Tuesday, February 14, 2012

샤 부 샤 부 Shabu Shabu

One of the many reasons why I love Korea, is the food. One of the many things I will miss about Korea, is the food. One of my many favorites meals here, is shabu-shabu. I was reading an article (looking for shabu shabu restaurants in Toronto) and loved when the writer said, the dish is so good it is deserved to be named twice.

Shabu shabu originates from Japan and the name is supposed to be reminiscent of the swishing sound the broth makes while cooking the food. The dish is also closely related to the Chinese version, called a hot pot. In Korea, when I am going out for shabu shabu, it's a good idea to fast before hand, because it is quite the production from beginning to end.

Just as I am about to leave Korea, my old coteacher Mrs.Kim and a few other teachers from Osan showed me THE BEST shabu shabu restaurant. I actually took a friend back a week later, it was that good. I had to get one more fix before I left the country.

This is how the whole meal plays out. A big pot of broth is brought to the table and put on a burner. Sometimes there is nothing in the broth, but in this particular restaurant it came with a few pieces of deokk (rice cake), a few small fish cakes, some tofu, and a bit of cabbage. Next came a large platter filled with veggies. On one half was an assortment of leafy greens, shoots, mushrooms, onions, and a pair of scissors to cut them all down to bite sized. On the other half of the plate was more veggies (carrots, cabbage, onion, pineapple) but these were chopped up into small pieces, more on that in a minute. On the next platter is the finely sliced and rolled up pieces of beef. Lastly, is another big plate with noodles and jumbo mandu (dumplings). Of course along with these platters are the typical array of Korean banchan, side dishes. There were a few salads and a big plate of water kimchi, and each person gets their own set of 3 bowls of different sauces. One had a lemon flavor, one was spicy and another was a mystery, but very tasty.

The first thing to go in is the big veggies, followed by the meat, which takes less than a few minutes to cook in the boiling broth. Another item on the table is a stand of dried rice paper and a big bowl of hot water. The rice paper is submersed in water for a moment and then it's ready to be filled. You dip your chopsticks in the pot and pick out whatever you want in your rice paper. Once it's full, but not too full, because these are one bite delights, it's wrapped up, dipped in your sauce of choice, and down the hatch it goes. Repeat this process as many times as you can. The platters are full of veggies and meat, and the pot isn't very big so it is constantly being filled. It's a work for your food type of meal, and lots of fun with a good group of people. You can substitute the rice paper wraps for some of the leafy greens and make a wrap with it, or you can just eat straight out of the pot, piece by piece.

Once your veggie and meat plates have dwindled down to nothing and the broth has taken on a fuller flavor, it's time for the next part. In go the noodles and the mandu. It tastes just that much better because of everything that has been cooked in the broth throughout the meal. The noodles are infused with lots of delicious flavor.

At this point in the meal I am usually so full I can barely move, but most Korean meals traditionally end with rice being served at the end. This signifies the last of the dishes have been brought out. But at the shabu shabu restaurant it's done with a twist, and I pretty sure this is unique to Korea. Instead of just serving each person their small rice bowl, there is just one larger one brought out. The server comes over and scoops out any left over noodles from the pot and all but about 2 inches of broth. In goes the rice (usually with bits of seaweed and maybe an egg too) and it is all mixed in. In Korea, there is a soup called juk, which translates to a thick porridge, from a rice base. The server slowly adds in a bit more of the broth. There are also tons of small chunks of meat and veggies left from the meal to add to the taste. The juk cooks for about 5 minutes till it is a thick consistency, and then it's time to dig in, again. This version of rice is a lot more interesting than just a plain bowl of it served. So even though, after sampling so many different foods through the meal I have started to resemble one of the big dumplings, there is always rooms for a little more. So down goes the soup.

Shabu shabu is an interactive, fun, do-it-yourself kind of meal. Not to mention cheap (in Korea). At this restaurant in Osan, it was 12,000 won per person (just over 10 bucks). It works for 2 people, or a huge group. There is lots of reaching and sharing and everyone takes part in the meal. It is similar to Korean BBQ because you cook your own food, but the soup element is unique. And I love soup! I am aiming to recreate this meal at home with friends and see how it goes down.

This is where all the magic happens.

Meat platter, veggie platter, and dumplings and noodles.

Rice paper dipped in water to make wraps.

Bowl full of deliciousness.

Dumplings, noodles, and some sprouts.
Juk, Korean porridge soup.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Cosmopolitan Kid

Anthony Sudakov is my God Son. Anthony's mom Natalia is from Russia, and his dad Denis is from the Ukraine. Anthony has a Korean birth certificate. In just over a year he will apply for a Canadian passport, once his parents, our good friends, immigrate from Korea to Toronto. At less than 4 months old, he is more cosmopolitan than a lot of adults I know.

Baby Anthony & I

Last weekend was Anthony's baptism. His parents found a Russian Orthodox Church in Seoul and we spent Sunday at the church baptizing him and then celebrating afterwards. It was a little strange seeing an Asian looking man speaking Russian and performing the service. I didn't understand anything that was said (I am used to that, living in Korea) but it was held in a small basement section of the church property and it was beautiful to look at. Anthony was so well behaved and spent a big part of the ceremony asleep in my arms. As an aside, he is SOOOO heavy, so much respect to Natalia, she is so strong to lug that little man around all day and all night. I am pretty sure his limbs are made of steel.

We have arrived!

The God Parents

Denis, Natalia & Anthony

A big difference between an Orthodox baptism and a Catholic one, is that the Holy Water is usually just poured over the child's head in the Catholic church. Sweet little Anthony got stripped down to his diapers (luckily it wasn't cold in the church) and he was dunked right in a huge bowl of the water, right up to his shoulders. A rude awakening from his slumber but he took it like a champ. He barely made a peep. The priest sang most of the words through the service in a loud, monotone and almost droning voice, the way priests tend to have, and I think it was a lullaby for Anthony.

The location: St.Maxim Orthodox Church, Seoul

The Priest.

The big bowl on the bottom right is where he got dunked.

Being blessed.

After the baptism we headed to Dongtan, a new and nicer suburb off of Osan. Natalia and Denis took us to Ashley's, a great buffet place with unlimited, free flowing red and white wine from a barrel. White wine is a rarity while dining out in Korea, so already, I was over the moon.  Lunch/dinner was amazing. There was so much selection (some Korean, but mostly western food) and one dish was better than the next. Anthony was definitely the star of the show. Natalia has told me all about this phenomenon but it was fun to experience. Koreans LOVE white babies! Apparently she gets stopped all the time. It makes sense, cause they look different front what they're used to, especially when they are cute little ones (I LOOOOOOOOVE Korean babies!) So hardly a person could pass us without stopping and staring and smiling at Anthony. He is one popular little baby.

In Korea, meals always happen really quickly. You're in, you eat, and you're out. At this restaurant, we took our time and no one rushed us and it seemed like we were on par with everyone else's pace. It made me a little nostalgic of home. We ate, talked, drank wine, ate some more, had coffee, drank some more wine and talked some more. It was such a great Sunday. We arrived at the restaurant at around 4, and I am pretty sure it was after 8pm when we left. Food, wine, good friends and great conversations. I left my house just after 10am to make sure I was on time to meet Denis, Natalia, Anthony and Tyson (the Godfather), and didn't make it back home until around 10pm. A very enjoyable Sunday!

Digging in. 

One of the few dessert plates that were on the table.

Happy faces & full bellies.


I already have 2 God daughters back in Canada, my niece Belle and one of my besties' daughters, Ella.  I look forward to the day when Anthony is settled with his parents living in Canada and I can introduce one side of my little clan to the other.

***The photos here are all from Natalia's camera, because I was too busy holding Anthony and coo'ing over him all day (okay and eating and drinking) to have my camera out and active.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

And then there was one.

사랑하는 나의 안녕히!

Garry left Korea today. I am pretty confident my life will carry on smoothly without him here for a mere 12 more days, but it's more what it signifies that has my wheels turning. My time in Korea is quickly coming to an end. Without being over dramatic, it is the end of a really fun era. Okay that is a little dramatic, let's say the end of a beautiful chapter. The plan to teach in Korea was slowly planted in my head back in 2009, when I fell in love with Asia. It was on my first trip to Southeast Asia, backpacking through Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, that I knew in my head I had to find a way back for an extended period of time. All my time back in Toronto was just laying the ground work to make it all happen. Next was a trip that started in India and was supposed to end in Korea but ended up bringing me back to Toronto after 6 months of travelling. It was then, the pieces started fitting together and Korea came into focus.

Before I knew it, all my paperwork was done, a one year contract was signed, and a job was waiting for me on the other end. A year turned into 16 months and it was just right. After a fantastic experience teaching in Osan for a year, I had another perfect opportunity handed to me. It was right at the time when I had decided one year was not long enough in Korea, but two years may be too much. I hadn't quite had my fill of life in this country- but was a little skeptical (for a number of reasons) to sign on for another long haul. So when the offer of a four month stint, closer to Seoul, came up- I jumped at it.

There was again, another option for a new one year contract at my school in Anyang, but at this point everything was pointing towards going back home. As soon as I made the definite choice a few months back to leave Korea and return to Canada, I knew it was the right one. I was 100% confident in my choice. So the past few months have consisted of checking off all the stuff I wanted to do in Korea, and I am pretty satisfied with it. I am totally ready for something new, a change of scenery in my life. A world where everyone speaks English!

So with Garry making the first move, it now seems real. We are spending a few weeks in the UK to *decompress* from east to west, visiting his family in Scotland and friends in London and Brighton. It is the perfect segway back in to our lives at home. But the fact that he has already left makes me want to speed up time until I get there.

I have just over one week left here. Work is a breeze. It is the last week of school before classes end for spring break (Yes, we just came off 2 months of winter vacation. I don't get it either). So it is the last week of school before kids advance to the next grade, book ended by vacations. Basically, a joke.  Attention span of both students and teacher are almost non-existant. Thankfully I finished the text book material with all my students before Christmas so they (by they I mean I) get rewarded with a week of watching movies. Nothing too stressful. Aside from that my week will consist of packing and saying goodbye to my coworkers and some friends.

Korea has been a fun, adventurous, and really rewarding part of my life. Garry and I had such a great experience here individually, but mostly together. After a fun filled trip to the UK, I am so excited to see what lies around the next turn. I know vaguely we need to find a place to live, jobs, a new car.... but I am so excited (and scared!) to make it all happen. In time, I have faith everything will work out just how it should. As stuff in my life has a tendency to do.

From one continent to the next, it is tough to say goodbye to Asia, but I know from past experiences the pull is too strong. I will be back for sure . Garry and I speak of how interesting it will be to come back to Korea in 10 years time and see all the changes. If not Korea, then Thailand, or maybe Mongolia? Who knows? But for now, I am going to *try* to live in the moment, and enjoy my last few weeks in the place I have called home for the last 16 months.