Lately I have really been craving various Irish foodstuffs that I simply cannot get here. I decided to ask my wide range of expat friends (who now live in Canada, Dubai, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, Poland, Japan and Myanmar/Burma and many more exotic locations) what Irish food they missed the most while living abroad and the following were the Top 10 answers! Feel free to leave a comment if you have any more good suggestions.
Number 10: A decent pint of Guinness
In fact this isn’t limited to Guinness, more Irish drinks in general which you often can’t get abroad. A decent Guinness, a pint of Beamish or Murphys, and an ice-cold bottle of Bulmers Light (for those watching the calories!) are the top contenders on the list of most missed alcoholic beverages. Along with Buckfast Abbey, that is.
While Korea does have a good choice of local alcohol ranging from low quality beer to a cheap distilled beverage known as Soju ( top selling alcohol brand in the world!!) and delicious rice wine called Makeoili, none of these will ever live up to a good Irish pint.
Number 9: Clonakilty Black Pudding
Clonakilty Black Pudding is a staple food item in houses all over Cork, and Ireland. Black Pudding , and the sausages, bacon, eggs, beans and toast which go with it, can cure any hangover no matter how bad and are not only eaten for Breakfast but can be easily transformed into a Gourmet Lunch or Dinner should the need arise!
There is NOTHING that comes even close to replacing Clonakilty Black Pudding here in Korea. Eating rice and spicy cabbage (Kimchi) to cure my hangover just doesn’t quite do the trick!
Number 8: Chicken Fillet Roll from Spar
One of the biggest things I crave from back home is the humble ‘chicken fillet roll’ made up for you in a matter of seconds and found in every deli in the country. The fact that nearly every shop has a Deli, and that there is a shop on nearly every corner in every town, makes the lunch time experience back home a blissful experience!
When it comes to lunch time choices in South Korea, the choices are pretty limited and far from appealing! Most food is deep friend and if on a rare occasion it is not, my lunch time choice are limited to a variety of dishes made with rice, spicy cabbage and spam. No thank you!
Number 7: McCambridge Brown Bread
I think most Irish people will agree with me when I say that there is no better brown bread that McCambridge Brown Bread. Be it for toast in the morning, or sandwiches at lunch time or with soup in the evening, nothing beats a few slices of McCamdridge!
Here is Korea they seriously lack good bread, which is a bit of a mystery given the fact that there is a bakery to be found on almost every corner. In Ireland, bread is pretty much part of our staple diet where-as in Korea it is more of a treat or a luxury thus all the bread, and bread products are sickly sweet and could never be used the way they should be….to make a decent sandwich!
Number 6: Ballymaloe Relish
The relish SO famous, they sent it to space. Enough said.
Number 5: Cadburys Chocolate
No matter what country, no matter what continent, no place does a chocolate bar like Ireland. Ireland has the biggest selection of delicious milk chocolate, available in every shop, on every street corner, in every town (similar to the infamous deli counter!) and no amount of Hersheys, Peanut Butter cups or whatever other bizarre chocolate is on offer around the world will ever compete with this! Be it a Dairy Milk, a box of Heo’s or a tin of Roses at Christmas, nothing beats Cadburys chocolate.
Number 4 : Tayto Crisps
By sure Ireland’s favorite crisp. You just can’t beat a salt and vinegar crisp sandwich or opening up a packet of Cheese and Onions Taytos in the pub and sharing them with all around you. Soon enough, some other kind soul will return to the table with a new round of pints and another packer of delicious Tatyo crisps. And so it goes on…
In Korea we are given magical choice such as Wasabi flavour, Seaweed flavour and worst of all….Cuttlefish flavour. YUCK.
Number 3: Garlic Cheese Chips (and other Chipper Food!)
While many Irish expats will admit to always having a wide range of foods available to them late at night, ranging from 24 Hour McDonalds, late night pizza joints and Turkish Kebab stands lining the streets, we will also cry out for Garlic Cheese Chips at 3 O’ clock in the morning, yearning for those late night chippers back home! (KC’s chipper in Cork is so popular they have a Queue Camera on their website!)
Number 2: A Jumbo Breakfast Roll
A brilliant mixture between number 8 and number 9 on this list is the Jumbo Breakfast Roll, whereby us Irish have perfected the method of putting an entire Irish Breakfast into a Cuisine de France bread roll. A favourite amoung early morning workers, Builders and college students, nothing beats a Jumo Breakfast Roll after a night on the town.
Number 1: Barry’s Tea
Stop an Irish person in the airport and ask them what’s in their suitcase and about 90% of them will admit to having packed a box of Barry’s Tea bags. Us Irish just can’t seem to survive without them. Ideally served with Irish milk (real dairy!!) and a spoonful of sugar, a cup of Barry’s Tea has many magical attributes and is the perfect start, middle and end to every day. Be it relaxing at home, gossiping with friends, skyping home to family or reading a good book, a cup of real Irish Tea is always the perfect companion.
With over 1,000 Irish people living in Korea right now (the bulk of whom are teachers) it is no surprise that we have built quite a strong community here in Seoul.
The not-for-profit organization which helps form a big part of this community is a very active group of hard-working, creative and passionate people who take pride in promoting Ireland and all thing Irish in addition to creating strong ties between Ireland and South Korea.
Founded in 1996, The Irish Association of Korea (IAK for short) promotes Irish culture in Korea by organizing events of interest to Irish people in Korea, and that are opportunities for Koreans and other people living in Korea to experience and learn more about Irish life. Among other events such as informal music gatherings and a now annual Ceili, it organizes the annual St. Patrick’s Day festival in which 1,000′s of people come along to celebrate all things Irish on March 17th (or the weekend nearest!)
If you are from Ireland and new to Korea, I would HIGHLY recommend getting involved with the Irish Association of Korea. They actually have a “Welcome to Korea” event coming up in 2 weeks time where you can come along to an informal gathering in FreePort in Hongdae from 2pm until 4pm on Saturday November 2nd. It will be a great chance to meet some fellow Irish expats and to make friends, connect with home and learn about other Irish themed events and organizations that are active in Korea.
Another huge part of the Irish community here in Korea is the Seoul Gaels GAA Club. If you have just moved to Korea and miss playing for your club/team back home or if you live in Korea and would like to get active and learn how to play either Gaelic football or Hurling, this is the place for you! (If you don’t live in Seoul there are also active GAA clubs in both Busan and Deagu that you can check out.)
In related news, my good friend Shauna Browne of the wonderful “What a Waygook“ blog recently got elected as Chair of the IAK while I somehow managed to land myself a spot on the committee as the new Public Relations Officer. Wish us both luck!
On our weekly adventures in Hongdae recently (that’s the hip and happening nightlife district of Seoul, for those not in the know!) I have been fading early and am no longer able to pull those all-nighters like I used to. I must be getting old! The thought of staying up all night and then having to face sitting on a crowded train full of other drunk, tired and often queasy revellers for over an hour is FAR from appealing! Instead of booking into a hostel or hotel like most normal people, or making friends with some randomer who lives in the area and pleading to crash on their couch, I have instead opted to spend the early hours of most Sunday mornings sweating it out on the floor of a Korean Jimjilbang!
First, for those not acquainted with Jimjilbangs I better give a quick explanation about these magical places. A jimjilbang is a large, segregated Korean bath house full of an array of hot tubs, traditional Korean saunas, massage tables and showers. For most Koreans, it is part of their weekly beauty ritual and involves going to the Jimjilbang with either friends or family and spending hours washing, bathing, and scrubbing their bodies in order to get super smooth and healthy looking skin. All wet areas prohibit the use of clothing for safety reasons (apparently with the extreme heat of the baths and steam rooms, it is believed that toxic chemicals can leach out of apparel and into the body. Oh and it is also believed that if you wear a swimsuit or cover up you may be trying to hide a disease!)
Once out of the bathing area, the many saunas can help to clear out your pores, empty your body of bad toxins, and can help you de-stress and relax. Depending on which Jimjilbang you go to, and how much you pay to get in, will determine the quality and quantity of facilities inside. Some of the 24 hour jimjilbangs around Hongdae are pretty basic and don’t even have saunas while other big one’s such as Dragon Hill and Siloam Sauna near Seoul Station have up to 5 or 6 floors of facilities including a restaurant, entertainment area, hair salon and an abundant number of sleeping rooms and saunas ranging in temperature from an “ice room” to a 96′c “fire room”! You could easily spend a whole day here wandering from sauna to sauna.
I have had MANY late night jimjilbang experiences in various parts of Seoul, but for me nights spent in the 24 hour jimjilbang near Hongik University station in Hongdae are always the craziest. The last time I stayed there was so bizarre I’m going to share the experience with you, step by step!
I left the wonderful FF’s club at around 5am. I could have forced myself to stay awake one more hour and caught the last train home but that was simply not an option I fancied. I was physcia;;y exhausted from my full days shopping, my disastrous Korean hair salon ordeal and a night of fun and mayhem hanging out in Iteawon and later hongdae with various groups of friends. I headed to the 24 hour “Happy Spa Place”, which was only a 5 minute walk from FF’s, paid 9,000 won (about 6 euro) and was given 2 small towels. some pretty gaudy looking pink PJ’s, and a key for a locker. I was warned it was pretty crowded but didn’t care..all I needed was a tiny corner to lay town and pass out.
They weren’t lying. As I took off my shoes and entered the tiny changing room/locker room, there were bodies ALL over the ground. It was quite the challenge to tip toe over them and around them. While most were passed out, all wearing the lovely matching pink PJ’s which I had been given, some where sitting butt naked in front of full length mirrors drying their hair, others were wandering around, also naked, except for tiny towels wrapped around their head on their way into the bath house. I quickly changed into my PJ’s, bought a disposable toothbrush from one of the old ladies sitting who was sitting comfortably on a massage chair twice her size, washed my face and managed to curl up in a ball on the ground next to the sinks…the only available space I could find!
About 2 hours later I was woken up by the same toothbrush selling Ajamma, who was shaking me and shouting at me in Korean. I was startled and sleep and had no idea what was going on. Apparently I was “in the way” so she made me lie down on a nearby table and told me to sleep there instead. I obeyed and within minutes, although slightly confused, was fast on my way back to sleepy land.
Less than an hour later, a different scary looking Ajamma woke me up by practically pushing me off the table…apparently I was in the way again. It was now 9am and many new people had arrived, while most of the others had either gone home. I decided it was time to, temporarily, get up and check out the public baths that were on offer. The first thing I was greeted with were rows of seats and showers, where you can sit down and scrub yourself til your black and blue. Honestly many of the Korean women I saw here were sitting by this shower for up to an hour scrubbing themselves, washing their hair, shaving, washing, scrubbing, and other stuff I’m PRETTY sure you don’t want to know about.
I opted on a bath that was 40′c tostart off and slowly worked my way around to the hotter baths bit my bit. The bath house was pretty empty which means these GIANT hot tubs were all mine. It was bizarre feeling sitting in this dark, dimly lit public bath house, situated underground in the middle of Seoul’s top party district, realising I was butt naked in a bubbling pool of magic and with not a care in the world apart from the impeding hangover which was fast approaching.
After half an hour I headed back to the changing room and decided to lie down in a different, more secluded corner, to get a few more hours sleep. I was again woken my an ajamma but this time she simply woke me to put a soft pillow under my head (I had been using a wet towel as a pillow!). She smiled down at me, then walked away. Eventually I forced myself to get up at around 11am at which stage the jimjilbang was seriously busy, with a lot of fresh-faced Koreans arriving to spend the day pampering themselves before the work week that lay ahead.
I changed out of my pink PJ’s, got dressed, returned my keys to reception and decided it was about time I headed on home.
I was excited about my 5 day vacation for Korean Thanksgiving (Chuseok), but more so about the fact that I wouldn’t have to work for 5 days than the destination in which I was set to spend my time in. Jeju – Do, an island off the South coast of Korea, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world with over 10 million people flying to the small island in 2012 alone. The whole island was recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the new 7 wonders of the natural world. Pretty impressive, I know.
Admittedly I knew none of this before my departure and thus why I was slightly worried about my decision to go on a ‘staycation’ in Korea rather than going abroad to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong or one of Korea’s other neighboring countries. However, having just returned from 5 days on Jeju island, I say without a doubt in my mind that in was the most incredible short vacation of my life. And that’s saying something considering South Korea is the 43rd country in which I have had the pleasure to visit, and I could not even BEGIN to count how many mini vacations to amazing places I have been to over the last 10 years.
The trip was organized my WinK (when in Korea) a Korean travel group that organizes trips through it’s Facebook group. I have traveled with them before and have always had a blast so was excited to sign up for another one of their adventures. We left Seoul at 11am Tuesday night (this was to avoid the INSANE Chuseok traffic, in which 39 million people would be on the roads in Korea over a 3 days period to visit their ancestral homes). I spent the first 2 hours or so playing drinking games with newly made friends before realizing that drinking copious amounts of beer on a bus with no toilet is NEVER a good idea. After a few hours attempting to get some sleep, we finally arrived at the ferry terminal and were soon on our way to the magical island of Jeju.
Our accommodation was next to HamDeok beach, which was one the most picturesque and tropical looking beaches I have seen thus far in South Korea. Whether the palm trees were imported from abroad or not, it didn’t detract from the natural beauty of the area. Our motel was ondol style, typical in many places in Korea, and included a room void of furniture bar 4 pillows, 4 blankets, a mini fridge and a TV. The fridge got used, the TV most certainly did not.
The first day was spent lazing around by the beach, attempting to catch flying fish while swimming in the (almost) warm and crystal clear water and making new friends through absurd drinking games and impromptu sing songs. We also got treated to a delicious Black Pig BBQ in a nearby Korean restaurant which was beyond tasty and was accompanied by one to many shots of Soju!
The second day involved an early start and a wicked hangover but as I was on a bus of absolute troopers we all pushed through the impending tiredness and spent the morning hiking up Seongsan Ilchulbong aka Sunrise Peak, which is one of Jeju’s 3 UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites, and admiring the pretty spectacular view from the top. (That being said, I still think the view of the Mountain itself in the distance beats the view from the top thanks to it’s almost perfectly round shape and the fact that it is very nearly cut off from the rest of Jeju bar a tiny sliver of land.
After a quick bus ride followed by an even quicker ferry ride, the next stop on our tour was the pretty little island of Udo. I had so much fun whizzing around this magical island on a Quad bike and exploring all the natural beauty spots it had to offer that I have decided it will get a whole post of its own, to be written in the next day or two, (Watch this space!) Between the tropical beaches on one side and the black sand beach and purple caves on the other, amazing burgers, laughter, new friendships and delicious jeju orange ice-cream, the 4 hours spent on UDO island were 4 hours that will stay with me forever.
Our second last stop was at the pretty amazing Manjanggul Lava-tube (which is known to have the largest lava column in the world) and is another one of Jeju’s 3 UNESCO Natural World Heritage Sites. It took about 20 minutes to walk through the lava tube which was extremely cold and a little eery but also a nice relief from the hot sun in which we had been prancing around in all day. It was a cool experience but for me a prefer sites above ground!
Our last stop was just for fun, and involved the group running around a giant Hedge Maze in which some people got very very lost! As the coveted prize for the winner was an ice cold beer, the race was fairly competitive!
I don’t think I have ever been so glad to see my bed, or in this case ‘blanket on the ground’, than last Thursday evening. I was absolutely shattered and passed out pretty early after feeding on some fried chicken, the only restaurant we could find open as it was a Korean National holiday and everything seemed to be closed.
Friday we were up at the crack of dawn yet again and a little apprehensive about the day. Could anything really beat the awesomeness of the day before? Visiting 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and quad biking around a stunningly beautiful island in one day are pretty hard things to beat.
Most of Fridays activities involved water which was totally fine by me considering I believe I may have been a mermaid in another life! Our first stop was at a Natural Ocean Swimming Pool by the Olle Coast Trail in the South West of Jeju. It was the perfect spot for a bit of cliff jumping an ideal way to wake everyone up from their slumber and to clear the groups hangover en-masse. The water was a beautiful turquoise color, the sun was shining and after half an hour jumping in and out of the water and chilling out and laughing with new friends, we reluctantly got dressed again and continued along the Olle coastal trail where we got to see some pretty off rock formations and beautiful sea views.
The rest of the day consisted of stunning waterfalls, beautiful rock pools (where we were told no swimming allowed but accidentally ‘didn’t see’ the warning sign and later got given out to by the whistle blowing ‘owner of nature’), one of the biggest and most popular beaches on Jeju where me and 2 friends went Banana boating (which was WAY more fun than I ever remember it being!) and a couple of beers here there and everywhere.
We also made a quick stop at the Jusang Jeolli rock column formations which looked scarily like the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland and the beautiful San Bang San temple which included steps from hell (they went on FOREVER!!) that led to a small opening in the mountain rock face where a monk sat chanting and visitors could queue up to drink a sip of some sacred water, which was tripping from the roof of the cave, and is said to have healing properties to cleanse your body and soul. I drank a whole bowl full so I’m hoping for a delayed reaction.
The day was, in summary, magical. I don’t know if I could possible of had a better trip with cooler people. Then, to top it all off, we were dropped in Jeju city to grab some dinner and party the night away into the wee hours of Saturday morning. A nice sleep in followed by a bizarre few hours walking around a Korean Sex Park was the almost perfect way to end our incredible tour.
On leaving beautiful Jeju, everyone was in high spirits, sitting on the top deck of our “cruise ship” singing cheesy songs and again, sipping on cold beers ad enjoying the 360 degree view of the ocean. As if the week could have gotten any better, we were treated to THE most stunningly beautiful sunset I have ever seen in my life followed by the most incredible moon rise a few hours later. It will take a trip to heaven to beat the 5 days I just spent in Jeju.
Last weekend, along with a group of about 10 other Irish people (including the Irish Ambassador to Korea and her family), I had the chance to represent Ireland in the audience of a Korean Quiz show. Random, I KNOW!!
The TV show was called ‘Quiz on Korea’ and involves 30 individuals from 30 different countries around the world who are all flown to Korea to participate in a week long cultural exchange which culminates in a quiz show where contestants are tested on their knowledge of all things Korean. KBS studios wanted at least 10 people from each different country to cheer on the various contestants and thus myself and 9 other Irish people were asked to come along for the filming of the show to support Irish contestant Alana O’ Brien.
I had NO idea what to expect on arrival, but my expectations were no were near what greeted me on entering the huge filming studio. There were hundreds of people sitting in rows with their fellow country men and women all waves their countries flags and all wearing their countries colors. It was pretty funny to walk into the room, all 10 of us wearing matching gree t-shirts, marching down step after step until we found the row of seats with the Irish flags.
In front of us were 2 rows of Belgian supporters brandishing red, black and yellow flags and football jerseys. In front of them were 2 rows of Egyptians and 2 rows of Cambodian supporters! The room was a rainbow of color with all the various supporters waving their flags and cheering on their home country. Behind us was a row of young Korean children who had been invited to support America, and everytime the American contestant did well they chanted “Meguk, Meguk, Meguk” whcih means America in Korean. They were truly adorable!
After about 20 minutes of waiting 3 Korean presenters and all the contestants came out on stage, which is the point when Myself and all the other Irish supporters could not withold our laughter at the absurdity, and verging on racist, outfits which the contestants had been asked to wear. It was almost cartoon like.The Rwandan was in traditional African dress, with a Rwandan Soccer jersey underneath, and was even walking with a beautiflly carved traditional walking stick, the Canadian looked like an Ice Hockey player while the Kiwi contestant was in an all blacks jersey and holding a rugby ball. How original!
The poor Irish girl was wearing something that half resembled a traditional Irish dancing dress and half resembled a female leprechaun! It was pretty hilarious to say the least. The poor American was dressed like the cowboy from the movie Toy story while the Belgian was wearing his countries colors and wearing a black beret. I wouldn’t be surprised if was also carrying a baguette!
Crazy costumes aside, the quiz was pretty straightforward, with pretty easy questions been asked on Korea to start with, getting progressively more difficult as the quiz went on. The New Zealand contestant was the overall winner, narowly beating a 15 year old bot from venuzuela who I was personally cheering on! He was only 15!!
The real highlight of the night, however, was not the quiz itself but the surprise K-Pop acts which bopped around the stage during the interval. Having never previously seen live K-POP I was both pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it and in shock at how crazy the Korean supporters would act each time a new act appeared on stage. I didn’t know it was even possible to scream that loud…I think the kids behind me singing along to Crayon Pop and the grown men going weak at the knees shouting their support for KARA and B.A.P entertained me more than the K-POP acts themselves!
It was a really great night out, and will certainly be a Saturday nigth that I won’t be fogetting for quite some time!
This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge is to take and post shots of the sea.
As I’m surrently living in the centre of Korea (I’m smack bang in the middle between North and South) I don’t have much access to the sea! However, I am extremely lucky that I come from an island totally surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea and thus I will use this post to look back on all the good times I have had there and portray how beautiful Ireland really is.
Fancy winning your own private island in the Carribean? Fancy spending a few weeks in paradise, battling it out with 16 other contestants and learning survival techniques from ‘SurvivorMan Les Stroud? Oh, and you also get a Samsung Galaxy S4 and and an amazing Samsung Zoom Camera!
Below is my somewhat rushed attempt to put together a video for the second round of the competition, and while I do cringe a little seeing myself on camera, and wish it wasn’t so dark at times, I think it’s not a bad entry at the end of the day! You can view my competitors by searching “Samsung SOS island” in YouTube!
What are you waiting for?? This is the LAST day you can enter. GO, GO , GO!!