Continuing on about my trip to Korea... I think the best part about eating in Korea is that there is NO TIP. I was so confused by the idea of tipping when I first came to the U.S, since the idea was extremely foreign to me. If you try to give a Korean waiter or taxi driver tip (as my brother accidentally did once when we first went back to Korea....), they may seem confused, or some may even be a bit offended. Another cool thing about Korea is that there are no delivery fees, and you can get just about anything delivered!! They will bring it straight to your apartment door, and once you are finished eating, you leave the plates outside your door, and they will come pick it up several hours later. Needless to say, I ordered delivery quite frequently while I was there.
Here are some more pictures of the food from Korea:
The coolest part about this trip though, was that I had the chance to visit some of the biggest k-pop entertainment companies in Korea: SM, JYP, and Cube. (I didn't get to go to YG, which is another one of the powerhouses). Even though I didn't get to see any of the idols, as an ardent k-pop fan, it was pretty amazing to see the buildings that the artists practice in. There's actually a cafe on the first floor of Cube Entertainment that serves as both a coffeehouse and memorabilia shop. The Cube artists actually go through the cafe to get to the studio, so this cafe is a popular hotspot for both domestic and international fans. As expected, when I was there, there were a bunch of fans waiting for their favorite groups to show up. I think MBC was actually there setting up to do an interview, but decided to change locations because of all the rowdy fans :T
The JYP building looked very studio-esque, and when I walked by, there were two black tinted vans that were stationed in the open garage. I saw people moving in and out of the van, but didn't look too closely because I didn't want to seem like a stalker... I read that there was a Dunkin Donuts right in front of JYP that the fans pretty much camp out in, and as expected, the place looked super busy when I walked by.
SM Entertainment is notorious for having crazy stalker fans, and even 3-4 blocks away, I could spot the fans hiding in corners with cameras, hoping to snap a picture of their favorite idols. I wanted to take a picture of the SM building, but felt a bit insecure when I saw the huge crowd in front of it and chickened out. The crowd stared at me, and they sort of looked like deer caught in headlights. I casually walked by, acting as if I was headed somewhere else with no interest in the building at all... haha. Even though it was a weekday morning, there were more than 20 fans standing outside, and from what I could see, there were several international fans as well, all the way from the Middle East. A couple blocks away, I'm pretty sure I saw a sasaeng fan (사생 팬), and she looked extremely shady...
sa saeng basically translates to "private life" and describes fans who are extremely obsessed with their celebrities, and goes to questionable measures to invade the celebrities' lives. Supposedly for each idol or idol group, there is a sasaeng network, and someone in the network applies for a job with a credit card company, and someone else applies for a job in a cell phone company. Once they get the job, they track down the idols' personal info, and circulate this info with the rest of the sasaengs in their network. They then harass the idols by calling them 24/7, texting them, hacking into their social network sites and accessing their call logs, etc. Sasaengs often camp outside the studios or airports to catch a glimpse of the idols, sneak into idols' dorms, install spy cameras in apartment parking lots, etc. They also hire special taxi drivers to follow the idols' vans, and several times these types of car chases have resulted in accidents and the idols being hurt. Many sasaengs drop out of school and work multiple part-time jobs so that they can afford these taxis, presents, spy cameras, hire private investigators, etc... The things that the sasaengs do are almost psychotic, and looked down upon by the rest of the fans, society in general, and obviously the idols themselves. I think the incident I remember the most distinctly is when a sasaeng slapped one of the JYJ members in the face. Her reasoning was that she wanted to stand out among the millions of fans, and she wanted him to remember her face for the rest of his life. So scary...
Anyways, minus the fact that you may see some crazy fans, it's still a cool experience, and the studios are all literally within a 5-minute walking distance from each other, so if you get the chance, check them out! I don't know about the other studios, but I think SM has a rule that asks the fans to not take any pictures of the idols as they enter or leave the studio (to be respectful, since they're not wearing make-up, etc.), so refrain from taking any pictures! (obviously sasaengs completely ignore this rule...)
Found this [fun article] with directions on how to get to the studios!
I also had a chance to visit Gwanghwamun Square [link] and Gyeongbokgung Palace [link] (where the king used to live; originally built in 1395), which was beautiful! (I'm from Korea, but I don't know why it was my first time going to all these touristy places...)
Here's some helpful sites if you ever decide to visit Korea/ Seoul!
Moving onto the recipe...! This one has to be one of my all-time favorite recipes! If you like pork belly and Korean barbeque, then I would highly recommend this dish! What makes this unique is that the pork belly is actually flavored with a marinade that contains doenjang/ 된장 (fermented soybean paste). If you've never had doenjang, you may think it sounds questionable, but it's a staple in Korean cuisine. In fact, one could argue that the most popular soup in Korea is doenjang gook, which uses this paste as the base.
When you go out for Korean barbeque, I can almost guarantee that the meat will be served with ssamjang (쌈장), which is pretty much a spicy version of doenjang. The barbequed meat is usually wrapped in lettuce or perilla leaves, along with the ssamjang. What I love about this dish is that since the pork belly is marinated in a blend of doenjang and spices, it tastes exactly like how it would if you dipped the meat in the sauce, except even more flavorful and complex! The marinade also helps to tenderize the pork, resulting in an extremely juicy and soft piece of meat.
0.75 lb pork belly (available thinly sliced in Asian grocery stores; conversely, ask your butcher to slice pork belly as thinly as possible- about 1/4 inch slices)
1/2 Tablespoon doenjang
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon corn syrup (don't worry- not the same as high fructose corn syrup)
1 Tablespoon minced green onion
1/2 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
spicy baby spinach salad
3 cups baby spinach or spring mix
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1 Tablespoon red pepper powder
1/2 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil (add more to taste)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
prep time: 10 min
marinade time: 1 hour
cook time: 15-20 min
adapted from ppunwife
1. To make the marinade seep into the meat better, make several thin cuts in the meat.
2. Mix all of the marinade ingredients in a small bowl.
3. Place the meat in the bowl, and mix throughly with your hands to make sure the marinade is spread evenly.
4. Wrap and store in the fridge for 1 hour (or several hours or overnight)
5. When ready to cook, heat just a dash of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. You don't need too much oil, as the meat is already a fatty cut. Once one side is browned (about 7-9 minutes), then flip with your tongs and brown the other side. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and let rest.
6. In a bowl, mix together the dressing for the spinach salad. Add the spinach and mix well.
7. Cut the meat into bite-size pieces, and serve along with the spinach salad.