Monthly Archives: July 2008

A Curse and a Candy All in One

Here we are at lovely Insa-Dong, in Seoul, a hot tourist spot for anyone looking for some traditional korean goods. This can range from key chains and pencil pouches to traditonal brushes and old-fashioned snacks.

The snack I’d like the especially highlight today is 엿 [Yut]. This Korean sweet dates back to God knows when and is made from boiling malt and rice into a thick syrup and letting it harden into a hard, chewy candy.

Yes, that giant almost indistinguishable blob is in fact Peanut Yut. Normally, on a smaller scale, it is cut up into bite-size pieces and powdered with malt flour. In this case, a guy shaves of pieces of it with a plane. (No, not a flying plane, but a wood plane.) He then takes the shavings and puts them on a chopstick for your easy enjoyment.

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The Freshest a Chicken Can Get

Being in a relatively rural area of Korea, at least compared to the metropolis of Seoul, I have been able to get some of the freshest organic, free-range, what have you, poultry from a local lady that raises the chickens and ducks herself and will butcher them right then and there for you.

No, I don’t have pictures, because it’s just slightly too graphic to post…okay actually I didn’t bring my camera when I went with my aunt to pick up a chicken. Besides, it’d feel slightly out of place to be taking pictures when the bird’s guts are being pulled out. Although I did find it amusing I wasn’t put off in any way about eating the chicken even after seeing it go from clucking to gutted to on my plate. Then again, I have never really been squeemish about anything.

More importantly though, dear friends and/or strangers of the internet, is the reality of eating freshly killed, only-been-dead-for-45-minutes chicken. That is REAL chicken.

My aunt just boiled it whole in a traditional Korean chicken soup with ginseng, jujube, garlic, and salt, and I was in heaven. The meat was chewy, because these chicken was able to actually move around, but so intensely flavorful. It wasn’t because of the seasoning, but because of the chicken itself was delicious.

I know it was the chicken that was tasty because, I ate some of it raw.

 GASP! Yes, I know, it goes against everything the FDA tells you to do about chickens and salmonella and all that. But breast meat has never tasted so good as when it’s raw, like sashimi. Dipped in some sesame oil and salt, it has an intense natural chicken flavor that you could never get from a supermarket.

Now for the disclaimer: DON’T go out to a supermarket and try to slice yourself some chicken sashimi. Not matter how many organic, free-range claims it makes, it is impossible to care for the chickens properly on such a large scale. The risk is too high for contracting salmonella or any other serious diseases. My aunt has been getting poultry from that lady and has known her for a good 15 years. She knows how the chickens are cared for and trusts the lady enough to be able to eat the chicken raw.

With that aside, if you ever have a (trustworthy) opportunity to try raw chicken, I suggest you do. It’s not crazy, I’ve eaten a chicken tartare at a restaurant with a different aunt. There people out there that eat raw chicken! And see, I’ve lived to write about it!

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Waste Not, Want Not

Being in Korea has opened my eyes to the incredible amount of resources America wastes. Sure you hear about it all the time, but seeing another country in comparison is astounding.

At my aunt’s apartment complex, where I’ve been staying these past few months, there are separate waste bins for decomposable (food) waste, plastic, glass, metal, paper, non-recyclables and even designated bins for donations (i.e. clothes). This isn’t just a particular system for my aunt’s apartment or city. This is standard practice all over Korea. Some fast food restaurants even have special containers just for paper cups to be recycled.

This is incredible on two parts: (1) That Korea has such a solid system set up and (2) that people actually follow. In Korea, recycling is just a given, a norm, commonplace, a standard!

In many places in the US, it’s almost a hassle to recycle. You have to request recycling services, which even then are limited in what they can take. Either that, or you have to drive around yourself to drop off your recyclables.  Even in places that have rather impressive and simple recycling systems, people STILL refuse to put in that minuscule effort. In New York City, papers products go in the green bins; aluminum, plastic, and glass go in the blue bins; and everything else goes to trash. The city picks it up for you, and your job is finished. Easy as taking out the garbage. And yet, so much still goes to waste.

Now I’m sure there are avid recyclers around that are exceptions to these claims, but if my experience around SVA and its dorms are proof of anything, it’s that the vast majority is still TOO DAMN LAZY.

Honestly, it’s not that hard.

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