Death by Food

10 Aug 2011
Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

 If you are interested in eating yourself to death, I would suggest going to Belgium. Lots of places have delicious foods, but few have so many delicious foods that when eaten in large amounts will weigh you down to the point of complete immobilization. Between the waffles, chocolate, french fries and beer I'm pretty sure you could be dead in 2 weeks, less if you threw caution out the window. We were there for a little over 1 week and I know my stomach heaved a sigh of relief when we left. In fact, we didn't go to a single restaurant in Amsterdam (our next destination) and instead ate apples and salads from the grocery store. A bit of penance for our behavior in Belgium.


Posted by Marisa
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 It turns out fried chicken is really delicious. That's why people eat it all the time.


Also, a side note, it's really hard to do consistent food photography because sometimes (mostly) you eat the food and then realize you should have taken a picture. 

Moral of the story (#48): Sometimes you have to go to new places to learn something you already knew (or should have).

Posted by Marisa
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Today we ate Durian. Durian is touted as being very stinky. I have heard that hotels ban the fruit because it is too stinky. Perhaps containing it inside a room would make it extra stinky. We ate it outside and I have to say, if you think that's stinky, you really haven't smelled very much.


Most stinky thing ever: That time when we thought an animal died in the air conditioner. Dad was inspecting it and about to pull it apart when we realized it was just the neighbors cooking dinner.

Stinky rule #1: If it doesn't smell like something died, it's not really that stinky.


Korea is full of stinky food. They like to let things sit around, rot and then eat them. They liken this to cheese.

Stinky rule #2: If cheese smells like that, don't eat it. Or anything else.


A great day in Korea was the day I had revenge on everyone who fed me weird stuff. It was honest enough because I didn't realize at the time that dill pickles tasted funny. However, I guess if you've only ever eaten sweet pickles, a dill pickle would taste funny. We fed the dill pickles to Jordan's students. The students made shocked faces. I felt strangely satisfied. That was for all the fermented bits, the mysterious sea animals and giant mushrooms that I ate.

People love their stinky food. You can be sure that whatever country you visit, whatever is stinkiest will be a national treasure and someone will be very pleased to make you eat it.

Stinky rule #3: When someone says, "this is a special food," run the other way.


It should be noted that I too ate the Durian, just not as much as Jordan. It should also be noted that while the Durian is not the stinkiest, it is still quite slimy and tastes more like something I would rather not eat than something I would.

Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

Home wherever you love


This is my new motto. I tried to get Jordan to change the tagline on our website, but he doesn't seem that interested. In any case, this is my new tagline. You can imagine it at the top of the website when you read my blogs.

You may be tempted to ask where I love. And while I love many places, and I really can't claim to have one favorite, it turns out that really I can.

I love McDonald's. Because it is always there. It always has been there. And hopefully always will be there. Where else can I turn when I'm in the middle of nowhere Taiwan and really need to eat something that's not Chinese? Or the middle of nowhere Korea? Or the middle of nowhere Bolivia?

Golden Arches

A cheeseburger always tastes the same and so do french fries. Maybe I used to only like my burger with ketchup, while these days I can eat all the fixings. But there is nothing that says home quite like McDonald's. Not because their food is so great, but because it's always the same, and more importantly, always there.

Leaving Seoul

Posted by Marisa
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On Wednesday Jordan's teachers took us out for a farewell dinner (perhaps more like a "see you again" dinner).  They took us to a fancy "Western" restaurant and we got to talking about how the food they serve at places like these is in fact nothing like you could find anywhere in America.  What exactly it is that makes it different eluded me at the time, but I have since come up with this list:

5 Ways to Know Your Food Was Made in Korea

1.  There are about 20 little plates on the table.

2.  On these 20 little plates are various vegetables that have been pickled and/or fermented.

3.  The main course has between 5-10 different kinds of meat, one of which is a hot dog.

4.  3 tatertots accompany the main course as a festive garnish (3 tatertots for 5 people).

5.  There's octopus in the noodles.

Shellfish Heaven

26 Apr 2009
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

So Gunsan is a nice place to live if you like seafood, like Marisa does. Yesterday Matt and Mihye took us to a sweet shellfish restaurant where we grilled our own food (one of the shellfish was as big as my head). Check out more pictures here.

Posted by Marisa
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Despite, or perhaps because of, my week requiring me to do absolutely nothing, it seems to have been one of the more stressful ones since coming to Korea. Mostly because at one point I thought my principal was going to take away all my vacation time and make me teach vacation school the whole time. This however was skillfully averted by Ms Park, who also did not want to come in on her vacation to teach, and so I am back to having many weeks of vacation. Apparently the crisis ended when she was able to make the principal laugh. Whether he was laughing himself  thinking I should teach nine weeks of vacation school, or if Ms Park told a funny joke, I shall never know. But I am very grateful for her skills in getting me out of lots of work. I guess the principal still expects me to "better myself" like the other teachers do during the holiday. Ms Park goes to the library to study English. I shall work very hard to practice my English at home with Jordan. Perhaps I will watch some movies for extra practice.

Aside from the mini-crisis with the principal, the week consisted mostly of my lunching out with the ladies. On Tuesday I went out with the three women in my conversation class. They took me to a traditional Korean restaurant where they brought us about 500 mini plates of food. I see now why the Koreans kept talking about our dishwasher when we moved in, there are so many dishes I can't comprehend cleaning them. The conversation at this lunch focused mainly on when I would be having babies (they were shocked when I said it would be at least five years, I wonder what they would have done if I had said never) and what chores Jordan does. The women here seem to have heard that Western men do things around the house and always ask me what Jordan does. I then give them an impressive list of things, while they oooh and tell me he is very good (and handsome!). After lunch we went to the cinema to see the new James Bond, which was well received, although one of the women prefers Pierce Brosnan.

Yesterday I was invited to a housewarming party. Ms Park was very excited to use the word 'housewarming' because we had recently been discussing it. The party started at another traditional restaurant in the country that is actually owned by one of the teachers at my school. There were about 20 women who were invited, and I learned that the women who moved was treating us all to lunch. The restaurant was very cute, although it smelled bad because they eat this one fermented bean that smells terrible. I always cringe when we have it for lunch because the whole cafeteria smells bad. I eat really fast on these days. Luckily, we ate in a side room which didn't smell like smelly fermented bean. We had a big pot on the table with lots of vegetables in it which they turned into soup. I ate a mushroom which was not tasty. I ate some tofu which was. We then went back to town to view the new apartment. Everyone was very impressed by this "luxury" apartment and we walked around oohing and ahhing. After some fruit and tea it was time to go home.

Today I went to lunch with all the English teachers at the school, four of whom I teach with and one who only teachers third grade so I don't know her. We went to a so called "Western" restaurant, which means we got to eat with a fork. I was glad the food was at least a little western since my ability to eat Korean food is rapidly decreasing the more I eat it. These ladies wanted to know about Jordan's cooking skills, and Ms Park told me I should talk lots so they could practice their listening skills. This conversation ended with Ms Park telling the other ladies my life story in Korean. Good times. In all I've decided I like going to Korean parties because I'm not actually expected to be social. I can just sit there and smile.

It's going to be rough next week when I have to go back to teaching and can't sit around knitting hats, making Christmas tree ornaments and going out to lunch. I've scheduled a viewing of "The Grinch" in all 18 of my classes. We'll see how it goes. I might have to switch to Frosty half way through.

Young Octopus Delight

08 Dec 2008
Posted by Jordan
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I have to leave in a few minutes to find out how much "vacation school" I'm going to be teaching during the upcoming winter break, but just wanted to share a hosik experience I had last week, which included:

  1. Making a quick stop with Mr. Song at his Secret Garden. He owns a couple acres of land in Gunsan (close to our apartment) that he has turned into a wildflower extravaganza... he is apparently one of the leading wildflower experts in Korea (he's the head of a sizable internet group), and grows over 300 varieties throughout his garden. Of course everything is pretty much dormant now, but the garden still offers a nice retreat, and I can't wait to see it in Spring.
  2. Hiking straight up a mountain for 3 hours (yes, don't ask me how, but the mountain was uphill both ways--more like up-cliff, actually).
  3. Feasting at a raw seafood restaurant.

Now the raw seafood restaurant works like this: you walk in, take your shoes off, and look at the fish and eel and octopus and squid and jellyfish you are about to eat, swimming around in a tank. Then you think "nice fishtank." Then you realize that those are actually the fish you are about to eat. And then you eat them.

And yes, when I say fish I do mean octopus and squid and jellyfish and eel and oysters, and eveyr other kind of seafood you can imagine. All raw.

My basic rule of thumb is if a Korean eats it, I eat it. I kept my rule, but not easily. I mean, the raw fish was nothing, and the raw squid was actually pretty tasty. But when it came time to eat a thing they called "young octopus," I had to hold my stomach down. "Young octopus" is a whole octopus that is very slimy, and looks half-formed, and has large eyeballs that stare up at you and say "Why? WHY? WHY?"

More photos from the hike.

On a different note entirely, some of you may have noticed that we've switched over to Flickr for our photo hosting... not quite as integrated with our website, but our lousy hosting plan just wasn't handling the images very well. Anyway, the "Photos" link at the top of the blog will now take you to our flickr "photostream."

Turkey at the Haven

01 Dec 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

Yesterday we went to the Haven Baptist Church, a small church started in the late 1960's to minister to the Gunsan Air Base personnel (currently numbering around 5000, though the number has shrunk continuously since the war); somewhere along the line English Teachers found out about the church, and the congregation seems to be dominated by them now.

The church has no website, but they've got "hit men," so they don't really need one: one day while Marisa was standing at her bus stop waiting for the bus home a Korean man stepped up and gave her a business card for the Church. We called the number, spoke to pastor Stewart (who has been in Korea for over 30 years), and bam! on Sunday a van came by and picked us up.

The church seemed surprisingly small considering the size of the base (somewhere around 50 people I would estimate), but a nice size considering that everyone was quite friendly. We met the air base chief, as well as a number of English teachers around our age (most of them teaching at private hagwans, rather than public schools), and were invited to an English teacher Christmas party this Friday.

One of the best things about our visit was the food: aparently the congregation eats together every Sunday, and they eat stuff besides Kimchi! Don't get me wrong: I like Korean food quite a bit, but considering that it's all we eat at school, and all we can make at home due to what's available at the supermarkets, a little change is nice. This Sunday we ate "left overs" from their Thanksgiving diner; I'm not sure how much food they had originally at the diner, but if they hadn't told us we were eating left overs I never would have guessed: turkey, ham, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with brown sugar... the works. After a month of kimchi, it was a bit like heaven.

Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

An email we got today from Matthew:

Forgot to say this before... I guess that this is mostly for Marisa, since I couldn't dissuade Jordan, but here goes anyway:

Don't eat jellyfish.

(In my case, I had no idea what it was---it was whitish, translucent, stringy, and sort of viscous-looking, but that description applied to half of the things on the table, and I assumed that like the others it was some kind of plant starch or obscure vegetable or fruit or even ginseng with something funny done to it. But it was actually jellyfish.)

Um. In Korea it's only considered good if it still stings.


So don't eat it.

(Intentionally burning yourself with spicy foods is odd enough to me, but intentionally stinging yourself with jellyfish poison? No matter how mild the poison is, this seems weird.)


PS: The Koreans told me that it was a Japanese dish. That's true, but I have never ever heard of the Japanese leaving bits of the tentacles in so that it stings you... they just spice it with miso and stuff.

I'm not kidding here. In Korea, don't eat jellyfish.

Dinner With Landlords

16 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

Last night our landlords took us out to eat; a very nice family with two boys aged five and seven. They took us to Mr. Pizza in the new downtown area of Gunsan. The food was delicious: we had Kimchi and Seafood spaghetti, all-you-can-eat salad bar (which included crab), and a deluxe seafood pizza with crab and other goodies overflowing the crust.. All the waiters at Mr. Pizza wore headbands with crabs bouncing around on little springs, and the place's motto was interestingly "Love For Women"... we never figured out why. After the dinner we took a walk down Gunsan's beautifully-lit pedestrian bridge (crosses over the lake that is near our house). Check out the pictures of the bridge in our photo album.

Bridge Night Lights 01

PS: One of the interesting things in Korea is that you are expected to share, even at restaurants, which means that they've got no problem with two people sharing one all-you-can-eat salad bar dish, or a free-refills glass of Cola (they'll bring you two straws!). I'm sure my dad would think this was great; if he were here I could see him ordering one dish and one glass of Coke for our family of six to share.

Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

Fall Festival

I don't even know where to start describing my day of craziness. Okay, so yesterday I learn that Napo Middle School is having a festival today (Friday), and so there won't be any classes... so if I want I can stay at home. Stay home? Heck, here's a chance for me to experience the culture and demonstrate my school spirit at the same time. "No way!" I say. "I'm coming!" I don't know if it was a test, but I think I earned major points for not staying home. The festival basically went all day, and was a Spectacular Spectacular in its own right, considering there are only thirty-two students at this school--I think all but five of them are in one of the school's three bands. We had lunch, pizza break, plays, singing, elimination quiz games and more: Mr. Sam said that had they been a bigger school they would have rented out a venue.

I think I used up all of my good luck for the year, because I was the last one standing in the elimination quiz game. And they had invited me to play as a joke. Because all the questions were in Korean, and I couldn't understand a word. I roughly calculated my odds of winning afterward to be about 1 in 1000 - 10,000. I'm not kidding. Anyway, I'll stop talking now; here's the highlight reel (sadly my battery ran out towards the end and I didn't capture the best show of the day: the school's most talented and flamboyant band):


So after the festival the school faculty invites me to join them for some Hosik: "food together," in the Korean tradition. The experience was simply amazing: all the food I've had here has been good, but the duck feast that we had at this traditional Korean restaurant blew everything else away.

Okay, first of all, traditional Korean restaurants work like this: every group of diners has their own individual room in the restaurant off of a main hall, with a sliding door; you leave your shoes at the sliding door (as you always do when entering any place of dining or habitation in Korea), and then proceed to sit cross-legged on a small cushion at a very low table. The way the food works is you've got many small dishes all around the table filled with things like garlic, fresh jalapenos, green onions, sprouts, hot sauce, soybean sauce, etc. The servers then bring in huge platters of duck, prepared in an incredibly delicious hot sauce with onions, mushrooms, and other vegetables. You put these platters over burners at the table, and cook them there while you snack on peanuts and talk.Once the duck cooks you proceed to take bits of it with your chopsticks and put them in a lettuce leaf with any combination of sides you desire: usually at least a huge chunk of garlic (they cut the cloves in half and expect you to eat them that way) and some jalapeno; roll up the lettuce leaf and pop it in your mouth: it's to die for. After the duck is finished, they bring rice out and mix it with what's left of the sauce from the duck, and you then eat that (also incredibly good).

I'm sick that my camera battery died, because I really can't do the meal justice with my description. The picture below is the closest thing I was able to find on the internet; it gives you some idea of how things work, but the dishes are a bit different, the table is much smaller (we were eating with 20 people at one long table), and you've got to imagine the huge cooking duck platters for yourself.

You also drink Soju during all of this (watered down vodka, remember?), and if you really like someone you give them your Soju glass to drink from (kind of like the peace pipe or something). Anyway, after I had proven once again that I really could eat ever spicy thing in Korea (they tested me incrementally throughout the meal), the top man at the table--the Napo principal--gave me his glass, so I figure I'm in... or something.

Karaoke Extreme

Hm... so I think this is the second time in one week of being in Korea that I've said "Karaoke Extreme." Well, you don't know Karaoke until you go with your boss and all your colleagues to a Korean "Singing Room." The Koreans like to sing. I mean, they really like to sing. Once again I am thoroughly bummed that I didn't have my camera; picture the scene below, but with 15 people in business suits (and they do this all the time). I have to say, though, singing "Dancing Queen" with all my coworkers dancing and clapping around me gave me a bigger high than I expected--I passed my final test of the day with flying colors.

Raw Fish and Wine

07 Nov 2008
Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

Yesterday one of the teachers brought to school a very special kind of fresh raw fish; this called, of course for a break in the schedule, and a bit of celebration. All of the school faculty gathered in the dining room, some hot sauce was prepared for dipping, and some Korean wine (quite sweet) and Soju (think watered down vodka) were brought out. 10:00 AM seemed a bit early for the alcohol, but then I discovered that this fish, if served in a restaurant, would run around $500. So it was a special occasion. When I said that I liked the fish the school principal was about ready to adopt me. I didn't actually have my camera with me, so the photos are courtesy of Wikipedia.


Posted by Marisa
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I was a little nervous the first time we spotted these giant crabs on the street. I was even more nervous when I noticed them in the school soup pot.

Posted by Jordan
Jordan's picture

So for the last couple of days Marisa and I have been explaining the American election system to Korean middle schoolers. Earlier today I spent a full class period explicating democracy, election, the military, the draft, our two-party system, types of government, and more. The students (all 6 of them--this is one of my smaller Napo classes) were actually riveted, and came up with fine examples of monarchies, dictatorships, and democratic governments. We started out by watching and analyzing the first few minutes of Obama's acceptance speech on YouTube, and proceeded on from there.

I've held mock elections in most of my classes, and all except two of my students preferred Obama to McCain (though all could identify both candidates by name and picture). They all wanted to know whom I had voted for, but I made sure to make them state their own opinions before giving mine (students here tend to be none too subtle about brown-nosing their teachers--when I ask their favorite subject they all without fail tell me it's English. Right...).

Anyway, last night Marisa and I decided we should have an election party, and do American things, such as have a hamburger and declare that we have the right to do things. Of course, the only place in town that serves hamburgers is Lotteria, the Korean fast-food chain.



Marisa Adds:

The consensus was pretty much the same when I took the vote in my class.  Although, a few girls wanted to know who was the more handsome candidate and voted for him (but since I told them that Obama was more handsome, McCain gained no votes).  

As for our election party,  I have to say that American fast food definetly kicks butt.  I didn't even know it was possible for me to dislike fast food, but I have to say that if Lotteria is our only option for a hamburger, I will more likely be giving it up than partaking of the Korean version again.  Although I would have to say that Korean nationalism is probably stronger than American because I would definietly not choose to eat at Lotteria just because it's Korean when it's clearly inferior to the American version.  (Korea used to have McDonald's, but went through an anti-American phase when everyone refused to eat there.  So now we have Lotteria)

Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

Kimchi, I think I can safely say, is the favorite food of Korea.  You can't go anywhere, order anything, without getting a side dish of Kimchi.  You can't talk to any Korean without them wondering if you like Kimchi.  I'm not sure what happens if you tell them you don't like it, but I imagine they may not like you quite as much as they used to. Or, if you do claim to liking Kimchi, everyone decides you must be a good person.  I'm not quite sure what it is about this food that makes everyone fanatical (it would be like if we were crazy about pickles), but to Koreans there is no life without Kimchi.  (Upon consideration, we have decided they must be addicted to it.  Kimchi is spicy and spicy food does release endorphins, which make you happy.)


Kimchi actually covers a wide range of fermented vegetables that have been flavored.  We are most often served fermented cabbage with a spicy flavor.  Although there are many kinds served in different areas of Korea as well as during different seasons.

I like Kimchi a little bit.  I like it enough to be able to eat one piece.  I'm hoping to acquire a taste.  Jordan of course loves it.

Kimchi is said (by Health magazine, not the Koreans) to be one of the world's healthiest foods.  So there's no reason to refuse a little Kimchi.

For more information see wikipedia.