Food · Memories · Personal · Travel

A (Food) Trip Down Memory Lane

When you love something with blinding passion, you would loathe the day it would be taken away from you.

That is especially true when it is stolen by family and friends, just like in my case.  The people I trusted revealed themselves as filthy thieves, robbing away the thing that I love the most.

They steal my food!

Some are hungry foxes, who check if the coast is clear before zeroing in on their targets: the refrigerator, where I keep my leftover pizza. They have mastered the art of not getting caught and feigning innocence.

Some are shameless swindlers who commit the crime right in front of my face. The moment the waiter comes to take our order, the deception begins.

While I order food for myself, the thieves will say he or she is “not hungry”, and will just order water. But when the food arrives, they will distract me with an amusing chat, and before I know it, only half of my order remains!

Oh, you thought when I said “tara, kain (let’s eat)”, that was a serious invitation? I was just following the Filipino custom of politely offering food when someone catches me eating.

Get your own food. What’s mine is mine.

Food is a personal matter. I believe what makes it so are the memories associated with it. The exact same food may taste different to you and I, not just due to preferences, but because of memories.

For example, no matter how many types of food we are able to taste in our lifetimes, home-cooked meals will always have a special place in our hearts.

For me, sinigang cooked in our home will always be the best. Sinigang is a Filipino stew which consists of pork, vegetables, and tamarind.

Sinigang-na-Baboy-with-Gabi-Panlasang-Pinoy
Sinigang! (Photo is from panlasangpinoy.com. Credit belongs to the owner. See the recipe for sinigang here.)

The mention of sinigang evokes memories of sitting with one foot up the chair, temples dripping with sweat as one savors a bowlful of effort and thoughtfulness.

Home is where pork is tenderized for hours, and soup is made extra sour– sinigang cooked just the way I like it.

In college, I became an exchange student in South Korea for a year. For some time, home-cooked Filipino meals were replaced by Korean food. Interestingly, the dishes I remember from the country are not the most sophisticated ones, but those filled with memories of time spent with friends.

Our favorite midnight snack was KFC– Korean Fried Chicken! It’s a party at every pop with its endless flavor variations:  pizza chicken, soy chicken, spicy chicken, snow cheese chicken, spring onion chicken, and so much more!

chicken menu
Choose your dream-come-true. (Photo from blog.bnbhero.com from this article. Credit belongs to the owner.)

Fried chicken is celebratory food, whether enjoyed in Korea at 4 o’clock am while playing with board games, or home-cooked in the Philippines and eaten with dollops of banana ketchup.  No occasion needed; being together is reason enough to celebrate!

Another food I remember was Chicken Mayo, served in our school cafeteria. Chicken Mayo consists of chopped chicken nuggets, shredded dried seaweed, mayonnaise, and special sauce, topped on rice— basically deconstructed rice balls, simple ingredients who would have thought would go together so well?

Not exactly gourmet and not even a distinctly Korean cuisine, I love it because it’s reminiscent of the food concoctions my sister and I used to make at home when we were young.

My sister and I pretended to have our very own cooking show, acting in front of the camera as we demonstrate how to prepare a dish we invented.

On our menu: corn chips with jelly, sweet potato with crackers and cheese spread. Like chicken mayo, the combination doesn’t have to make sense, as long as it tasted good— or at least, we are having too much fun to double check if it truly does!

Finally, my favorite Korean sweet treat, hotteok (sweet pancakes with brown sugar filling). For me, the hotteok from Sambodang Insadong is the best.

insadong-hotteok-sambodang-hotteok
The beeeeeeeeeest. (Photo is from purlou.com, from this article. Credit belongs to the owner.)
hotteok
Hotteok. A nutritionist’s nightmare. Still salivating. (Photo from mangoplate.com from this article. Credit belongs to the owner.)

Served piping-hot, with generous filling and just the right fluff, they are the chewiest hotteoks I have ever tasted. Definitely worth scalding your palate for!

I have eaten that particular Hotteok in Insadong thrice, and all were good moments.

First, on a fieldtrip to Seoul.

We were staying in Korea for just a few weeks by then. A bite of hotteok was a surprise, a new type of sweetness I didn’t know was possible. A taste of wonder, a whiff of newly-opened suitcases and flowers that bloomed after a long winter.

Second, with my sister and her now husband, as they visited me in Korea.

By this time I had been in Korea for several months already. The hotteok tasted of finding solace in both the good and the bad.

Third, on a solo trip in Seoul a few days before our flight back home.

Longing for both the place I will soon leave and a home I haven’t seen in a long time, hotteok has been a sweet, warm comfort as I deal with bittersweet feelings. The hotteok was made exactly the way I like it, as if it was made just for me. As if it was made at home.

Then that’s when it hit me: Korea is now also my home.

Isn’t it fascinating? One goes out to explore what lies beyond the home, but in the end, finds home in every place, before even attempting to search for it.

There is no such thing as home away from home, because through food, anywhere in the world can be a home.

Because now I enjoy food not just through myself, but through the people I eat it with.

Food can be enjoyed alone, but food is best shared. Because anywhere you can enjoy food with the people you love can be home.

Home is not minding if someone ate the food you kept in the refrigerator, because that person may be hungry and too tired to cook something for herself.

Home is ordering a bit extra because perhaps, the friend just did not have money to buy her own.

When I say “tara kain”, I mean it. What’s mine is yours. We’re home.

Tara, kain!

Advertisements
Travel

Disco Pang Pang

Don’t let that cute name fool you!

To those who are unfamiliar, the Disco Pang Pang is an amusement park ride. I have seen it in our university festival in Korea, and inside one of the buildings in the city center of Cheonan.

Watch Lizzy of Kpop girl group After School and unit group Orange Caramel ride the Disco Pang Pang below:

The Disco Pang Pang looks like a disk with railings.  Someone who’s like a DJ plays music and teases the riders before and during the ride. That, with the cheesy music, creates an amusing atmosphere.

So, compared to roller coasters and drop towers, it does not look intimidating.

But before you know it, you are holding on for dear life as the ride rotates round and round, up and down— and there are no seat belts! Some actually slide off their seats and slip to the middle of the disk! After some time, the ride would stop and some people would playfully dance in the middle.

People would laugh and relax… until the chaos starts all over again!

Here is a video of Block B on the ride:

I first experienced Disco Pang Pang in our university spring festival. I underestimated it’s power. But after the ride, my arms were so sore I can’t even high five my friends without wincing in pain.

At least we can put our hands on our bellies as our bodies are still deciding whether to laugh our hearts out, or puke our guts out. :))

Maybe next time I ride the Disco Pang Pang, I’ll invite my friends to take on challenges, just like Park Myung Soo did:

Brushing teeth on the Disco Pang Pang?! As if solely riding it wasn’t a challenge enough! XD

 

Travel

Best Year Ever! A Year as an Exchange Student in South Korea (Part 2)

halloween

(Continued from here.)

Gains and Losses

As that popular song goes, “How do you measure a year?” For me, I measured 2013 with gains and losses.

As for gains, one of the best was Heechul’s undying love. Kidding of course! Hey, a girl can dream!

The truth is, one of the things I gained was weight! I can go on and on all day talking about (and of course, eating) Korean food, and I still wouldn’t be done.

I also gained a handful of friends from all over the world, not just Koreans, but people from other nationalities, and even other Filipinos as well.

Since some of them had been in Korea for months or even years, they helped us adjust to life in Korea. It was fun getting a glimpse of their own colorful cultures.

I lost a lot too— or should I say, I got lost. A lot!

There was a time my friends and I ended up walking a much longer route from a folk village to NSeoul tower, and we ended up walking around a jogging path in our dresses and heeled boots.

Once I also I rode the wrong train, and I was all alone! The train was bound for Seoul, where I am planning to go to anyway, but it had reserved seats and a much more expensive price. Good thing the conductor didn’t ask a ticket from me or I would have been embarrassed!

But it was all worth it as we were able to explore many places in and out of Seoul; UNESCO world heritage sites (Seokguram Grotto, Bulguksa Temple), traditional treasures (palaces and folk villages), Seoul staples (N Seoul Tower Myeongdong, Insadong, Hongdae), nature adventures (Nami Island, cheonggyecheon stream, parks), countryside charms (Yeosu, Boryeong), and many more.

I also lost many of my fears, like my fear of extreme rides. In theme parks Everland and Lotte World, there seems to be every variation of tossing, turning, dropping known to mankind.

I felt like my friends and I were like fruits put into a blender; put whole, and turned into unidentifiable mush. But it was so much fun!

I also lost my fear of the unknown. Daily, mundane tasks like buying something from the convenience store or riding the bus was a challenge when you can’t speak their native tongue well.

But the unknown became less daunting as long as I am armed with a ready apology and the ability to laugh at mishaps.

Suddenly, I stopped considering them as fears, but as adventures.

No matter how difficult something seems to be, it can be fun when you are with friends. But being alone isn’t so bad either; you gain more independence and self-love!

 

Love and Hate

I wasn’t able to make Heechul fall in love with me, but I did fall in love with South Korea even more.

The kind of love nurtured by spending memories together, through the harshest winter to the most blazing summer, the misunderstandings to connections that transcends words.

But there is one thing I did hate about South Korea: I hated saying goodbye.

But I am not too sad because the memories will remain. Anyway, I can always book a ticket and comeback!

If you haven’t done so yet, I wish you will have your own Korean adventure as well, whether as an exchange student, traveler, or whatever else.

You just might have the time of your life too!

Annyeong, Korea! Til the next Annyeong!

Travel

Best Year Ever! A Year as an Exchange Student in South Korea (Part 1)

Hanbok pic

It was one humid afternoon five years ago. I was staying in our dormitory, striving to cram one semester’s worth of information into my brain for a test I will take in a few hours. Suddenly, my phone started vibrating and ringing, dancing to its own song.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Kat! You don’t know who I am, but I know everything about you. You are a burnt out college student whose life energy is derived from Super Junior and all things Korean.”

“Well, that’s obvious from my Facebook posts, so I am not impressed.”

“Oh really? How about this: we know you lined up for 12 hours under the scorching sun, just so you can have the best spot in the Standing VIP area for Super Show. We know you empty your piggy bank so you can splurge on Super Junior merch and Korean products. We know you want to be an exchange student, and once you are in South Korea, you’ll make Heechul fall in love with you.”

“How… how did you know this?! Are you an S.P.Y.?”

“And yes, we recognize that reference from that Super Junior song. Anyway, your prayers have been answered. You will be an exchange student in South Korea for one year!”

*cue trumpet sounds and confetti*

Or at least, that’s how I imagined it to play out. Actually, I did not receive a phone call, but a much less dramatic text message. But that doesn’t change the most important part: I am going to South Korea!!!!

*cue trumpet sounds and confetti as I fall down on my knees and ugly cry my heart out*

Goodbyes and Hellos (or should I say, Annyeongs and Annyeongs) 

In the program I would participate in, I would receive air fare, tuition fee, dormitory fees, and a modest stipend. I would also go with three other students.

The name of our university is Korea University of Technology and Education. It is situated in Cheonan, South Korea, around an hour from Seoul by train. 

After months of fulfilling school requirements, accomplishing forms, securing a visa, packing bags, and saying tearful goodbyes to friends and family, the day had come!

We left the Philippines and arrived at Incheon International Airport on March 7, 2012.

On that cold spring night, we set foot on our temporary home, the International House Dormitory. Here, will also work part time as English teachers and residential assistants. We helped Korean students learn English through playing games, shooting videos, and chatting away.

It was both work and play for us, and getting paid for it was sweet bonus!

We also had to focus on our studies too. We continued our Korean language education, and also had courses on Management, Education, and even Personality Development. Good thing these courses are offered in English!

Also, our professors were kind. We even had bonding moments outside the classroom, like when our Korean instructor bought us on a field trip, and our Linguistics professor treated us to a scrumptious lunch at a fancy Chinese restaurant. They helped us feel welcome.

(To be continued here.)