Category Archives: food

A Splendid Salad at Seven Springs in Seoul

If buffet chain restaurants were a flock of teenage girls, Seven Springs would be the Queen Bee demonstrating the supreme art of  smörgåsbord dining in Seoul, Korea.

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I ventured to one of Seven Springs’ Seoul locations recently. When a friend mentioned she wanted to go to a buffet restaurant for her birthday dinner I laughed and asked where we were really going. She was excited for this particular salad buffet in Hongdae, and because it wasn’t my birthday I went along with the green meal idea and made my way out of Exit 8 at Hongdae Station and found the veggie oasis.

I quickly ate my words, along with a mountain of deliciousness.

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Seven Springs is glorious. It boasts a passion for seasonal, local, homemade, and environment-friendly food. This is not just another picked-over buffet with cheap fried food and soggy pizza. The food is healthy, fresh and the vegetables are actually delivered every morning to the different restaurant locations.

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You can order meat and other things for the table to share, but I recommend just going with the standard salad bar. There are separate lunch and dinner prices. I admit the prices are a bit steep, but I think the food’s taste and quality are worth the money spent. The salad bar option also includes hot food items (think: baked pumpkin, pastas, honey bbq chicken, corn on the cob, pizza, and more) appetizers, dessert (think: ice cream, green tea cake, and yogurt parfait), drinks (think: mint and lemon infused water, berry, and non-alcoholic mojito concoctions to quench your thirst).

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I piled my plate high with some strange combinations. I jumped for joy when I spotted capers (CAPERS!), green olives, various leafy greens, homemade salad dressings, avocado (the real deal), bowls of walnuts and almonds, and corn on the cob.

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I recommend Seven Springs for vegetarians in Korea, but I also think anyone who needs a green fix or appreciates fresh food will leave this place smiling and planning a second Seoul Salad Soiree.

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A Seoul Spring on the Han

Something about being near water is simply relaxing. When the weather finally agrees to reward Seoul, Korea with a mild and sunny day after a brutally long winter people tend to flock to the Han River. Here are 10 ways to enjoy the river in the coming months.

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photo credit: my cool friend James

1) Banpo Bridge

The Banpo Bridge is home to the world’s largest bridge water fountain show. Arrive around dusk and enjoy the multicolored show of lights and water. It is amazing, this picture from last summer doesn’t do it justice!

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2) Walk, run, or roller-blade – just get out there and be active.

You will feel 100x better after an active river excursion on a day off from teaching English in Korea. Separate pedestrian paths line both sides of the river and you can cross the water at various bridges.

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 3) Yes, those are floating islands in the river.

The Seoul Floating Island (3 separate islands) is an artificial island in the river and was built in 2006 after a Seoul citizen, Kin Eun Sung, suggested the project. Kinda cool and random, huh? I love it.  Make your way over to the islands while enjoying the Han River in Seoul.

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 4) Bike, bike some more, stop at a  7-11, and then continue on your bike.

I have yet to rent a bike and enjoy a leisurely Sunday ride along the water. I must do this before I leave Korea. Bikers are always smiling and I want to be one of them. Maybe it’s the endorphins, or perhaps it’s the numerous soju and snack breaks. Either way, count me in. Read here for more information on bike rental spots along the Han river in Seoul.

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5) Chill out. 

You can easily lounge for hours in the grassy areas along the river. If you need to use a restroom there is usually always one nearby (Just remember to bring your own TP.). Also, if you find yourself and your English teacher friends craving a pizza (or really ANYTHING) you can simply call and order delivery (You may need help from a friendly Korean.) and minutes later a motorbike will arrive at your blanket with food. It’s simply amazing.

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6) I’m on a boat.

There are many ways to explore the Han river via boat. Check out this write-up about a Hangang river cruise through Seoul.

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7) Go fly a kite.

I know you’re a ‘grown-up’ now, but I promise it’s still fun.

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8) I really wonder where they find all the matching outfits.

I’m always down to people watch while I relax with a beer in hand and the sun on my face. I love spotting the adorably dressed matching couples strolling along the river hand-in-hand.

9) Stretch it out.

I’m a sucker for these friendly reminders to take time to stretch. After an activity-packed day on the river you deserve a little TLC.

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10) Relax, but keep one eye open at all times…

Here is something I promise you will not experience at the Han River. Oh, but you just never know in Korea. I’ve seen some pretty outlandish things.

 

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Going Gluten-Free in Korea (I’m trying.)

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I know some of you may not trust me as a gluten-free foodie resource in Korea. I mean, come on, I recently wrote a love letter (in the form of a blog post) to the best sandwicherie in Seoul. I’ve been known to indulge from time to time. Although, I swear I didn’t eat the suspicious PB&J sandwich pictured below. It was ‘gifted’ to me at Korea Burn this past summer and although my friend and I accepted the sustenance with gratitude, the fact that a kind soul pulled it out of his suitcase prompted us to ‘re-gift’ it to the carefree, rainbow-bearded man we met a few seconds later.

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I haven’t completely ditched gluten while teaching in Korea, but I have slowly made steps toward a healthier diet and eventually I hope to completely eliminate it. Although I do not have Celiac disease, I am sensitive to gluten and I feel much better when I avoid it (The protein gluten is primarily found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye.). Before moving to Korea I was curious to learn how my diet would change and I hoped to adopt healthy habits while residing in Asia.

After a year in The Land of Kimchi, I can attest to the fact that it is possible to eat well in Korea and if you’re looking to keep away from gluten it can be done. The Gluten Free Traveler, who lived in Korea awhile back and was not gluten-free at the time, wrote “In thinking back, I could probably still eat now most of what I ate back in 2006 (in Korea).” I am not an expert and I am not as strict as I should be (Beer, I’m looking at you. We need to have a serious talk.), but here are 10 ways I have steered clear of gluten this past year. Please feel free to share your own ideas as well. Having a food allergy or sensitivity sucks, but I am here to tell you that you can live in Korea and still eat delicious and healthy food.

1) Where’s the bread?

Yes, you can find bread in Korea, but it doesn’t sneak onto every breakfast, lunch and dinner plate. Korea is rice territory, and my students won’t let me forget it. As a class warm-up activity each afternoon I ask my students what they ate for lunch at school. Almost every answer consists of rice, a vegetable (Kimchi!) and a protein. Plain rice is gluten-free – yay!

2) Bin dae dduk (빈대떡) is the bomb.

I blame my friend Barbara for my bin dae dduk obsession. During a maddening Christmas shopping rush in Namdaemun Market in December she made an executive decision to take a break from bartering for ginseng tea and Psy socks and led us into the maze of lively snack booths. We sat around one that was bustling with customers and women working to grind, mix, form and fry what I learned later was a mung bean concoction. Bin dae dduk means ‘mung bean pancake’ and is made from ground mung beans, green onions and kimchi. Here’s a recipe for those of you who are not lucky enough to be in Korea. And if you’re a kimchi lover (Who isn’t?!) try this gluten-free kimchi pancake recipe.

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3) Hire me, iHerb.com?

When I eventually leave Korea I should probably just apply for a job promoting iHerb because I’m already doing the work. I’m a bit crazy for this company and I am thankful I found them while living in Korea. I must sound like a broken record because I am constantly mentioning this website in blog posts, but iHerb’s gluten-free selection allows me to enjoy some favorites from home and it’s comforting to have a few key items in my cabinet that are clearly labeled ‘gluten-free’. When the hummus I ordered online arrived last week I excitedly opened a new package of rice crackers from iHerb.

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4) ImSil Cheese Pizza (임실치즈피자), let’s make a date.

ImSil Cheese Pizza is a chain with locations in Seoul. I have yet to try their 100% rice crust pizza but it is on my list of places to check out.

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5) Let’s do barbecue!

Korean barbecue is one of the things I will miss the most about this country. If you stick to non-marinated meats or samgyeopsal (삼겹살) you will be fine. Most of the barbecue sides are vegetable based and gluten-free, but avoid the thick sauces and soy sauce.

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6) Keep it whole. 

Although it is nice to find gluten-free baked goods and processed snacks, you also can’t go wrong with whole foods. Make sure you stick to the perimeter of the grocery store when you shop and stock up on fresh fruits and veggies.

7) Make mine a dolsot.

Bibimbap is a simple yet popular Korean dish. It consists of steamed rice, veggies, and sometimes meat. It is a great gluten-free choice and you can order it cold or hot (dolsot). I love the hot option because it comes topped with a fried egg and after mixing the ingredients together with chopsticks the hot rice that sticks to the bottom of the bowl hardens and is the most delicious (and crunchy) part of the whole experience.

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8) One shot?

Beer and I eventually will have THE TALK and break up. This needs to happen soon. It is comforting to know that Soju (Jinro Soju is a Korean vodka made entirely from sweet potatoes.) will be close by and willing to cuddle up and make me forget all about Blue Moon, my first love.

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9) Alien’s Day Out does gluten-free.

I stumbled upon Alien’s Day Out when I first arrived in Korea. Although this blog is vegan focused, its food photography makes me think that just maybe vegans know what’s up. The blogger’s creations are delicious and I do not recommend scrolling through the posts while you are hungry. I have purchased a few of her goodies at High Street Market and from time to time she also whips up gluten-free delicacies.

10) It’s fun when food is shaped like triangles.

If you’re in a rush and need a quick gluten-free snack just pop into any convenience store and grab a samgak kimbap (kimbap triangle). I’ve read that the tuna ones are safest to eat and they are a quick source of protein and energy. Here’s another recipe to check out.

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I hope you find this helpful and please comment with other gluten-free advice. I also found this card from Celiac Travel.com that can be printed and used as a tool when dining out.

Be smart. Be healthy. Don’t do too many “One shot!”s of soju. And eat your kimchi.

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How to Stay Sane Until Spring (Korean Winter, we’re through.)

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I wrote recently about finding a summer-ish oasis hidden on a side street in my Korean city. Writing that post made me ponder a few other remedies that have helped me cope with winter in Korea. Because, like I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of you, winter. I didn’t even really realize I was in a winter funk until a week or so ago when I was walking to work and caught a whiff of that Spring smell. I think it’s made of one part melting snow and two parts bright sunshine. Oh, and there were birds singing, I swear. Although snow did fall a few days later, this morning commute added a bounce to my step and placed not-too-distant and pleasant visions of biking along the Han River and wearing cute skirts in my head. So, if you’re like me and need that final push to blast through the rest of Winter into Spring, here are 10 things I am doing or plan to do asap:

1) YOGA

I wrote about my love of yoga awhile back. Then my membership expired and I neglected to go back to my studio to pay for 3 more months. I told myself I would do yoga at home but I missed the hot studio, the disciplined yet nurturing instructor, the sense of class camaraderie and most importantly the elated and endorphin filled walk home after each class. I plan to return to my studio later this week and get back to improving my Triangle Pose.

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2) EAT HEALTHY

Just like your mom always told you: Winter is all about staying healthy! Go stock up on fresh veggies and fruits at the supermarket. I like to shop at Homeplus in the evening after work because I usually find discounted produce (for smoothies!) at that time of day. Also, if you haven’t already checked out iHerb you should. I like to order my favorite gluten free breakfast bars and coconut water from this website. The prices are reasonable and the products arrive 1 or 2 days later.

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3) SEOUL TOWER

Although it made for a cold afternoon, I recommend checking out Seoul Tower in the winter. With less foliage you can see for miles and the view is amazing.

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photo credit: my awesome friend James

4) GET ACTIVE OUTSIDE

Sometimes you just need to get outside and be active. Bundle up and go for a walk. I promise you will feel better upon your return.

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5) SOCIALIZE

Your apartment may seem tempting for a night-in, but get out and be social with friends. Find a favorite coffee shop or bar and enjoy each other. *bring playing cards*

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6) MUSEUMS

Winter is a great time to check out the many museums Seoul has to offer. In the past month I visited the MOCA, the National War Memorial and Museum and the Anish Kapoor Seoul Exhibition at the Leeum Samsung Museum. 2 of the 3 were free and the exhibits were fabulous.

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 7) COFFEE SHOPS

Spend a cold day in a coffee shop and study up on your Korean.

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8) STUDENTS

The winter months don’t seem to bother my students one bit. They burst into class each day excited to tell me about their time at school. They are always happy and so full of energy. They make me smile and laugh at the smallest things and just that can turn around a day.

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9) PLAN FOR SUMMER

Start planning that awesome summer trip now. Although Mud Fest is a few months away who says you can’t start taking notes for an epic trip. I also love outdoor music festivals, so I can get lost on the Internet searching for the summer line-up of acts coming to Korea.

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10) WINTER FASHION

When all else fails, throw on a cute fluffy animal hat and count how many strangers smile at you as you walk around feeling warm and fashionable.

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How do you deal with Winter? Or maybe Winter is your best friend, and in that case, please let him know I’m ready to break-up.

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Just say “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice” to escape the Korean winter.

As I’ve said before, I’m not crazy about the cold. Yes, I’m from New England, but no, I don’t really ski, so winter for me is about the first magical snow (just one please, that’s enough) and then of course the oh so mature Christmas countdown. Sometimes January and February can leave me in a kind of funk. But this really hasn’t been the case in Korea.

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This year I didn’t dread January. Maybe it’s because I spent the beginning of the month on the beach in Thailand. Or perhaps it’s my Korea bucket list I am excited to complete before leaving in May. (I was supposed to leave in March…but I have decided to stay a touch longer.) It might also be the awesomely optimistic and adventurous people I have met in my travels.

A few Sundays ago I pulled myself out of my cozy apartment and rallied a few friends to meet downtown and try a ‘healing bar’ I had eyed advertisements for a few nights before while waiting for the bus. I couldn’t think of anything better to scare away the gloomy and cold end-of-weekend-blues. The funky cafe was tucked away on the top floor of a quiet building. The name intrigued me most. “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice!” My friends giggled as we ascended the stairs toward a sunny and healthier state.

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Although the cafe was empty and one lone worker eyed us curiously, we made ourselves at home and took time carefully deciding which fruity/vegetable concoction to try. I chose a pomegranate based drink while my friends chose mango and avocado. We ooed and awed as the juice bar worker simultaneously produced all three drinks at once. As the blenders purred and spun brightly colored liquids around it instantly felt like a summer day in Uijeongbu.

Sometimes you have to get creative. Winter is here to stay, and I know I don’t love it but it also makes me appreciate summer that much more. You have to stay curious during the winter months. And make sure you recruit outgoing companions to stick with you throughout. Plus, having my two friends with me at Beetlejuice allowed me to try two other delicious juices. Who knew avocado could make a fantastic beverage?

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You don’t want to see my ‘Casablanca is closed!?’ face. *Sandwich Love*

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If you’re reading this while considering a move to Korea to teach and live in Asia I can assure you you’re on to something amazing. A year in Korea was just what I needed and I can not recommend the experience enough. Of course you will learn to love your students and their silly ways, you will have wild adventures with new friends throughout The Land of Kimchi and perhaps in other Southeast Asian destinations and you will gain loads of self confidence and cultural understanding. But let me give you one more reason to come to Korea. It’s called Casablanca Sandwicherie and I’m not even sure why I am letting you in on this glorious secret. I guess I am feeling generous, enjoy it while it lasts.

The tiny sandwich haven is located in the small yet buzzing neighborhood of Haebangcheon (aka HBC and close to Noksapyeong Station) in Seoul. I was introduced to my beloved Moroccan Chicken Sandwich last Spring during a local brewery beer fest in HBC. Casablanca is run by the Naciri brothers who are found laughing and working together behind the sandwicherie counter each night starting at 5pm. The menu and shop are small, yet the cozy space is always full of HBC residents stopping in to say hi to the owners and or to pick up take-out orders. There are a few tables for those dining in and usually my friends and I decide to sit and eat because really, we can’t make it out the door before taking a bite of the Moroccan magic. And don’t just take my word for it, Groove Korea wrote that Casablanca makes The Best Sandwich in Seoul.

This past Saturday was a splendidly clear day in Seoul and my friends and I finally made it to the top of Seoul Tower. After enjoying a memorable sunset we descended the hill that surrounds the tower. At the bottom someone quietly muttered, “Well, we’re close to Casablanca…” That’s all it took for us to set off on foot to find HBC and our favorite Seoul eats. The lively scene and filling food in Casablanca made for a perfect beginning to a Saturday night in Seoul. Then, as it always seems to happen, Sunday crept up on us and it was edging toward the end of an eventful weekend. Finding ourselves in Seoul yet again, we discussed where to grab food after a long afternoon  of museum touring. Someone joked that they wouldn’t mind another Casablanca meal. And then we were back, and no, we weren’t the least bit embarrassed. Because when a sandwich is that good people understand. Your friends understand. The owners understand and they just give you a knowing smile when you walk in less than 24 hours later and place the same order. They give you that smile that I assume they give many people each and every night.

So, if you’re looking for a reason to come to Korea, I promise this is it. Korean food is the best, you will love it all, even kimchi, but when you want a sandwich you now know where to go. And please, only tell your most favorite people about our little secret. It’s a small place and they close each night when they run out of their famously fresh bread. You don’t want to see my ‘Casablanca is closed!?’ face, I can promise you that too.

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Preparing for a Korean Goodbye: Don’t leave my friends out of this.

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Time is running out, so please stop saying, “Yeah, we will have to do that some weekend.” I have exactly 6 weekends left in Korea and each is pretty much full from 8pm on Friday until late Sunday afternoon. I am lucky in that many of my friends in Korea are also leaving close to my departure date. Most of us are in a rush to eat lots of kimchi, find Psy socks to bring home and most importantly soak up each others awesomeness before some depart for homes scattered all over the globe and others remain in Korea. And oh yeah, I still have to find the confidence to make a jjimjilbang date. Umm, a little help please?

So, here is my list. I believe if I write it, it will happen. Isn’t that how the saying goes? Please comment with other things I must do, see, taste, try or buy before I leave this fantastic country I have loved calling home.

I hope to…

1) tour the MOCA. I recently learned that Seoul’s National Museum of Contemporary Art offers free admission for select exhibits on the 4th weekend of each month. See you there?

2) have one more epic weekend adventure with my favorite SHG guide. If you are moving to Korea or are here already I strongly suggest you check them out. But only if you like to have fun. Otherwise, forget I mentioned it.

3) stock up on my favorite Korean cosmetics. Great timing Sheryll, I was getting worried I would leave before you shared this.

4) finally suck it up, strip down and visit a jjimjilbang. If this story doesn’t make you want to visit one, I’m sorry.

5) get lost at the Korean War Memorial and Museum for an entire day. I am proud to say I am related to the late Captain Joseph McConnell Jr. who was a leading jet ace of the Korean War. I hope to learn more about him and the war.

6) norebang with my favorite girlfriends in Uijeongbu one last time. The first night my friend voluntarily put on Call Me Maybe I knew I was going to be just fine in Korea.

7) pretend to know something about electronics and peruse the Yongsan Electronics Market.

8) Stuff my face with one (or two?) Casablanca Moroccan chicken sandwiches. I visited HBC a few weeks ago and almost cried (like real tears) when I found the storefront dark and closed for renovations. A Twitter friend swears they are reopening before I leave. She better not be throwing fake promises around the Internet. You know who you are, and I know your Twitter handle.

9) finally make it to a Hongdae Silent Disco. Check it out.

10) dress super classy and do it up Korea Style.

11) successfully order takeout to my apartment.

12) not go overboard, but add a few more key pieces to my arsenal of Korean fashion. I can’t help myself, I WANT EVERYTHING.

13) You tell me.

I have a lot to do, but I am grateful to spend these next weekends with friends who have kicked it with me in Korea for the past 11 months and have put up with me and my geeky love of planning. Last week we had an early Saturday morning outing scheduled and more sites to see in the afternoon. Friday night rolled around and we found ourselves at a favorite local bar enjoying cheap drinks, stories of teaching mishaps, college card games and a few sloppy rounds of darts. As you can guess, we didn’t make it to bed until the early morning and our plans were scratched in exchange for recovery rest. My Saturday was spent sleeping and Sunday was also quiet with a friendly coffee shop session and a long walk in the evening. Our lazy weekend meant I had to rearrange my planner notes, but I promise, no one is freaking out.

I am impressed with my long list of Korean adventures accomplished in the past year, but just like “감사합니다”  and “안녕하세요” will disappear from my daily routine come March, so will my friends who quickly became family in early 2012. So please, recommend your ‘Korea must-do-see-taste-try-buy’ item for my list, but if my friends aren’t down then I may give it a miss.

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