It’s Gettin’ Hot in Herre…

And that is where we will stop any comparisons to the 2009 Nelly hit because cooking while less than dressed is inadvisable to say the least. Ahem.

When we were apartment hunting, having an oven was one of the overriding requirements – more so than having any furniture/white goods provided, because a life without hope of the odd Jacket Potato is not a life that we want any part of. (Raj likes to tell me I can be a bit of a Drama Queen. This isn’t true, but if it was, I would prefer Princess.) So we were very happy to learn that all the Central Park apartments have built-in ovens – but then came the fun bit, of trying to figure out how to use it. We asked our landlord to show us, but the oven doesn’t feature highly in Korean cooking, and she was only able to show us how to activate the microwave and how to use the oven presets. Now, that’s all well and good, but I had no idea what actual temperature each of the presets related to, so baking anything was a bit hit and miss.

One day, I decided that if all I achieved that day was to work out how to make the oven work, then I would have had a major Korea-win for my collection. Since that day, I seem to have spent a fair bit of time going to people’s apartments to show them how to work their ovens / have them come to mine for the same, so I’ve decided that a quick post on this probably wouldn’t go amiss.

FIrst things first: This is the basic oven setup from all the ovens in Songdo that I have seen. I’ve only labelled the buttons and knobs on the right hand side, as that’s all you need to make the oven work. I think the buttons on the left hand side are for using the presets but I can’t remember and to be honest, do perfectly well without those!

Oven 1

Step 1: Twiddle (for want of a better word) knob A until you see these two symbols in the display

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Step 2: Once you have the two symbols as above, hit* button B and you’ll see the temperature in the display. You can then turn Knob A again to increase or decrease the temperature as required. Once you’re at the right temperature, hit button B again to lock it in.

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Step 3: Hit button E at the end to preheat the oven. The little bar will fill up to indicate the oven getting hotter, but even when the bar is full, wait for the beeps to indicate that your required temperature has been reached.

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Step 4: Once preheated, twiddle Knob C to set the required time, and hit button E to get the cooking going! If at any point you want to cancel and start over, button D is the one you need.

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Another couple of features of this combination machine include:

  • Microwave: The easiest way to use it is just hitting button E repeatedly to increase the amount of micro-waving time in increments of 30 seconds.
  • Grill: Unlike grills that I am used to, this one only works when the door is closed, so be careful what pans you use in it. To get the grill going, twiddle Knob A until you see the symbol marked below, hit Button B to fix it, adjust the timing with Knob C and get the cooking going by hitting button E. Simples.

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Happy Baking Everybody!

*Note from Ed: Whether or not you choose to actually hit your oven is up to you – for me it usually depends on how frustrating whatever I am trying to make is proving to be.

 

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Eating Out in Songdo

If you are regular reader of this blog, one thing you know about me for sure is that my life is very Food Centric. Mostly because I love to eat good food, especially when someone else will make it, but also because I live with a vegetarian in Korea – otherwise known as the land of meat, meat and some BBQ for good measure.

With this in mind, it is both surprising and unsurprising that I haven’t written about local eateries of note sooner. Well one reason is that the restaurant landscape is ever-changing in Sondo. Apparently high rates often make foodie ventures untenable for owners to maintain so where there was once a Cheese Melt (Cheese Toasties for the Brits amongst us) Shop, has also been a Tiramisu Place and now is, I think, a Sushi restaurant. Secondly, not all the restuarants offer veggie options and I don’t like to sit and eat while Raj watches (except when it comes to Ribs. I can eat Ribs all day long. Yum.) and even when they do, there is usually only one item on the menu that is veggie, so it can get a bit boring. Another is defamation laws in Korea. Woah boy are those strict. So strict that you basically can’t post a bad review whilst naming an establishment online, for fear of being sued. And even if you don’t overtly name the establishment, but allude to it in such a way that it can prove your review was responsible for losing it buisness, you can still get in trouble. Bearing this in mind, I’m only writing about the resturants that I like to go to in Songdo. I have by no means been to all the restuarants so feel free to add your favourites in the comments but there are certain ones I’ve left out on purpose.

Oh, and from your time in Korea you might have also noticed that the way the locals number their floors is different too. What we in Europe (not for long for the UK…sob!) call the ground floor is the first floor here, and then it carries on from there: European First Floor = Korean Second Floor and so on. On my map, I’ve given the Korean floors so that if you have to go up you know what button to hit on the lifts!

Banes Taco

Located on Central-Ro nearer to the Convensia-Daero end is a little Mexican joint that is perfect for a quick lunch or some after work beers and tacos while watching the sun go down. My favourite thing to eat here are the chimichangas (incidentally, also the name of the first Mexican restaurant I ever went to and the first Mexican dish I ever ate) and they do cater reasonably well for veggies. Try the Guava Soda too – it’s a hit of sugary deliciousness 🙂 I believe the owner speaks English as well, so they may also be able to cater to any trickier dietary requirements.

Burgerroom

Only the chips are veggie friendly here, but I often send Raj to get me a takeout and make veggie burgers for him at home, so we can eat same-same-but-different. The burgers here are big and meaty and juicy and yes, I feel really fat after demolishing one of these bad boys. Always with Bacon and Avocado. Always.

Café Hilo

A tiny cute little lunch spot that is perfect for paninis, salads and even some pizza.

Café Jarb

On the second floor of the G-Tower, this is the easiest option for GCF Staff. Aeran, the owner is super friendly and depending on how busy they are, she is willing to accommodate particular sandwich or salad requests. In fact, her latest menu has a sandwich named after one particular person in the G-Tower (not GCF I think) who always asked for a combination that others would copy!

Cave Beer

The best pizza in Songdo, albeit a bit on the pricier side. They do take out as well and is a tried and tested option for movie night!

Dominos 

Everybody needs some Dominoes goodness once in a while. If you speak Korean, you can order delivery, but we tend to turn up and take out – it’s just as easy!

Gianni Napoli

Located on the first floor on NC Cube – I think it is in winter, but if you walk along the Arts Centre Daero Side of NC Cube eventually you’ll come across it. Or you could just check the store guide at the start, whatever. Yummy pizzas and lasagne, with a limited wine list. They also do take away pizzas too. If you are a large group, you are recommended to book as the restaurant, much like many others in Songdo, isn’t huge but you’ll likely need a Korean speaking colleague to help you with the booking! Either that of get off your ass at lunchtime and take a walk – it’s good for you after all!

Impasto

Possibly our favourite Italian in Songdo with a chef who was trained oversees. Their steak, pastas and salads are all yum and in line with restaurant pricing in Korea generally. They don’t do takeaways unfortunately but service is quick and friendly so it’s no hardship to eat here!! 1st Floor, near Awesome International Mart.

Korean BBQ

OK. Obviously there are NO END to the BBQ restaurants you’ll find in Songdo. Seriously, just go for a walk and I dare you not to find one within 10 minutes. But there are two that I have been to and are our go-to restaurants for when visitors arrive. The first is the Beef BBQ restaurant on the corner of our street and Convensia Daero (ish). Order the Wagyu Set and cook away. The second is the BBQ in the Hanok Village in Central Park. Now the beauty of this place is the setting – its super pretty and also, when you call up to book a table, you can (and must) pre-order a hot vegetarian Bibimbap which by all accounts is super tasty. I understand that if you don’t pre-order for veggies, you can only get a cold Bibimbap which, whilst nice, is altogether less satisfying.

La Campagne

Another Italian with a deli counter for when you want to close your eyes and buy real cheese or sausage no matter the cost! Pizzas are big and filling and when the weather is pleasant, it’s nice to sit outside and watch the world pass through the park.

La Casa

Our top choice for Mexican food in Songdo. You WANT a house Margarita to accompany your meal and the owner speaks English, so adjusting to different tastes isn’t a problem. They at getting more and  more popular however, so book in advance for groups or get there early to snag a table!

Old Songdo

I’ve lumped Old Songdo together largely because I don’t know how to show these places on a map. There is (usually) always a logic behind  my actions. I’ve eaten at a fusion Arabian-Indian Restaurant called Arabesque, a Korean BBQ with a red sign and the altogether fancier Nostalgia. The BBQ restaurant can’t cater for vegetarians, so if you have one, feed it in advance of heading there!

PF Changs

I was super thrilled to discover a PF Changs in Seoul last year during Chuseok and even ore so when I found out that a branch has been opened in Triple Street. Whilst we are yet to eat at the local branch, I have no doubt that it will be every bit as delicious as the fake-Chinese-food I have come to love over the years. Mmmmm #beefwithbroccoli

Saint Augustine

Apparently this wonderful little restaurant has been in Songdo longer than us yet I only discovered it recently. Simon, the owner, speaks English and is great at suggesting dishes that can be vegetarianised. The sticky thai fish is my favourite and if you go with me, it is likely I won’t share. Unless you order something equally delicious in which case the more the merrier! Located in Dream City on the 1st floor, there is parking in the basement – apparently you have to pay for the parking but we haven’t figured out how to do that yet (I think the pay to park stops after 8pm. I think.)

Swagat

The only Indian restaurant in Songdo that we like to eat at. Located on the 3rd floor, near the drive through Macdonalds. Parking in the basement can be a little tricky but persevere and you will triumph and be able to gorge yourself on Lamb Saag and Mango Lassi. They also deliver (Over 30,000won – so I order extra food and don’t cook for two days!) or you can go and pick up.

Toulon 

A French restaurants vetted and approved of by actual French people (Hi AnaMatt!) On the 1st floor of the same building as Swagat, I had the duck and the crème brulee, which I would totally have again. Nothing for veggies except dessert and like a lot of restaurants here, closed on Monday.

I’m sure I’m missing a couple of places but equally sure that when he reads it, Raj (hello!) will point out my omissions. He’ll probably also have a lot to say about my attempt at marking places on a map, but I know that I’m broadly in the right areas at least and anyway, it’s good for you to discover these places for yourself, so actually, I’m just being helpful! Where more than one restaurant is marked by a cross it is because they are super close to each other and I can’t fit enough Xs on the map! (ed. It’s possible that all this writing about food has left our blogger in a state of delirium, so don’t mind her and we’ll pack her off for some lunch now!)

Bon Aproveché!

Restaurants

Update 18/10/2017: Here’s a Brucey-Bonus for you (Sidebar: How long until that catchphrase dies out? RIP Mr Forsyth!) Opposite Central Park. on the Korean 2nd floor, on the Burgerroom side of the street is a new Indian restaurant BombayBrau. A chain (we’ve seen them in both Busan and Seoul) the food is tasty and the home-brewed beers complement it well. Definitely one for the revisiting list but a word of caution: If you don’t do well with spice, it is worth asking them to tone it done when ordering!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking.

Yup it had to be mentioned. Now it’s not that I dislike cooking, it’s just that I don’t see it as a huge deal – just something that has to be done and so will be.

I quite like trying out new recipes, especially when I have random ingredients that I am trying to use up, it just isn’t something that I want to spend all my time doing. Having said that, when it is necessary, I’ll step up (as would anyone) and never has it been more necessary than trying to feed my vegetarian husband a balanced diet in meat-loving-Korea. I guess the fact that I throw in a load of booze with every meal masks the fact that my cooking skills aren’t exactly up to scratch 🙂

I think the toughest thing about cooking in South Korea is that the ingredients aren’t what I’m used to and all the recipes I have / know require ingredients that aren’t readily available here. But you learn and you can pretty quickly start adapting things. My mum always said that as long as you know what good food is supposed to taste like, with a little trial and error, you can start to produce it.

One day last week, I woke up with a desire to make Paneer (Indian Cottage Cheese) which is not only full of protein but is most certainly not available in Songdo and is also one of Raj’s favourite foods.

Following this recipe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/paneer_86451 (Thanks BBC) I successfully made paneer with my limited resources (I don’t have muslin, or weights, or a very large pan). I also ended up with a load of whey, which I believe can be used for other purposes, but that is going to be another experiment.IMG_4201.JPG

All in all, I’ve managed to feed Raj for just over a week and he hasn’t politely suggested going out for all our meals yet.. long may it continue!

28/01/2016:

Just a couple of updates to add here:

(1) One great thing about the South Korean supermarkets is the sheer number of samples you can have (presuming that, like me, you’ll eat anything at least once) whilst shopping. It’s helped me to figure out what certain items are, and also, kept the hunger at bay so I don’t buy things based on my stomach!

(2) One tip – when you find something that you like (either you’ve used it before, or it is something from home) and it is on promotion – buy it! Prices change all the time, seemingly without any reason, so use that storage space and buy the long lasting items whilst the going is good!

That’s all for now folks..

05/04/2016:

I’m getting more adventurous in my Iyengar (my community in India) cooking to varying degrees of success. Sometimes I’ll throw everything away in a fit of anger that it doesn’t taste like my mum’s food and sometimes I’ll persevere and get somewhere close. Alongside amma’s recipes, she suggested I use http://www.malas-kitchen.com/ as a guide and it is such a great help and thoroughly recommended, especially if burning toast is about as far as your cooking skills go!

 

Week one…

We’ve officially spent our first full week in Songdo and I’ve gathered a lot of tips that would have been handy to know. I’ve split them up into separate posts to avoid it getting too long.

First up, grocery shopping. I struggled with this and spent the first few days (well, the days I wasn’t ill and sleeping all day and night) buying bits and pieces on a meal-to-meal basis from local stores. Whilst easy, it isn’t the most budget friendly way to go.

Don’t come with preconceptions of how much things (cleaning products, produce, food etc) should cost. I find that everything, especially fresh fruit and vegetables, is more expensive here. I haven’t checked out any produce markets yet – I believe there is one not so far away in Incheon – but in the supermarkets, everything comes in huge packages and with a heftier-than-at-home price tag attached.

When you arrive, apart from the immediate necessities,  I’d actually give the smaller convenience stores a miss and head straight to Lotte, right by Oakwood on the Convensia-Dareo, when you get here. You’ll find a small piece of home, with foods you recognise, potential alternatives and the odd couple of English signs to help you get along your way.

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At Lotte, you’ll find everything you need to set up your apartment until your shipment arrives – from soaps, laundry products, DIY products to food. You’ll also find things that you didn’t know you needed – chair socks anyone?

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Important: If you are a tea drinker, then bring a big stash with you. Very few places stock English Breakfast tea bags and when you do find them, much like everything else, it’s expensive. I’m planning on having a care package from home sent over when stocks are running low…

However, don’t put all your eggs in the Lotte basket. A bit of shopping around will bring up gems in Emart (a kind of department store with a mix of everything) and Homeplus (Tesco – rebranded – with an imported goods aisle). Annoyingly, I found certain things are better priced in each of the different stores, so I think I’ll be visiting all three on a regular basis.

And just for fun, there are the more unusual products that will give you a bit of a giggle…

Obviously not everything that you are used to is available, so when packing your shipment remember the following things:

  • Seasoning packets (especially for Mexican food)
  • Cleaning Wipes / sponges / dish scrubs etc
  • Tea (I can’t say that enough) and instant coffee
  • Deodorant and other toiletries – you can get everything you need here but perhaps not all the brands you are used to

Now getting to the various grocery stores is another matter, but that’s a story for a different post… along with making stuff from scratch using the ingredients available here, finding hobbies and whatever else pops up along the way.