Thursday, September 6, 2012

Korean Vegetarian Delicacies : Bibimbap

My first ever signature Korean dish - Bibimbap

And so I came to Korea with lots of misconception about unavailability of vegetarian food. I can't really be blamed now, can I? I mean, when the whole world, literally, bombards you with questions like "Korea? But how about food? How are you going to manage?" and "God, do they even know what vegetarianism is? They eat dogs, for god's sake!!" and, well....the list  goes on....Like duh...People.....

Just let me get this straight. To all those people out there, listen to this. If there's a will, there's a way! Don't give reasons for something that you choose not to do. Period. For your information, from the time I got to Korea, I hadn't had a single problem getting vegetarian food. Zilch. You don't believe that now, do you? Well, you better do, because that's the honest truth, nothing but the truth! So, how did I manage? See, it's really simple. A problem becomes a problem only when you see it as such!

Hence, the first thing I did, was to find out how to say that in Korean. And I did. In Korean :

a) I'm a vegetarian --> "naanen cheshik juijareyo"

b) I don't eat meat, seafood and eggs --> "naanen gogi, haysanmul, thalgael 

So, which ones do I say at restaurants? Well, I say both!! Let me tell you something. Koreans are very hospitable in nature. They really do love to feed you and provide the best of service.  If you could just speak their language, that is, and tell them exactly what you want.

By reading some helpful posts online, I learned that generally there is a minor misconception about vegetarianism here in Korea. When you say "I'm a vegetarian", you might end up getting floating pieces of egg, or bits of meat in your dish. I thought about this, and realized that the only way to help them understand was my repeating my words twice, from different contexts. And I was right!! It helped!:)

So, here I declare my first ever vegetarian meal in Korea - their signature dish "Bibimbap" which means mixed rice in Korean. Where did I have it? During my trip to Seoul, at the Seoul Metro Train Station!

On the left, is my lip-smacking bibimbap, and my husband's Ramen noodles on the right...
Bibimbap (translated as mixed rice) is actually a very humble, satisfying rice dish with blanched, yet fresh vegetable  (carrots, mushrooms, beans sprouts, turnips) and some raw lettuce, usually topped with meat or egg. Of course, being vegetarian, you could opt not to have it in the dish.

So, what's so special about this simple dish, you may wonder.....Well, it's the generous dollop of spicy red sauce right at the top of the dish! That just lends a completely different experience, you have my word for that!!

Also, it's important to ask for "Dolsot bibimbap" which means "hot plate bibimbap", where the dish is served on a hot plate (as above). Interestingly, Koreans love devouring hot and cold food (where food is, sometimes, mixed with ice, especially in summer). 

So, by using the world "dolsot", you can then be reassured that the dish remains hot throughout your meal. Most Korean main dishes come with lots of side dishes,  Kimchi being a compulsory one. There's also a small bowl of soy soup (again, ask to ensure it's vegetarian), depending on the eatery.

So, what did I think of my Bibimbap? Now, how would a spoonful of hot steaming rice, fresh crunchy vegetable with a dash of traditional Korean hot sauce taste? Absolutely breathtaking, I must say! My first ever Bibimbap was an unforgettable experience. My husband told me that I looked so "contented" throughout the day, bless him:)))). Well, what dya expect?

With my increased confidence in using the language post Bibimbap success, I've ventured into having the same meal in a number of restaurants in Ulsan. But, you know what they say about the first time always being special....and to me, my first Korean dish at the overcrowded Seoul Metro Train station was definitely 'love at first sight". It was perfect. It was timeless. It was heaven. Amen.

Places Explored : Junjeon Black Pebble Beach

Junjeon Black Pebble Beach

And so we've just been reading some super-sensational news from BBC about a the powerful Typhoon Bolaven which is going to hit South Korea tonight. Apparently, it's already caused some massive destruction in the island of Okinawa, Japan. One of the most interesting things I read about typhoons is the fact that if the energy from a typhoon or cyclone can be harnessed, it's actually able to provide power source for a city that could last for a few years...wow wow wow! The mightiness of nature, one could never quite fathom it....

Waves storming away in Busan, 420km southeast of Seoul (picture and information courtesy of  http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/asia/story/photo-gallery-typhoon-bolaven-pounds-south-korea-20120829)

So now, back to our trip to Junjeon Black Pebble Beach. It's been sometime back, and the three of us couples decided to make it our outing for the weekend. It was Sasya, my friend's, birthday, and we decided to buy a cake and surprise her at the beach. Piya's wonderful idea, I gotta give her some credit for that....

Anyway, we took the bus on a Saturday afternoon from the Gotbawi Bus Junction, and if I recall, I think it was bus number 121 or 123. Well, no worries, you just need to show pictures of Junjeon Pebble beach to the bus driver and he'll usually understand. 

It took us about, say, an hour to get there. I was quite surprised because at one point, he was actually driving uphill?!?....Which did not seem like the way one takes to get to the beach. But anyhow, we finally reached the place. The wind was chilly and strong, and the waves were pleasantly crashing against the shore. The loveliest part about this beach is yes, as I've said, it's filled with beautiful black pebbles, different sizes, shapes...I've read somewhere before that walking on pebbles is a good reflexology for the legs, so walking barefoot on these pebbles is definitely recommended.

Locals fishing and having a great time with family....
Lovely pebbles in all shades...

We had a lovely time there, laughing, enjoying the lovely breeze, and most of all, basking in each other's company, as you can see below. 

Took them some time to coax me to get up there.... 

Bee and me......