Seoul Food: Hitting the streets in search of Octopus and Silkworms

SK food1_1440_SC

At the Gwangjan market in Seoul, it’s common to find people sitting around these food shacks, munching on beef, pork, seafood, octopus, etc., all washed down with Soju or beer. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

This piece was first published on IndianExpress.com.

Three, Two, One… Kimchiiiii. After a trip to Seoul, now and forever, I am prepared to yell kimchi whenever someone wants me to smile for a photograph, because saying cheese is so passé! But kimchi, that side dish made of fermented cabbage that’s become synonymous with Korean food, is just one of the many dishes of Korea. The streets of Seoul are a crowded palate, where traditional fare coexists with cafes and chicken-and-beer joints, the latter fairly recent imports. Seoul’s streets, in fact, probably have the highest density of coffee shops and beer joints—out of thirty shops, twenty are certain to be these.

 

SK food3_759_SC

(clockwise from top-left) Sweet rice cake covered in powdered sugar; a hot broth with raw meat that’s cooked on the table; tofu cooked without onion and garlic; and shrimp sauce (Source: Shruti Chakraborty)

 

 

 

A Korean plate looks much like it does in the eastern and north-eastern parts of India. There is rice at the centre (sticky rice in this case), and a host of accompaniments, ranging from vegetarian (seaweed, fried or steamed ); nabak kimchi (sweet, pungent watery kimchi that I personally liked); tongbaechu kimchi (traditional spicy kimchi that I stayed away from after the first two times); juk (a vegetarian congée that can also cure a hangover); pajeon (savoury flour pancakes with all sorts of vegetables); dotorimuk (a rather tasteless acorn jelly–stay away), various preparations with tteok (steamed rice cakes made with glutinous rice, glass noodles) to meat (a variety of raw fish; jogaetang (neck clam soup with vegetables; beef ribs; jjukkumi (stir-fried baby octopus), mollusks).

But if you don’t have time for a traditional, sit-down Korean meal, then it’s Seoul’s streets that you should be looking for. So, bring out your brass/gunmetal chopsticks (the Koreans prefer metal chopsticks to the wooden ones popular in China and Japan, though they first started off with silver because of its healing properties), the soup spoon, and tuck right in. Some markets like Gwangjang have many food stalls with a variety of meats, and makeshift seating all around like a bar. They serve Soju, beer and green tea (which is offered as a pacifier should you choke on your food like I did) as beverages.

 

A plate of ‘sattvik’ traditional Korean food available at the many temple stays. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

A plate of ‘sattvik’ traditional Korean food available at the many temple stays. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

 

Here’s what you can chew your way through on a food crawl to the many hawkers’ markets in the city (Nandaemun, Myeongdong, Gwangjang and Insadong are where I ventured).

Tornado potato: This may not be traditionally Korean, but once you’ve had your deep-fried potato wafers spiralling up a long skewer, brushed in your choice of flavoured powder — onion, honey and cheese — it’ll be quite a while before you pick up your next packet of chips. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one with spliced sausages in between.

Sausage and rice cake skewers: Nibble on different kinds of sausages and rice cakes barbecued on skewers smothered in a traditional Korean sauce.

 

Dotorimuk, a jelly-like dish made from acorn. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

Dotorimuk, a jelly-like dish made from acorn. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

 

Gyeranppang or egg cake: This snack is made by cracking an egg on a fat piece of cake and baking it. The sweet of the cake and the richness of egg gives it an interesting flavour and texture.

Ttoekbokki: Devilishly hot, this is a hugely popular snack. Rice and fish cakes are dipped in hot and sweet tomato-based red chilli sauce and boiled over a portable stove. It’s best washed down with a bottle of Soju.

20160306_170151

Oysters, butter and cheese: I’m not quite sure what this was called, but it looked delicious. Fresh oysters, roasted over the fire with cheese and chunks of butter, and a slight salty seasoning. The oyster is cooked in its shell and is served with the butter bubbling hot.

Soondae: Korean version of blood sausage, a common variety is pig’s intestine mixed with noodles/rice, barley and pork blood. This is also tossed in red chilli sauce (a favourite with Koreans, it seems) and served hot. An interesting tangy shrimp sauce is served on the side that’s full of tiny shrimps (eyes and everything), should you want to dip your pork for some fishiness.

 

SK food4_759_SC

Makgeolli, a milky white rice wine that’s sweet, earthy and leaves you warm and fuzzy. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

 

Jjukumi: Baby octopuses are quite popular and you can find them everywhere — stir-fried, battered, roasted or tossed in a red chilli gochugaru sauce before being fried. A bit tricky to eat, they taste like squids, only a bit tougher. Some stalls also offer octopus arms, which are much bigger but taste almost the same.

If food is on its way, can drinks be far behind? There are two local brews to wash down all that food: Soju and Makgeolli. Made from rice, wheat, barley or even potatoes or tapioca, Soju is the most popular drink in South Korea. It’s a clear distilled drink containing ethanol and water, with an alcohol content of up to 45 per cent. As I downed it neat in tiny shot glasses, Soju was more of a checkmark in my list and did nothing to uplift my spirits. What really stayed back with me, though, is the Makgeolli, a milky white rice wine that’s sweet, earthy and leaves you warm and fuzzy. Said to be a farmer’s liquor, it is now gaining popularity among the young city crowd as well. For those who like to experiment, add a dollop of sweet potato ice cream into a bowl of Makgeolli for a delicious float. It’s life changing.

 

A street-food vendor at Myeungdong market. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

A street-food vendor at Myeungdong market in Seoul. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

 

If you still have appetite for some more, you can finish off with these desserts.

Kkultarae or dragon’s beard or Korean court cake: It’s a mildly sweet bite-sized nugget of fine strands of ‘hair’ made by meticulously pulling a honey-maltose mixture. The filling can be varied, from assorted candied nuts to chocolate.

Hotteok or sweet pancake: This is best had hot. The pancake is filled with a mixture of brown sugar, honey and chopped nuts. Eating it can be quite challenging as the molten sugary centre tends to drip on to your arm and scald it. But totally worth it.

 

SK food5_759_SC

(clockwise from top-left) Hotteok; sweet potato and green tea ice creams, served with red bean sauce; and Gyeranppang or egg cake. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

 

Sweet tteok: This is just a sweet version of the rice cake, with or without a nutty-brown sugary/red bean paste filling, and a powdered sugar coating. Not very sweet, the gooey balls are actually quite tasty in this form. This is also a traditional Korean wedding sweet.

Sweet potato ice cream and red bean paste, though not necessarily together: The Koreans love their ice creams and have some unique flavours, and like other parts of South East Asia, they love a lot of sweet red bean paste (that’s rajma for us) in their desserts. I loved the sweet potato flavoured ice cream and a spoonful of sweet red bean paste with it. The more popular version is patbingsoo, which is a dollop of ice cream on a bed of ice shavings and red bean paste, topped with seasonal fruits.

Despite all this food, my rather tight schedule didn’t let me try the two things I really wanted to — bulgogi, spicy marinated beef strips barbecued to crispy yet succulent perfection and beondegi, steamed or boiled silkworm pupa, which is supposed to taste nutty. Well, maybe next time.

IMG_4623

The author was part of an Indian women journalists’ delegation to Seoul, South Korea.

IN PURSUIT OF THE MOVING MASSAGE CHAIR

12039555_10153875071493268_8150389027928194380_n

Problems can often be seen as experiences and awesome stories… most likely in hindsight. and this story is one such instance.

It was simple really, get to the bus station in time to catch a good for Chiang Rai. I was at the hostel cafe, pumping in juice into my dead phone battery, counting the minutes when I’d absolutely need to leave. The guy at the reception said it would take me 15 mins. I wanted to take a tuk tuk all the way but he insisted that it wud be crazy expensive and I shud simply take the skytrain. At the most I could take a tuk tuk to the BTS station.

I weighed in my options, and at 7.30pm left the café for a probable 8pm bus. Hailed a tuk tuk, bargained the tariff down to 50% at 40 thb. He disapproved of my selection of destination. “Chiang Rai no good. It rain there. Why you go?” My heart sank. Got off at the BTS station only to wait for 10 minutes for the next train to Mo Chit. Cost me 37 thb.

After an agonizing standing 20 mins later (I could really really do with a foot massage right now), the train flew into the Mo Chit station and I started panicking — I could see NO sign of any central bus station.

Disembarking and quickly rushing down the stairs, I could find no reassurance — there was no bloody sign of a bus station. The only one was of the bus service to the airport.

I ask this disapproving lady at the station mart for the exit for the bus station. Eyebrows scrunched and a decided frown, she says “Exit 2, exit 2”.

A quick thanks and I dash towards Exit 2, Exit 2. As I descend the stairs a bunch of men wearing official-looking half jackets, shouting in Thai look at me, the first one keeps staring, and starts walking forward… also starting to wear a black mask. “That’s very odd”, I think and frantically looking around for the god-damned bus station! I turn a slight right towards the jackted men as I descend the last step. That first guy, I see, has gotten onto a bike. The one in front of me asks me where I want to go. “The bus station. Buses to Chiang mai, Chiang Rai. Big bus station,” desperate. The guy ushers me towards Guy 1, now masked and helmeted…”60 baht. He take you…on motorbike. 60 baht. See sign”.

What? Motorbikes as taxis? That’s ridiculous! But I didn’t have time and they were wearing jackets with IDs and there was a printed sign… so um…can i walk? 4 kms?! okay! okay! Bah… this was turning out to be grossly non-cheap.
I tumble and get indecorously on to the bike and the man zooms off… wrong side of the road! For a whole stretch. And I thought that was a Delhi characteristic!

As we’re zooming past, I saw one other lady being taken on a similar bike… *phew!

Destination reached, I make a mad dash to the ticket Women beckon me from everywhere. Highly suspicious yet desperate, I go to the first counter that says Chiang Rai. The woman tells me it’s a great bus and I need to pay PAY NOW because “the bus go now”. Not much convinced if I really got the bus I wanted, or fell for a classic tourist trap I decided to buy it and run towards the platform, hoping to god it’s a good-looking bus.

It was! Yessssssss!!!

Stewardess in a baby pink uniform ushers me in and shows me to my snug seat. Heck, it even has a neck pillow — and I’ve never used one before (and thankfully so. It’s so uncomfortable. How do you people like that thing! :-/).

Settled into my seat, I can finally breathe. Bus had been caught. It was the sleeping kind, and had an entertainment system… with this power button under the armrest. I press it to check what it does… the chair starts slightly vibrating and slowly pressure points on my back, legs and neck are being hit upon in blissful rhythm! A bloody massage chair for the rest of the journey… wooohoooo!!! As I settle into my chair and relax, the past hour’s madness seems all worth it.

Life is good! Khop khoon ka! 🙂
First tuk tuk ride 😛

Chockro goes Parasailing!

In 2014, I went backpacking for over 70 days, and among the many things I tried was this one fabulous day when I went parasailing. I don’t know how to swim and I was freaking out. But when I actually went up, the feeling was anything but tensed. Calm, serene, peaceful — those are the sentiments that come to mind. I felt like a bird, and for once, I could hear silence!

This video gives a glimpse of this ‘event’ in my life. I realize that for many this may not be a big thing, but then… this is why you all inspire me to do more! 🙂

More stories from ChockroGoes2Europe will follow soon!

10 trips every woman should take

1925342_10153284714643268_6092051106004737113_n

It’s said that ‘travel is the best form of education’, and for the multi-tasking and multi-faceted woman, this holds more true than ever. Not only does travelling work as a means of escaping the world you live in, but also discovering a whole new one. And this experience is even more enhanced and intensified by the kind of trips she undertakes and at which stage of her life such a jaunt is taken.

1. A trip with her parents/guardian as a child

Everyone remembers family trips taken as kids. In fact, that’s one of the best and tension-free times to go on trip, when the world is oh-so-new, almost everything done is for the first time and — the biggest kicker of all (at the time) — she can confidently forget the existence of the monstrous ‘studies’. Decades later, when she’s on a trip with her parents again…much of the time will be spent recounting these trips and all the silliness.

2. A school trip with friends

For a girl — in fact, for every kid — this is the first trip where’s she’s almost on her own. Ideally to be taken in the early-to-mid teenage years, when a girl is in a phase of self-discovery, it’s a time when she understands that which decisions she can take on her own and which she needs her parents for. Also, bonds made during such outstation tours with friends tend to last a lifetime.

3. A road trip with her girlfriends

From school to college and even beyond, a road trip with friends is a definite-must, especially if it’s one with her girlfriends. Mission brief: break all stereotype, challenge themselves, be responsible, and make memories for life.

4. A trek/historical holiday with her mother

This is a special one, especially when she’s in her late-20s or 30s and conversations are more between two friends than mother-daughter. It’s also the time she realizes that despite all the fights there is actually much in common between the two generations. The reason it’s relevant that this trip be either a trek (an easy one, mind you!) or to destination with a lot of historical relevance is because while the former challenges just enough to give mommy-dearest a sense of achievement along with her daughter, the latter gives a sense of discovery and appreciation of one’s past. Get the drift?

5. A bonding trip with her father

A woman is always her father’s little princess (ever heard the quote: I may not be a man’s queen, but I’ll always be my father’s princess?), and when years have gone past, a solo jaunt with the old man will give both the time and space to discover all the things that were missed between storming-out sessions, weddings, cry-outs and silent wars. Try doing an adventure trip or camp out — that will reassure dad that his girl is all grown-up and quite capable of taking care of herself. Try something that he’s never done before!

6. A trip with her partner

Nothing can be a better way to take a relationship to the next level than a quick trip away. This would be a great way to understand her partner, test him, be tested herself, and figure out if this is the real deal or not. After all, one can’t put the same best foot forward — continuously — for three days straight, right?

7. A road trip with parents, siblings and extended family

In today’s age of nuclear families, it’s quite easy to get so involved in one’s own life that the family — or khandaan — can be quite easily be slotted into Whatsapp groups and family filters on Facebook. A road trip with them all — all 20+ of them — is sure to surprise with the amount of fun that can be had. Not only are such trips great to find out about all the “secrets” parents have been hiding all these years, but also connect with long-lost cousins, which just opens up the friend circle a tiny bit more. (And if they’re living at some exotic location — you know exactly where the next budget trip is going to be!)

8. A solo trip to an unknown land

This is a must for every woman in the 21st century. Nothing makes someone discover more things about herself than being by herself — and this is definitely not a bad thing. This makes her stronger, more confident about herself, may end up change her entire world-view or even give her the grounding she seeks. New friends are much easier to make when you’re by yourself, and the world is truly your oyster. Just be sure to stay safe!

9. A challenging/pampering trip with her husband/life partner

This is most preferable if unplanned and totally spontaneous. Get away from the humdrum routine that life tends to become after a point. Rekindle the romance, rediscover each other — or, basically, just run away from monotony and rejuvenate yourselves. Choose a kind of trip depending on what interests both partners, and elope! (Make sure there’s a babysitter at hand, should it be necessary.)

10. A fun trip with her children

The roles have been reversed — she goes through every single emotion her mother did decades ago, and it’s so much sweeter. This time it’s not her firsts that are the centre of attention, but her child’s — which is, again, a first!

Festive Travel

This article was first published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 18-11-2013. And is available online.

Planning your vacations abroad early next year? Team them with festivals that will give you insights into the local culture

Spring Festival, China
30 Jan – 5 Feb
While perpetually in the news for its economy and population, this star of the Orient encompasses within its borders a most fascinating topography and — if you take the time to get under its skin — culture, with its quaint rituals and rules. But experience the mystique of the Chinese lanterns during their lunar New Year, when the country offers a bite-sized version of its legends, foods, dragons and red lanterns, of course. Beijing, Guangzhou, Xian and Pingyao are some of the preferred places to visit during the Golden Week.

Crush Festival – Cellar Door Wine Festival, Australia
19 Jan – 16 Feb
If you’re a foodie and looking to swim in the coral reefs early next year, consider attending the Crush Festival — one of Australia’s premier food, wine, fashion, music and art festivals. While the European countries uncork their finest wines in the autumn, Down Under it’s in January. Start with the Crush, when 30-odd wineries open their cellar doors. If you crave for more, then the Cellar Door Wine Fest offers unlimited food and wine tastings from over 150 producers. There are master classes with celebrity chefs and interactive sessions for serious gastronomes.

Masked Lovers at Mardi Gras in Venice by Frank Kovalchek (Wikimedia Commons)

Masked Lovers at Mardi Gras in Venice by Frank Kovalchek (Wikimedia Commons)

Carnival/Mardi Gras, Venice, Italy
15 Feb – 4 Mar
The mystical city of Venice takes on a whole new persona during this three-week-long annual extravaganza. Home to the renowned Venetian mask, around 3 million people from across the world flock to this canal city during the pre-Lent period to lose themselves in the anonymity of the masks and elaborate costumes. There are parades, balls and masquerades that transport you to a different era altogether, and a special array of food and drinks are laid out for the masses. The festivities culminate with Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

Rio Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
24 Feb – 4 Mar
For travellers (and even hard-core party-goers), Brazil is anyway one of the most coveted destinations. Not diluting the extremely rich cultural experience of the Latin American country, it would be safe to recommend that if you’re planning a trip to Brazil, it should be during the Rio Carnival. A capsule of the vibrant rhythms and culture, the Samba parades and masquerade balls are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Dance on the streets with the exotic dancers, while seeing the sights.

Cherry blossoms in Japan and the US
March – April
All year-round, Japan’s attractions are many — from anime conventions and tea ceremonies to museums and bullet trains. But head towards the Land of the Rising Sun during end-March and April, and your eyes can feast on the gorgeous cherry blossoms in full bloom, especially in the garden city of Kyoto. There are a series of festivals organised here during this period projecting a very a different aspect of this eastern nation. But if your floral trail is Westward-inclined, then fret not. As a mark of Japan-American friendship (the former had presented the US capital, Washington DC, with 3,000 cherry trees), the National Cherry Blossom festival is celebrated across the city for three weeks. Next year’s dates are 20 Mar–13 Apr. So, while waving at the White House, stop by the various festival venues as well, for a slight taste of Japan in America.

Eboshiyama is one of the 100 places in Japan to view cherry blossoms. This picture shows the illumination of the mountain during the peak viewing season. By Fantasy Leigh (Wikimedia Commons)

Eboshiyama is one of the 100 places in Japan to view cherry blossoms. This picture shows the illumination of the mountain during the peak viewing season. By Fantasy Leigh (Wikimedia Commons)

Hay-on-the-Wye Festival, Wales, UK
22 May – 1 Jun
Known as the ‘town of books’, Hay on the Wye has been playing host to one of the world’s most popular literature festivals since 1988. With its inception from the winnings of a poker game, the festival draws around 25,000 visitors, including the crème de la crème of the world’s litterateurs. The quaint little town is a delight for book lovers, with pop-up stores, live music, author interactions, lovely food and the chance of bumping into your favourite author walking down cobbled streets. Romance out of a book!

Feast of St Patrick, Ireland
14 – 17 Mar
This can alternatively be called the ‘green festival’ because of the predominance of the colour across all festivities — inspired from the shamrock, which was used by St Patrick to explain the Holy Trinity. So, if you land during this festival, be prepared to be enveloped in a sea of green revelry. The magic comes from a smorgasbord of events — crack up to the quintessential Irish humour at the many comedy clubs, sway to street music and folk concerts, be moved by the theatre, applaud the fireworks and be enchanted by the many parades.

Chocolate cupcakes decorated with green icing for St Patrick's Day. By Kristin Ausk (Wikimedia Commons)

Chocolate cupcakes decorated with green icing for St Patrick’s Day. By Kristin Ausk (Wikimedia Commons)

Rainforest World Music Festival, Sarawak
20 – 22 Jun
There are music festivals aplenty, but what sets this one apart is that it’s nestled in the beautiful rainforest of Sarawak, Borneo. Set against the Sarawak Cultural Village, artists from across the world converge as attendees dance to the rhythms of the rainforest, drink and dine under the canopies of trees, away from the rest of the world. It’s magical.