum) 130,000W for weekdays/150,000W for weekends Western-style rooms (4 people included in rate/8 person maximum) 150,000W for weekdays/180,000 for weekends Korean-style rooms (10 people included in rate/10-12 person maximum) 250,000W for weekdays/300,000W for weekends) Prices for peak season are higher (peak season dates vary each year). Aside from our fun at the pension, our 3 day trip to Gangchon was filled with excitement for our little ones. We hit the bike rails first: Bike Rail ParkIf you’ve never heard of the bike rails in Gapyeong-gun, they’re an ingenious way to use old, out-of-use railroad tracks. There are 2 seaters (25,000W) and 4 seaters (35,000W), and you just pedal down the railroad tracks and enjoy the view! The last one we rode, which started at Gyeonggang Station, began and ended at the station. Halfway down the tracks, you were spun around and sent back to the station. The one we rode this time (starting at Gangchon Station) was 8.2km long and ended at Kimyookyung Station, which took about an hour and 15 minutes. From there, a shuttle bus took us back to Gangchon Station. The entire trip took about 2 hours. If you’re looking for a leisurely stroll, I would suggest taking the one at Gyeonggang Station. It was much easier! This one was definitely a work-out, especially since my 5 year olds are just a little too short to help with the pedaling! Oh, and another helpful tidbit–children up to 36 months old can be held on your lap. However, if you have a family of 4 and are able to seat your little one in a seat, do that because it’s MUCH harder to pedal with a kid sitting on your lap. Just ask my husband. After our bike rail adventure, which included going through a tunnel–complete with fluorescent lights and Gangnam Style blasting on speakers (only in Korea!!!), we ate lunch and ventured over to one of several “adventure parks” in town for some kart racing and ATV rides. Both were a HUGE hit, and really… Both were experiences that our 5 year olds AND our 2 year old would never have in the US, quite simply because of something called Safety Standards! For the kart racing, they just strapped our 2 year old in with one of the 5 year olds, told my husband that the second steering wheel that my son had control of also steers the vehicle so don’t drive too fast and sent them on their way! I was in another kart with the other 5 year old, and I had to MANHANDLE my steering wheel to keep us on the track. Kart Racing 20,000W pays for 15 minutes on the track, which was more than enough to satisfy me, but maybe not the kids… 😉 After the kart racing, we went for the ATVs. 20,000W got us the ATVs for a full hour, and like the kart racing, they weren’t too concerned about safety–haha! We strapped our 2 year old into the Ergo on my husband’s back and off we went! IMG_8935 IMG_8938 There are numerous trails around town, and all they asked is that we not go into town. All of us had an absolute blast, and my boys deemed the day THE BEST DAY EVER. What more can you ask for? Back at the pension, there was more pool-time, some hanging out on hammocks and grilling. IMG_8908 Oh, and if you thought you had to start heating up your charcoal an hour before you planned to grill your meat, then you’ve never experienced Korean grilling. This was our first day’s lighting of the charcoal. IMG_8901Day 2 got a lot more efficient. IMG_8957 Why, yes! That’s a blow torch! Our coals were red hot and ready to go in 15 minutes flat. Korean efficiency at its best. If you’re looking for a place to go with (or without) kids, I would definitely recommend this area. It’s not a far drive, there’s so much to do, and the beauty of the Korean country/mountainside never gets old.

More about delightful.

A few weeks ago, I announced the start of a new adventure for me–delightful. event designs by julia, and it has taken off beautifully! I’ve worked on a couple parties in the past few weeks, and I have several more lined up in the next couple months. Thank you so much to everyone for the support!

Here’s a little peek at what I’ve been doing over at delightful.

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If you’d like to see more about my event planning packages, visit me at delightful.’s new website and Facebook page!

 

Preschool Adventures in Seoul: Transformers 30th Anniversary Exhibition at DDP

As my boys get older, I love that they play with the toys that we loved as children. Although I played with Cabbage Patch Kids and Barbies, I had an older brother who indoctrinated me in the ways of Transformers, Star Wars, G.I. Joe and Super Mario Brothers. We watched the cartoons and movies, owned the action figures, and occasionally, his G.I. Joes and my Barbies would get married before the Decepticons came and threatened to destroy life as we knew it. Thankfully, Obi Wan Kenobi and Optimus Prime were up for the challenge and all was right with the world. So when I heard that there was an exhibition or original artwork celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the birth of Transformers at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (in Korean only), I had to take my kids!

We headed out there early on a weekday morning–the best time to go to any public place here in Korea–and took the subway to the Dongdaemun Culture and History Park Station. Riding the subway apparently never gets old for 2 to 5 year olds, so woohoo! Mom is the greatest! 😉

Transformers Exhibition sign

Once we paid for our tickets and entered the exhibition, the children (my 5 year old boys in particular) were in Transformers Heaven. The exhibition itself is fairly small; however, it covers all 30 years of design and artwork–from concepts and models for toys, sketches for cartoons and the development of the CGI graphics for the recent movies. So perfect for the geekiest of Transformers Geeks!

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We were able to walk through the exhibition in about 30 minutes; however, there’s PLENTY of other things for kids (and adults) to do. As you enter the exhibition hall, you can choose a coloring page with either Optimus Prime or Bumblebee on it, and there are easels, floor cushions, and loads of crayons, pastels, markers and colored pencils available in the gallery. Kids can make themselves comfortable right in front of their favorite Autobot and get coloring! And once you’re finished, take your coloring page to the gift shop, show them your awesome creation and choose a free Transformers postcard!

Hello Kitty Prime, anyone?
Hello Kitty Prime, anyone?

There are also a couple of activities located by the gift shop/cafe. My kids absolutely loved the Contruct-Bots building station, complete with instruction booklets so you can build your own Transformer. (Parents be warned: There is no building set for Bumblebee, and you cannot take the toy with you–the building sets are there to play with, not to keep.) I liked that it was FREE. 😉

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I literally had to drag my kids away from here. There’s also a paper model building station, which costs 2,000W, and a little Transformers kart that kids can sit in and have their picture taken. It doesn’t go anywhere, but my 2 year old didn’t mind. She just sat it in for about 15 minutes, moving the mirrors around and pretending to drive.

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Directly across from this little display, there’s a staffed photo station. It costs 2,000W, but if you’ve spent more than 30,000W in the exhibition (including tickets, beverages and the gift store), you can show your receipts and get photos for free.

All in all, my kids and I had a great day. The exhibition is open until October 10, 2014, so if you or your kids love Transformers, then make plans to go!

Tickets:

Tickets are available for pre-purchase on www.ticket.interpark.com, but it’s only available on the Korean website, not on the English site. However, we didn’t have any problems purchasing tickets at the door.

Adults: 15,000W
Youth: 12,000W (junior high and high school)
Children: 10,000W (ages 3-12)
Children under 36 months FREE

They also offer family discounts:

2 adults and one child: 37,000W
2 adults and 2 children: 43,000W

Getting There:

The subway is probably the easiest way to get there. Get off at Dongdaemun History and Culture Park Station, Exit 1. From the doors that lead out to the Plaza from Exit 1, just walk straight ahead across the plaza to the building directly in front of the doors. This will take you to Building A. Tickets can be purchased just inside the doors. The Transformers exhibition is just a little farther down the hall.

An Exciting New Endeavor

My blogging silence over the past couple of weeks is due to an exciting new business endeavor that I’ve decided to take on. It’s something that I absolutely love to do, and even before my official “announcement,” I’ve already got clients lined up and work to keep me busy over the next couple months (mostly because of my amazing friends, the power of word-of-mouth, and the wonderful community that I am blessed to be a part of here in Seoul).

So here goes… I’m super excited to announce delightful. event designs by julia (that’s me!).

Delightful Design

I am now offering event design services, focusing on creative and fun parties for kids although I would also be thrilled to design, plan, and style cocktail parties, wine tasting parties, dinner parties, and maybe even someday… The ultimate party–weddings! However, my focus is on smaller celebrations where I can really tailor the design and the experience for specific groups of people, whether it’s something like the Rainbow War Party for young children or an intimate cocktail party for close friends.

For the time being, my services are limited to Seoul, South Korea, but my Party-in-a-box options will be available for shipping throughout Korea very soon. Links to come for a new website and Facebook page!

And don’t worry! 😉 I’ll still be here…somewhere between the stitches… Blogging about my adventures in Seoul, all my crafty endeavors, and, of course, the fabulous parties that I have the privilege of designing! <3

A Midsummer Night’s Cocktail Party in Seoul

If there’s something I love as much as crafting, it’s throwing parties. I love having friends over for the great conversation and memories, but for someone who is very detail-oriented, there’s something about putting together a party that gets me super excited and into full-on work mode! After all the fuss and planning of the Rainbow War Party for kids, I really wanted to do something for and with my own grown-up friends, and what’s more grown up than a fancy cocktail party???

My husband–the former bartender–and I put together a simple, summery cocktail menu. We wanted a bit of variety, but we also wanted to keep things relatively simple so he wouldn’t spend the entire evening mixing drinks. We settled on three drinks that were contemporary twists on classic cocktails:

Cocktail MenuWith all three drinks, we prepared and mixed as much as possible, so when it came to actually pouring the drinks, there was very little to do. In addition to the cocktail menu, I prepared take-home recipe cards of the drinks we served for our guests.

Cocktail Recipe CardsAll three of the drinks we prepared contained mint, which (to me at least) is a quintessential summer herb. I love the smell of mint, and having recently taken a trip to Vietnam with my husband where fresh herbs like mint, cilantro and basil are at the center of their cuisine, I decided to have an Asian-inspired food menu: fried spring rolls, fresh summer rolls, soba noodle salad with wasabi and lemon vinaigrette and Asian meatballs with a sweet sesame sauce.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Cha Gia, or Vietnamese spring rolls, are just delicious. The ingredients are simple, but making them is a labor of love. I made the rolls the night before the party and deep fried them, then fried them again slightly just before the party. My deep fryer could only handle 7 rolls at a time, so it took a while… The spring rolls were served with nuoc cham, or seasoned Vietnamese fish sauce.

Summer Rolls

Summer rolls are one of my favorite foods ever. They are, as their name suggests, the perfect summer food. Plus, they’re filling and quite pretty to look at! 😉 The summer rolls were served with a homemade spicy peanut sauce.

Soba Noodle Salad

 

The soba noodle salad is simple yet flavorful salad that’s perfect for parties where you guests may or may not have eaten dinner before coming. Although this particular party was a cocktail party, and I didn’t plan to have a full dinner spread, I knew that some of my guests may not have had dinner before arriving since the party kicked off at 7pm. Soba noodles are quite filling, and since the noodles are served cold, it’s an easy dish to throw together just minutes before guests arrive.

Sweet Sesame MeatballsMeatballs are a perfect bite-sized appetizer for parties, but they’re not too exciting. So I added some delicious peanut and soy sauce based sauce, sprinkle some sesame seeds on it them, and voila! They’re sweet and savory and sure to be a crowd-pleaser!

After a fun two hours at our place, we ventured out to Perfl, a local cocktail performance bar. If you’re in Seoul and would like to see some impressive bottle tossing and twirling, flaming shots, and bar tricks, definitely check this place out! They regularly perform around 10pm (sometimes later), and the staff is amazing.

I spent the day after our cocktail party in full-on recovery mode, but a wasted Sunday was well worth the previous evening’s fun.

P.S. Stay tuned for recipes for all the edible goodies from the party!

 

 

 

10 Korean Foods to Try (and Why!)

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Growing up, my diet was a mash-up of American and Korean cuisine. My Korean mom wanted to make sure that my brother and I didn’t feel different from our “American” friends, so she made sure we ate plenty of hamburgers, pizza, sandwiches and spaghetti–served with a side of kimchi, of course. We ate our salads with chopsticks and marinated our steaks with bulgogi seasoning. When I left home, my mom used the power of FedEx to get her homemade kimchi to me–yes, Koreans are that serious about their kimchi–so I wouldn’t get sick (kimchi has magical healing properties in case you didn’t know!). Now that I’m living in Korea again, I’ve both renewed my love for Korean food and discovered some amazing dishes that my mom never cooked for me (seriously, Mom???).

Here’s a list of some of my favorite Korean foods (my list could honestly go on forever!). If you’re new to Korean cuisine, and you’re ready to venture beyond “beef and leaf” or bibimbap, or if you’re looking for something adventurous and fun to tell all your friends about, here are my top recommendation!

1. Ori – Duck

grilled smoked duckI love duck. I’ve previously written about my deep, heartfelt appreciation for duck here and here. If you’ve never had duck before, but you’re a meat-loving carnivore, then this is definitely a must-try. Most duck restaurants in Korea serve the meat prepared several different ways. My personal favorite is smoked duck. It’s no-nonsense with very little added to it so you can really appreciate the taste of the duck itself. You usually have to purchase the entire duck (which only consists of the breast meat). Prices for a whole duck breast are generally in the 40,000-45,000W range (approx. $40-45) and it’s enough to feed 2-3 people. Smoked duck is served “beef and leaf” style. You grill the duck at your table, and you’re brought an array of banchan/side-dishes, dipping sauces, and lettuce and sesame leaves to wrap your meat. Often, potato and mushroom slices are placed on the grill at the same time to help soak up some of the duck fat as you grill. Those may be the best potatoes and mushrooms you’ve ever had in your life. 😉

2. Samgyupsal – Pork belly

samgyupsalSamgyupsal literally means three-fold fat, but simply put, it’s BACON. Really, really thick-sliced bacon. However, it’s uncured, so it doesn’t have the same salty flavor, but it’s the same cut of meat. It’s generally only seasoned with thick rock salt and grilled at the table. Like beef and leaf, it’s served with lettuce, sesame leaves, dipping sauces, kimchi, and an assortment of banchan. One of the BEST things to eat with samgyupsal is grilled kimchi (just be sure that it’s fermented, not fresh, kimchi). Place the kimchi on the grill as you’re cooking the pork and let the fat from the pork soak into the kimchi. It’s a perfect combination of flavors. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it! One serving of samgyupsal usually runs about 12,000-15,000W, and you’ll probably need to order 3 servings to feed 2 adults (one serving isn’t quite enough for one adult). Most restaurants will also serve dwenchangjigae (bean curd soup) with the samgyupsal in a hot pot, but you’ll have to order bowls of rice separately (1,000W/each) if you like rice with your meat. Which I do.

3. Hwe – Raw fish, Korean style! Oh, and live, moving octopus too.

If you’re not afraid of a little raw fish, then you’ve got to give Korean hwe a try. Keep in mind, though, that Korean hwe is really nothing like its Japanese counterpart. If you go to a run-of-the-mill Korean hwe restaurant (not a fancy-schmancy 5-star place), there are two types of fish that are traditionally served raw–gwanguh (flounder) and ooluk (rockfish).

Korean hwe

Although most restaurants will have some variety, they will always have these two fish. In addition to raw fish, Korean hwe restaurants also serve several other types of seafood. Raw. If you pass a hwe restaurant on the street, check out the tanks of live fish and seafood outside the restaurant. You’ll see octopus (nakji) and squid (ohjinguh), sea cucumbers (haesam), and sea squirt (munggae) among others. My 5 year old boys LOVE live octopus (san nakji), and once you get over the fact that your food is still moving and the suckers on the tentacles still work… It just tastes like octopus. 😉 So if you like the taste of octopus, give this a try. It’s just the tentacles–it’s not like in the movie Oldboy where Oh DaeSu gnaws on a whole octopus while the tentacles stick onto his face.

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And to be precise, it’s not technically still alive. The tentacles are cut into smaller, manageable pieces, and it’s served with a small bowl of sesame oil and salt for dipping. Be sure to use the dipping sauce. It prevents the suckers from sticking to the inside of your mouth as you chew! Like san nakji, the other seafood options at hwe restaurants–like haesam and munggae–are really more about unique texture than taste. If different textures and consistencies of food in your mouth really isn’t your thing, it’s probably best to steer clear of Korean hwe. The flavors are unique as well, but from my experience taking friends to eat hwe, it’s the texture that gets them.

At a standard hwe restaurant, you should plan to spend about 15,000-20,000W/person. Platters of hwe are usually offered in small (serves 2-3), medium (serves 3-4) and large sizes (serves 4-6). And often, the large size includes extras such as the spicy fish soup (maeoontang) at no additional charge. The soup is made with the bones of the fish that was served to you raw, and it’s really good! If you enjoy spicy food, you won’t want to pass it up. If you order a smaller platters, ordering the maeoontang is usually an additional 5,000-7,000W.

4. Albab – bibimbap-style rice bowl with fish eggs/roe

albabBibimbap is one of the staples of Korean cuisine, mainly because traditionally, like shepherd’s pie, it was the dish that you could throw everything and anything into. Growing up, my mom only made bibimbap if there was some leftover banchan that would go bad if we didn’t finish it off, so she’d chop up some fresh veggies and green, throw everything in a bowl with some rice, fry an egg and mix it all up with some hot pepper paste (gochujang). If you love bibimbap, and you’d like to venture out a bit, definitely give albab a try. The idea is the same, but the taste is completely different. It’s served in a hot stone bowl like dolsot bibimbap with rice at the bottom and topped with chopped kimchi, dammuji (yellow picked radish), lettuce, sesame leaves, dried seaweed, and a heaping helping of fish roe. The hot stone bowl cooks the eggs as you mix everything together, and the result is just plain delicious. It’s one of my boys’ favorites, and they’ll happily finish off an entire adult serving. Then ask for more. Albab can be found at most Korean seafood restaurants for 6,000-7,000W ($6-7).

5. Haemul Pajeon – seafood pancake/pizza

haemul pajunThis is a must-try dish for the seafood lover, and it’s both like and unlike a pancake and a pizza. The most basic pajeon is a combination of batter (eggs, flour and water) and green onions (or pa, thus the name pa-jeon). Haemul pajeon contains vegetables and various types of seafood (squid and shrimp mostly, but it can also include mussels and clams. There’s also kimchi pajeon (yummy!), which like the name suggests is pajeon made with kimchi. Since the batter mixture is poured onto a pan, it looks more like a pancake, but savory, not sweet so tastes more like a pizza, but not really. 😉 When cooked just right, it’s crispy on the outside and every so slightly chewy in the center. Sometimes, it’s cut into pieces like a pizza, but you’re supposed to just rip chunks off with your chopsticks, dip in the soy sauce-based dipping sauce, and enjoy. It’s meant to be a shared dish, so not something you would order by itself for dinner. Haemul pajeon usually runs about 15,000W and can be shared with about 4 people. It’s a great addition to a Korean dinner, especially if you’re eating family style and sharing dishes.

6. Mook – jello?

black sesame mookMook is difficult to describe. It has a jello-like consistency, but there’s really no other food that it could be compared to. There are many different varieties (made with various ingredients: buckwheat, sesame, acorns), all resulting in different colors and flavors. My favorite is black sesame mook (pictured above), which is made from, you guessed it, black sesame seeds. Some people say that mook has very little flavor and that you eat it for the toppings, but depending on the ingredients, mook does have a particular flavor. It’s a very subtle flavor that goes perfectly with the toppings that it’s typically served with–dried seaweed, green onions, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds, and a sauce made with soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil. It’s usually served as a side dish, but there are mook specialty restaurants that serve both platters of mook as well as soup with slices of mook in it.

7. Dduk – rice cakes

ddukYou’ve probably seen the street vendors that sell ddukbokki, log-shaped rice cakes stir fried with fish cakes in a spicy red sauce, but dduk is so much more than the chewy white rice cakes. There are countless varieties of dduk, which can be best described as a traditional Korean dessert food. You can find dduk shops all over–in my little neighborhood, I can think of 4 different dduk shops on one street, all within 100 feet of each other. There’s dduk coated and/or filled with various powders, beans, seeds, and jellies, cute little dduk with flower shapes on them in various colors, dduk for special occasions like birthdays and weddings. A small package of dduk generally runs about 2,000W, so stop by your local dduk shop and try it out!

8. Haemultang – spicy seafood soup

haemultangRice, kimchi, and soup are at the center of Korean cuisine, and while rice and kimchi come in a limited number of varieties, the soups are endless: seaweed soup, kimchi soup, bean curd (or miso) soup, soft tofu soup, beef rib soup, ox tail soup, bean sprout soup and and really long list of hangover soups. My favorite Korean soup is haemultang. It’s spicy, delicious, and not for the faint of heart, especially if you go to a proper haemultang restaurant where all the ingredients are fresh. And by fresh, I mean still alive when it’s brought to your table. Haemul, or seafood, is obviously the main ingredient for this soup. A large pot of spicy broth, bean sprouts, green, and a heaping serving of live squid, shrimp, crab, clams, mussels, scallops, abalone, and much more is brought to your table and boiled on the gas burner at the table. And you get to see cool stuff like this:

Our favorite haemultang place does a really great job of adjusting the spice level so that my kids can enjoy it as well, which they do. My kids (and I) will eat just about anything that comes out of the ocean, and if you’re an adventurous eater, then you really can’t leave Korea without trying haemultang. It’s sooooo good! Haemultang can be found at some restaurants in individual serving sizes, but for the real deal, you’ll have to order a larger size. Most haemul restaurants will offer small (2-3 people), medium (3-4 people) and large (5-6 people) serving sizes, and the price generally runs from about 30,000W for the small to 45,000W for the large.

9. Jokbal – boiled pig’s feet

jokbalWhile the idea of eating boiled pig’s feet may sound a little…unappetizing, it’s actually incredible. And it’s more like the pig’s lower leg, not just the feet. Jokbal is prepared by thoroughly washing it and removing the hairs. The skin is left on, and it’s boiled with various seasonings, including the obligatory soy sauce. The skin gives it a unique taste and texture that most of my friends who have tried it have not disliked (unlike sea cucumber and sea squirt). The meat and skin are removed from the bone, sliced and served with a dipping sauce that consists of tiny, salted shrimp. Jokbal is generally thought of as a anju, or food that accompanies alcohol. It’s served on a platter and shared with friends, so it’s not something you’d go to a restaurant and order for yourself. One order of jokbal is one entire leg, including the bone, and at a restaurant, you’ll pay about 30,000-35,000W per order. There’s an area by Dongkuk University Station that’s known as Jokbal Street with numerous jokbal restaurants, but chances are, if you wander around your neighborhood, you’ll find a local place that specializes in jokbal. If you don’t feel like paying restaurant prices for something you may or may not like, you can find packages of jokbal at Emart for about 15,000W.

10. Shabu shabu – deliciousness

shabushabuSaving the best for last! Shabu shabu is one of those dishes my parents never told me about, and when I confronted them about it and bemoaned their parenting for denying me shabu shabu while I was growing up, they claimed it was because it was a dish they rarely ate when living in Korea nearly 40 years ago. Beef was a delicacy, and as a dish that was imported from Japan, shabu shabu wasn’t terribly popular when they were young. Beef is still astronomically expensive in Korea, but the popularity of shabu shabu has soared over the years.

It’s really a rather simple dish with thin slices of beef dipped into a pot of boiling broth, but shabu shabu is also about the process and the experience. It used to be served as a communal dish: one large pot of boiling broth for the table to share; however, most shabu shabu restaurants now provide individual pots. You’re brought a platter piled high with slices of beef, various types of mushrooms, cabbage, dumplings, Korean sweet squash, dduk, noodles… Selection will vary by restaurant. You put your ingredients into the boiling broth and dip them in a variety of sauces before eating them. The sauces both flavor and cool your scalding hot food. Eating shabu shabu definitely demands a bit of patience on your part so as not to burn your tongue and lose the ability to taste anything for the rest of the meal. And probably the day after as well.

If too much of your broth boils off, you’ll be given more to add to the pot, and slowly, all the ingredients you’ve been adding to the broth create this wonderfully flavorful and delicious broth. That’s when you add the noodles. Boil the noodles. Enjoy. THEN, if all that wasn’t enough, most (not all) restaurants provide rice. Throw your rice in the pot and watch it turn into the best rice porridge you’ve ever had. Once it’s all over, you’ll probably have to be rolled out of the restaurant, but it’s worth it. I promise.

All-you-can-eat shabu shabu restaurants have become pretty popular, but if you’re not looking to put on 10 lbs during one meal, then a standard shabu shabu place should be just fine. 😉 Generally speaking, shabu shabu runs about 20,000W per person, and you can order additional meat for about 10,000W.

**Making a list of 10 food was harder than I thought it was going to be. I had to leave off so many other foods that I LOVE. Like kimbab, soondae (blood sausage), raw crab, rotisserie samgyupsal (only found on food trucks so far!), jook (porridge)… I often joke that the only part of me that’s thoroughly Korean is my stomach.

Hope you enjoyed my list! I’d love to hear about your favorite Korean foods. Or tell me about the foods you’d love/refuse to try!

Preschool Adventures in Seoul: Camping in Korea

The amazing metropolis of Seoul, despite its many challenges, has so much to offer for families with small children, and I’ve found over the past year and a half we’ve lived here that there’s no shortage of fun things to do. However, sometimes, we just need to get out of the city, breathe some fresh air and relax so we planned a camping trip to the small town of Gapyeong, just 90 minutes drive east of Seoul for Memorial Day weekend. We invited some friends to join us, and since we were traveling with camping newbies, we decided to go to a campground that we’ve been to before–just to keep things simple.

Camping in Korea is not quite like camping in the U.S. There are two different types of campgrounds: national parks and privately owned grounds. I haven’t tried camping at any of the national parks, so I don’t know how easy/difficult it is for foreigners to reserve a spot, but camping at privately owned campgrounds couldn’t be easier. If you’re a camping pro with all of your own equipment, sites range from 15,000W/night to 35,000W/night, but if you’re new to camping, don’t want to invest in all the equipment or you left your camping gear in storage back home, fully equipped campsites (tent, sunshade/tarp, tables, chairs, gas grill, gas lantern, and cooking gear) are 100,000W/night to 150,000W/night.

For our recent trip, we went to a campground called Allyman Camping. This is our third trip there, and we really love the place. Compared to other campgrounds that I’ve looked at, this site is the most secluded and private, although this observation comes solely from photos of other campgrounds I’ve seen online. 😉

Allyman Campground Entrance

The drive out there was a tough one. We left the city around 10:30am, along with what seemed like every other single person living in Seoul. We were on the Gyeongchun Expressway (Hwy 60) for nearly 2 hours, at times going less than 10km/hr. Ugh… And when we stopped at the Gapyeong rest area for lunch, it was packed. On the bright side, I randomly ran into a friend and her family at the rest area, which was a nice treat! A trip that should have taken approximately 90 minutes ended up taking 3 hours. So, note to self: leave the city EARLY to beat the Saturday traffic! Thankfully, all the children kept it together, and when we finally arrived at the campgrounds, they were elated, running out of the car straight to the trampoline.

Our campsite was fully prepped and ready to go when we arrived. Three tents, a very large sunshade, tables, chairs… You really can’t beat arriving at a campsite and just kicking your feet up!

Allyman camping

 

Aside from the trampoline, there are water sports available right at the campground: motor boat rides (20,000W for 20 minutes), kayaking (20,000W for 1 hour rental, both 1 and 2 person kayaks available), wake boarding, banana boat riding, and peanut boat riding. I’m not really sure what the last two are, but I think they involve riding a banana/peanut shaped float while being pulled by a boat. If you’re not into water sports, but just want to sit and enjoy the view of the river, the dock has a shaded area with tables and chairs so you can sit, drink and enjoy.

Allyman Camping Water Sports Kayaking Allyman CampingAllyman Camping Dock

If you’d rather stay on dry land, then there’s plenty to do in the Gapyeong area such as taking a trip out to Nami Island, riding the Bike Rails (post to come), eating ddalkgalbi (spicy chicken stir-fry, the regional specialty), ATV rentals, bungee jumping, and more! The only downside to Allyman Campgrounds is that it’s a bit of a drive to reach any of the local attractions. Nami Island and the Bike Rails are approximately 45 minutes drive away.

Map to Allyman Campgrounds

 

We had originally hoped to ride ATVs, but the manager of the campground told us that he couldn’t in good conscience recommend the ATV rental place nearby (it’s on the way to the campground), especially not for small children because there isn’t a set trail. Instead, he recommended we take the kids to the Bike Rails, which turned out to be a huge hit (post on the Bike Rail coming soon!). If you’re interested in riding ATVs and don’t have small children to consider, pricing tends to range from 10,000W to 15,000W for a specified distance or time.

Bike Rail 1 Bike Rail 2

 

The Bike Rails are just what the name infers. Old, out-of-commission railroad tracks have been turned into a fun family activity. You rent a bike (either 2-person or 4-person bikes) and you get to pedal yourself along the old railroad tracks, enjoying the beautiful riverside scenery along the way. To make it more fun (and less work), uphill climbs are motorized so you can stop pedaling, and downhill rides are well, just fun! There are several locations to ride the Bike Rails in the Gapyeong area, and my boys made us promise to take them again to the one where they get to pedal through a mountain tunnel. 🙂

The second night we were there, the weather was not in our favor and the day’s occasional rain showers turned into a torrential downpour. Fortunately, the large sunshade/tarp kept us dry, and after we got the kids in bed, we spent our evening sitting by the fire, drinking beers and listening to the rain. Not a bad way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Getting There:

The Allyman campground is nearly impossible to find if you don’t have a GPS (or a reliable map/app on your smartphone). The address is: Gangwon-do, Chuncheon-si, Nam-myun, Gwanchun-ri 383 (or 380). My Woori Navi (English navigation) system had difficult time locating the address because there’s really nothing out there, so be sure you have a good idea of where you’re going before you get in your car. You can copy and paste this address into Naver Maps to pinpoint it: 강원도 춘천시 남면 관천리 380

Cost:

The price depends on when you’re going (weekday v. weekend and off-peak v. peak season).

If you’re bringing your own gear: Mon-Thurs: 25,000W/night, Fri-Sun: 30,000W/night or 35,000W/night during peak season
If you want the full set-up: Mon-Thurs: 100,000W/night, Fri-Sun: 120,000W/night or 130,000W/night and 145,000W/night during peak season, respectively.

The dates of peak season are generally the end of July and the first couple weeks of August.

Helpful Hints:

  • If you’re interested in reserving a spot at Allyman Campgrounds, you’ll need to enlist the help of a Korean-speaking friend. The manager doesn’t speak any English, and payment is required in advance via bank transfer. If you don’t have a Korean bank account, you can go to an Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK) branch and deposit payment into the Allyman account.
  • Saturdays are generally booked well in advance, especially during peak season (July and August). If you can swing a mid-week camping trip, then chances are you’ll have the place to yourself.
  • Bring your own firewood. Firewood is available at the campground, but it’s approximately 3 times more expensive if you purchase it at the site. On previous visits, we purchased firewood at the campgrounds and spent over 150,000W on firewood alone for a 2 night stay. This time, we wised up, purchased firewood in advance and took it with us. We purchased from Chamnamunara (website in Korean only), and the best part? They deliver (within Seoul) for free! Be sure to order it a few days in advance if you’d like to have it delivered. We purchased 8 cords at 10,000W each (plus, Chamnamunara threw in a huge bag of kindling for free) and brought 3 back with us, so 5 cords of wood should be enough to keep your fire going for a 3 day/2 night camping trip. One thing to keep in mind though–firewood takes up a lot of space! Taking your own firewood is great if you have the space in your car, but if you don’t, then just mentally prepare yourself for the cost of firewood at the campground and work it into your camping budget.Chamnamunara firewood
  • Fires are only allowed in the designated fire pits (provided), and they come with a rack that allows you to cook over the fire. However, grill grates are not provided. You can purchase disposable grill grates at Emart (5,000W to 7,000W, depending on size). Also, if you intend to cook over your campfire, don’t forget to bring your own tongs!Allyman Camping Firepit
  • Bring your own bedding, food, drinking water, and toilet paper! There’s plenty of running water–men and women’s restrooms as well as a separate shower room for both men and women. There’s also an area for washing dishes; however, you’re on your own for drinking water. Also, the showers are Korean style, meaning it’s just one large room with several shower heads. No stalls for privacy! So if you’re not comfortable showering in a space where someone can walk in and see you in your birthday suit, be prepared to be stinky or just shower really early in the morning when all the Koreans are sleeping off their night of soju consumption. 😉 And ladies, guard your toilet paper. Don’t leave it in the bathroom with the intention of sharing it with your camping neighbors. Someone will take it.
  • Bring your own gas canisters for the gas range and gas lanterns. You can find them at Emart or Homeplus. We took a 4 pack, which was plenty.
  • You are responsible for separating your trash–paper, plastic, glass, cans, regular trash, and food trash. The best way to do it is to take extra plastic bags and separate as you go. Collect all your food trash after each meal and dump it into the food trash bin immediately. While we haven’t seen or experienced any wild animals at the campground, there are plenty of bugs and birds looking to get into your garbage. There’s also a designated area to dispose of the embers/ashes from your fire pit.

Preschool Adventures in Seoul: Ichon Hangang Park

Ichon Hangang Park Playground

After having lived here for over a year and a half, I finally made my way over to Ichon Hangang Park, despite it being so close. Although in my defense, part of it is because we live so close to Hangang Yeouido Park. I wish we had found this place sooner! Hangang Yeouido Park is expansive and has a very open layout, which makes it great for activities such as flying kites, riding bikes, and throwing frisbees, but Ichon Hangang Park, while by no means small, has a much more cozy feel to it, particularly the playground area, and offers spaces for older kids who are past the playground age.

My kids and I made our way there around 10am on a weekday, as always, with the hopes that the playground won’t be too crowded. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware that this particular day was Korean Labor Day and kids were out of school. Oops… Luckily, we were there early enough to claim one of the tables and for the kids to have free reign over the place for a little while before the masses of moms and kids started showing up and literally setting up camp. 😉

The playground at Ichon Hangang Park is definitely one of the best that I’ve been to. The Children’s Woodland Playground at Seoul Forest is also amazing, but this one is far more toddler-friendly. The large playground structure has a number of things to climb and slides (or “weeeeees” as my littlest one calls them), but the best part is, there are no gaping holes or areas without a railing for fearless toddlers to fall or jump from. And not having to hover over my child as she plays is worth A LOT. During our 2 hours there, my daughter still managed to tumble down a slide head-first and come home with a scraped knee and a few fresh bruises, but this is The Way of the Toddler.

Ichon Hangang Park Playground

For older kids, the playground features a zip-line and a large rope/climbing structure. And when your kids tire of running and climbing and swinging and sliding, there’s a large sandpit, otherwise known as Endless Fun because what child doesn’t love sand? My only mistake was not taking along our sand box toys, although I think I guilt-tripped a reluctant little girl into sharing her toys with my kids!

In addition to the expansive playground, there’s a large shaded area with benches for parents to sit and watch the kids play, and if you’ve got older kids who are into skateboarding or playing basketball–this place has it all!

There’s also a public bathroom nearby–always important when out and about with small children.

Getting There:

Ichon Hangang Park is within walking distance of Ichon Station (Yongsan Visitor Gate), but it is also an easy drive if the thought of navigating the busy Seoul streets with small children doesn’t overly appeal to you.

map to ichon hangang park

By subway/walking: from Ichon Station, come out Exit 4. Immediately to the left as you exit the station is a walking path that takes you out to a main road. Continue straight until you reach the riverside! There will be a parking lot and a 7-Eleven to the right. Take the path to the right and walk past the soccer field. There’s an additional field, then the playground on the right.

Driving: If you’re using a navigation system, here’s the address: 62, Ichon-ro 72 gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

From post (Visitor Gate/Gate 13), make a right onto the street just outside the gate, then make the first left (over the railroad tracks). Continue down the road until you reach a T-intersection. At the T-intersection, make a left. At the 5th intersection (Ichon-ro 72-gil), make a right (there’s a sign for Hangang Park). Continue down the street, under the overpass and the parking lot is on the right.

Parking is plentiful and inexpensive. It’s 1,000W for the first 30 minutes, then 200W for each additional 10 minutes for a daily maximum of 10,000W