Saturday, 27 February 2010
Friday, 26 February 2010
Sunday, 21 February 2010
Another article from the vault. Originally published on Ulsan Online
Jeonju, the spiritual home of the Joseon dynasty is located on the Honam plain, a fertile region known for rice production. Home to over 600,000 people and surrounded by the seven peaks of the Noryeong ranges, Jeonju has a long history and is regarded as a centre of Korean culture and the arts.
In Korea, as well as Japan and China, the words for ‘rice’ and ‘food’ are often interchangeable. After the Korean War, when food was scarce “Have you eaten?” (밥 먹었어요?) was a common greeting. In this instance the word for rice (밥) means ‘food’ or ‘a meal’ and so highlights the importance of rice as THE staple food of the region. Archeologists have found rice grains dating back at least 3000 years, predating the theory that rice originated in China. Countless countries have made rice their staple food and thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of recipes exist for this versatile grain.
Bibimbap (literally meaning mixed rice) is the signature dish of Jeonju and one of the most famous dishes in Korean cuisine. Sometimes referred to as Goldong ban (King’s bibimbap), bibimbap was considered the greatest among the three great dishes of the Joseon dynasty and widely known as a food representative of Joseon.
The name bibimbap (and especially its translation) may fool you into thinking that any dish of mixed rice and vegetables can be called bibimbap. It can’t. Whilst bibimbap does not have anappellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) like Champagne or a PDO(protected designation of origin) like Parmesan cheese, there is a process to follow for authentic Jeonju Bibimbap. The rice should be cooked in a sagol soup, a stock made from continually boiling beef leg bones, and it is said that without an artisan’s spirit the delicate balancing of the ingredients is not possible. When combined with the labourious process of preparing and cooking the individual elements of bibimbap you can begin to understand why Jeonju bibimbap (as it is known outside the city) is a specialty of the city and a food revered all over Korea.
The ingredients in Jeonju bibimbap are seasonal and can number thirty or more, but most commonly you can find cucumber, courgette/zucchini, mushrooms, doraji (bell flower root) kim (seaweed) and beef, minced or sliced. Other ingredients often include bean sprouts, dubu (tofu), gosari (fern stems) and lettuce. Pine nuts, jujube (Chinese or red dates) and sesame seeds are also commonly added
The individually cooked ingredients (namul) are then arranged on top of the rice by the concept of yin and yang and topped with a raw egg yolk, leaving you with an incredibly balanced meal, both nutritiously and philosophically.
As you can imagine there are many places to eat bibimbap in Jeonju but some restaurants are more traditional and well known than others. Gogung(고궁) is one of the more traditional restaurants and serves Goldong ban as part of a banquet as well as individual portions of Jeonju bibimbap. The restaurant chain, Myung sung ok (명성옥), serves a particularly delicious dolsot (hot stone pot) bibimbap (6000 원) and Gajokhoiwon (가족회원) is also very well known throughout the city for its bibimbap (10000 원.)
When the fresh autumn winds come to Korea, they sweep away the incredibly hot days of summer and replace them with cooler, more manageable days. Days when the air con is off and you can walk to work without feeling you need a change of clothes. Summer activities and their accompanying summer clothes are packed away for another 6 months and fleecy woolens are brought in from the cold to be used throughout this chilly period. Korea is a beautiful country and has many islands and beaches but for me the country really comes alive during the colder months, the nations famous spicy, chilli laden cuisine comes into its own, warming your body from the core. Dishes like dak dori tang sit in your stomach, smouldering and radiating heat right to your extremities to try to combat the winter chill. Winter offers great opportunities to stay indoors and with Korea being a nation of ‘bangs’ it couldn’t be easier. Bangs are entertainment rooms, literally meaning room they are scattered all over every town and city and give expats and Koreans alike plenty of indoor activities to do. Of all the ‘bangs’ (PC, DVD, board game, norae) there is one that not only makes winter bearable, it makes it down right desirable and that is the jjimjilbang. These steam rooms are like the European saunas, but with an Asian twist.
Jjimjilbangs also come with entertainment areas for all the family, usually including a restaurant or two, a video game room, DVD rooms, a gymnasium, usually foot and/or skin care specialists and acres of space to lounge around reading, playing games, chatting or sleeping (many are 24 hour and are great and cheap alternatives to hotels or motels for a night or two). The hot sauna rooms, usually three or four, vary in temperature with some having a mineral element that heals the body in some way. At a sauna in Jeonju there is a salt and light room; heat radiates through bricks of salt for added health benefits and the soothing low light is easy on the senses too. There are usually hairdressers and various beauty treatments in the dressing rooms too, as well as concession stands selling toiletries, face masks and other products to beautify your exceptionally clean body and snack bars selling juice, smoothies, coffee and even beer. Some jjimjilbangs even have a big screen and can be a great place to watch live sport, eat and have a few beers before having a sauna and a shower and going home gratified and purified. There is often a cold sauna, a room kept at a very cold 1 or 2 degrees Celsius to help replicate the traditional sauna experience. In Finland, the general idea is to sit in the hot steamy sauna until you can take no more, then go outside and cool your body down, either by jumping in an ice cold lake or by rolling in the snow before repeating the cycle at least another two times.
Unfortunately, expats in Korea don’t really take advantage of the jjimjilbang. For lots of expats the idea of getting naked in front of anyone, let alone, gawking, staring, pointing Koreans is a step too far, which is understandable. It will come as no surprise to anybody who has been in Korea more than twelve hours (and people who have travelled around Asia) that Koreans like to stare and sometimes point at foreigners and whilst it can be frustrating and annoying it is more to do with curiosity than any xenophobia but still, the thought of exposing yourself to people who seem that interested in you is too dire to contemplate, after all how can you relax in a spa if you can always feel eyes gazing upon your naked form?
How to get in
It couldn’t be easier getting past reception. Most jjimjilbangs will have two prices, one for the naked pools and one for everything. The more expensive price is for the entire jjimjilbang, the lower price is just if you want to soak for a few hours in the various pools, sometimes confusingly referred to as the sauna. Even if you can’t speak a single word of Korean, just point to the more expensive price (unless you actually want to soak in the naked soup, then point to the lower price) and off you go. Most employees in jjimjilbangs will help you with what to do next if you look lost, but it is very simple. You will be given a key for a small locker, usually in the reception area, this is for your shoes, so don’t get naked and try to cram all you things into this tiny locker! Then you should see a desk with towels, shorts, T-shirts etc. This is where you get your uniform for the communal area. If they don’t offer you anything after you show them your receipt you have paid for the wrong thing so start again. Gear in hand the way to the changing rooms is usually obvious. Once inside get changed or get naked and explore. There is nothing to be afraid of, just try everything and don’t leave until you feel truly relaxed. It’s usually best to go with someone the first time if you are a bit nervy, but the steam and the floating on air feeling you get when you leave will see you returning soon with company or alone.
Friday, 19 February 2010
Thursday, 18 February 2010
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Monday, 8 February 2010
Why there? And why the hell are they playing each other anyway? Loftus road was probably chosen because half or more of the players from these teams that will be going to the world Cup are based in Europe and Loftus has staged games like this before. It has hosted all kinds of strange teams who for one reason or another wanted to play in England including Jamaica, Ghana, South Africa and Australia.
Now it is of course forgivable that seeing as both North and South Korea have Korea in their name that they play similar styles of football and this match will give the Ivorians a great idea about what to expect in the summer and the same goes for South Korea, they have drawn an African team and what better way to prepare than to play another African team, any African team actually.
Anyway, here are some pictures of some Africans and some Koreans and a map of Africa. Just in case.