Blast from the not so distant past

This week Tim and I were excited to reconnect with one of our Paris people, a girl we met at the Sorbonne whose parents live in Paris. She also happens to be South Korean, but as irony would have it, her American friends live in Seoul while she lives in the U.S. However, this week she was flown in for a couple of job interviews, and she was thrilled to share her knowledge of Korea and Korean food with us. But before I get to that, I am sharing with you my own discovery- sweet potato latte.

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One of my surprising discoveries in Seoul is the popularity of sweet potatoes, particularly in “latte” form which really means some milk, sugar, and sweet potato on ice- no coffee. It liked it!

Back to meeting our friend. Immediately upon arriving, she asked to meet up for dinner, and we were all too happy to have a native Korean speaker take us out and introduce to the different types of Korean food as well as how it should be eaten, and I don’t mean with chopsticks.

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When we arrived at the designated meeting place, we had to get in line just to get out of the metro. Once we surfaced we saw why. It was a rally for one of the presidential candidates. He’s the one in the blue jacket taking a picture with a supporter.  I thought there would be no one we could spot our friend among all these people. Fortunately Tim is taller than most, so he spotted her just as easily as she spotted two white people.

Our pick that night was at a restaurant that served Shabu Shabu. When I googled it, Wikipedia says it is a Japanese thing, but the Koreans, I am sure, would insist theirs is different/better. In either case, I didn’t have anything like it in Japan so I won’t compare. Well, actually, I’m going go ahead and say it is probably better here. So what is Shabu Shabu (other than fun to say)? It is a hot bowl of broth big enough for everyone at your table. At this restaurant, the broth was kept hot thanks to an induction plaque installed in the center of the table. While the broth gets nice and hot, you go to a sort of buffet where you pick out everything you want to throw in the broth. We picked about 3 different kinds of mushrooms (some of which I’d never eaten before), some sort of thinly sliced squash, bean sprouts, cabbage, and some other veggies that I’m blanking on. We then each got little wooden boxes filled with very thinly sliced beef, some sort of rice wrappers, and a hot bowl of water. We also filled up more plates full of side dishes like kimchi, cold noodles that had a sort of peanut flavor, delicious pieces of fried chicken, and some sort of little fried ball that reminded me of the little fried octopus balls we had in Japan.

We then returned to the table and put our veggies in the broth and let them simmer. Within a few minutes, they were pretty well done, and so we each took a piece of raw meat with our chopsticks, swirled it in the bowl of hot broth and pulled it out once cooked through (this took a matter of seconds). Nyna then showed us how to wet our rice wrappers in the warm water to soften them up, put it on our plate and fill with our pieces of beef and veggies and eat like a little wanton.

We did this repeatedly- we even went back for seconds of meat and veggies. Once we were practically full it was time to get noodles. Nyna led me back up to the buffet to get some dumpling like long noodles which we then cooked in the broth with some of the leftover veggies- delicious! Once we made our way through the noodles, we went back to the buffet to get some cold fried rice and a couple of fresh eggs. She then scooped out most of the broth from the bowl, dumped in the rice, and stirred it around before cracking the egg over it and letting it cook. It was incredible! Nyna explained it was because the broth was infused with all the veggies and beef we’d put in it that gave the rice such a great flavor. By the end, we were so completely stuffed that we barely had room for dessert, all we could manage were some small bites of fruit.

Afterwards, we walked around the neighborhood catching up on things, and Nyna and I made plans to go shopping tomorrow for Korean beauty supplies for both of us and an interview outfit for her. That evening, she gave me my first introduction to Korean beauty practices by explaining that all Korean women use these nightly masks that are infused with different ingredients like green tea, tea tree oil, royal jelly honey, argan oil, really the options are endless. She even helped me make my first purchase of masks that night because in Seoul, beauty stores are open late- well some of them! Around 10:30, we parted ways with plans for our friend to meet us tomorrow morning for pancakes and then shopping.

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This isn’t where we ate, I just liked the giant neon lamb.

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When I got home, I used a mask. I totally felt like a serial killer from an 80’s horror film. Tim and I both couldn’t keep from laughing at how ridiculous I looked!

The next morning, I treated us to a round of my sister’s “super delicious pancakes,” before Nyna and I headed out to find her an outfit. We decided to head to Myeondong since that is where a lot of the shopping is. It was funny that my Korean friend was here to show me the ropes to eating and shopping, yet she wasn’t sure she’d ever been to Myeondong. Fortunately, I was there to show her the way. Before we could even start shopping, we encountered a parade of Avenger and other characters making their way around the neighborhood. Shouting, “This is SO snapchat worthy!” Nyna took off trying to get ahead of the parade so that she could get some good shots.

With the momentary excitement behind us, we focused on shopping. We spent the entire day popping in and out of stores, each of us trying out different things. At one point, I made a comment that women’s style here is all about boxy, loose fitting clothing, and while it looked cute on Korean girls, I didn’t think I could pull it off. Taking that as a challenge, Nyna raided the racks to try to dress me “Asian.” This is what happened.

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Before I got dressed, Nyna demonstrated the use of the cloth bags given out in dressing rooms. It is to keep you from getting makeup on the clothes.

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Nyna, “You look SO Asian- it’s adorable! I’m sending this to Tim!” Me, “Uh, what is this shirt? What do I do with all this material?” Sorry, Nyna, I think I will stick to imitating Parisian style.

Still being full from breakfast, we decided our lunch would be some Korean street food. Evidently, everyone has their own blood sausage. In Korean it is cooked and served in a spicy sauce and served with dumpling like noodles made from rice and cooked cabbage. It was really rice, but good! Later, we treated ourselves to a Korean dessert specialty called bingsu, which is shaved ice, sweetened condensed milk, and then whatever else you decide. Although what I picked isn’t considered a “traditional” bingsu, I couldn’t resist getting ours with in-season strawberries and a little wedge of “cheesecake.” I don’t have to tell you how good it was.

While eating our bingsu, Nyna’s older sister joined us. Nyna had called in the troops to help her make the final decision on her interview outfit. Her sister lives here in Seoul and I also think Nyna’s secret mission was to introduce us so that I had another friend/contact while we are here. Tim and I already think of Nyna like a little sister so actually meeting her older sister was fun, and we seemed to hit it off right away even if it was over teasing Nyna.

Her interview outfit in hand, her sister whisked her off to her hairdresser so that Nyna could get a fresh ‘do before her interview, and I returned home to hide my purchases from Tim, and don’t worry, I didn’t buy the outfit. 😉

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