Kimchijeon: Korean Kimchi Pancakes

Kimchi, pronounced kim-chee, is a traditional fermented Korean vegetable side dish. It is served at almost every Korean restaurant and made in almost every Korean household. There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi but it is most commonly made using cabbage, radish, scallion, or cucumber as the main ingredient. Cabbage is the most popular kind of kimchi. People may use kimchi as just a side dish to eat with rice or they may incorporate it into other main dishes like kimchi jjigae (kimchi soup) or the dish I am writing about today, kimchijeon (kimchi pancakes).

In Korea they have different types of pajeon, or Korean pancakes. I’m writing about kimchi pancakes but they have other pancakes that are more popular like vegetable pancakes or seafood pancakes. The pancake shops are busiest on rainy days as Koreans love to eat pajeon and drink makgoulli (milky Korean rice wine) when it rains. Why is that? According to my dad who grew up in Korea, you have to look at the history of the poor farmers in Korea. He says that when it rained, farmers couldn’t work so they would spend the day inside. Making pajeon was cheap, easy, and everyone could eat it together. They paired it with makgoulli because it was also very cheap to make and everyone made their own and had some on hand. Nowadays, people like pajeon on rainy days because it’s comfort food and cheers them up on a gloomy day. Others may provide a more scientific explanation. No matter the explanation, it’s been raining a lot lately, I’m craving Korean pancakes, so let’s get to it!

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Kimchijeon

Makes 1 large pancake

1 cup finely chopped kimchi (you should be able to find kimchi at your local Asian grocery store)

3 Tbs kimchi juice

2 Tbs chopped onions

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup water

Vegetable oil

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This recipe is pretty simple. Just put everything listed above, minus the vegetable oil, into a medium sized bowl and mix well.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet, I used a 12 inch skillet, over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, pour all the contents of the bowl onto the skillet and spread evenly into a nice, big circle. Let it cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the bottom turns crispy, and then flip it to the other side.

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Reduce the heat to medium and cook this side for about 2 minutes. You’ll also want to use your spatula and press down on the pancake every now and then. If you don’t think the other side is getting crunchy and you notice that there isn’t any oil left, you might want to add another tablespoon to help get that crunchy texture. Flip it back to the other side for another minute and then it’s done!

IMG_0738IMG_0739Cut it up and now it’s ready to be shared! Enjoy!

Jjimjilbangs: Exposing it All

I studied abroad in South Korea two summers ago and the experience was an unforgettable one. I ate amazing food that I still dream about to this day, I made friends from all around the world, but when my friends and family ask me what the most memorable part of that trip was, they’re always surprised to hear that it was my exhilarating experience at a public bathhouse, or jjimjilbang (찜질방).

Jjimjilbangs are very common all over Korea and have spas, showers, saunas, and one can even spend the night there for very cheap. They have gender separated bathing areas and a unisex communal heated resting area. And just so we’re clear, the bathhouse does not consist of individual showers with doors. No, it is an area with showerheads along the walls with people showering for all to see and different baths in the center of the room. I’ll walk you through my first time so that you can understand the process, and also be informed if you ever find yourself in this situation.

To be honest, I almost skipped out on this cultural experience once I found out that I’d be in the buff for all to see. The bathing areas are gender separated so I’d only be naked in front of other women, but still. I have insecurities about my body and to walk around completely exposed was a very uncomfortable thought. But because of my FOMO, I agreed to go even though I usually end up doing things I could’ve gone without. Luckily, this was an experience that I would have definitely regretted not doing, so FOMO wins this time.

When deciding who to go to the jjimjilbang with, I would recommend going with only one friend of the same gender. This way you aren’t overwhelmed with the fact that all of your friends now know how you look in your birthday suit. You will want one friend there though because you and your friend will be able to help wash each other’s backs, but we’ll get to that later.

When you first check into a jjimjilbang, they’ll give you a locker key and a set of clothes. Before you enter the locker room, you must take off your shoes. When you walk into the locker room, you’ll find your assigned locker, put the clothes they gave you in there, take off all your clothes, and store those as well. Things are about to get real uncomfortable from here on out. To look or not to look was the question on my mind. I didn’t know if I should avert my eyes or just pretend like everything was normal. I tried to do both and it was awkward at first but it got better as I noticed all the other women walking around naked with ease. To them this was normal but as a foreigner, I felt very uneasy but I tried to “fake it ‘til you make it.

My friend and I then walked into the bathing area. Like I said earlier, the bathing area has showers and baths. You should first take a shower before entering the baths to reduce contamination. The place I went to had different baths with different types of water and we tried all of them out. Some of these included a regular hot bath with nothing added to the water, a bath with a bag of herbal medicine, a natural hot spring outside, and a cold bath, which was nice in between the hot baths.

When I was able to sit in a bath submerged in water, I started to feel more comfortable about looking around. This was the part of the experience that stuck with me the most because upon looking around, I realized that everyone there had different bodies and no two bodies looked the same. That was the moment when I realized that I should accept my body for what it was because looking around the room of naked women, I didn’t see a standard of beauty. Everyone’s body parts were all different and they were all okay with it so why shouldn’t I be? Sitting there made me appreciate my body in a way that I had never appreciated it before.

Sorry, I got a bit sidetracked. Where were we? Oh! Once you’ve soaked your body in hot water long enough, you’re ready to shower again. This time, you’ll need a scrubbing cloth and a friend. You’ll scrub your body with the scrubbing cloth and be amazed and disgusted at the dead skin rolling off your body. If I told you how much dead skin was coming off, you wouldn’t believe me. And I shower everyday and use a loofah so I’m not a dirty person, I swear! My Korean friend told me that Japanese people visiting Korean jjimjilbangs would keep the big chunks of dead skin as a souvenir which is almost too bizarre so I’m not sure how true that is. My friend and I took turns scrubbing each other’s backs, which was awkward but better than paying a stranger to do it, which is an option. I felt so clean afterwards that I always tell people that I don’t think I’ve been cleaner since the day I was born.

Once you finish your shower, you’ll go put on the clothes they gave you and head out to the unisex communal heated resting area where people will just sit on the floor and hangout. This area has food for sale and some traditional foods to buy at a jjimjilbang are boiled eggs and an ice cold sweet rice drink called sikhye (식혜). They also have many rooms set at different temperatures to relax in. They range from ice cold to burning hot. We just went from room to room and sweated it out while relaxing. I remember thinking while we lied around in those rooms that I’ve never felt so mentally and physically relaxed in my life.

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Standard clothing all guest receive at a jjimjilbang

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Jjimjilbang-goers love to turn their towels in “sheep heads”

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Boiled eggs and sikhye purchased at a jjimjilbang

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The ice-cold room I liked to call “Antarctica”

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One of the hot rooms

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A therapeutic rock room

After about an hour of this we left for Korean BBQ and beer. That day is a day I’ll never forget. I took a huge step towards self-acceptance, went way outside my comfort zone, and experienced something completely foreign and unfamiliar to me. If you ever find yourself in Korea and feel hesitant about going to a jjimjilbang, do yourself a favor and do it. You’ll come out feeling like you’ve just cleansed your body and soul.

Dan Bing: A Traditional Taiwanese Breakfast

When I was studying abroad in Taiwan, my favorite thing to eat for breakfast was dan bing (Chinese: 蛋餅). Dan bing is a traditional Taiwanese breakfast consisting of a crepe and egg as the base with the option of adding ingredients like ham, bacon, hot dog, tuna, corn, or cheese. Lots of small breakfast shops on the street sell dan bing and it’s very convenient to get on-the-go and very cheap. A basic egg dan bing costs about 20 TWD, which is about $0.63 USD, and to order one with an additional ingredient would cost about 30 TWD, which is about $0.95 USD.

It’s been nine months since I left Taiwan so I thought it was about time I attempted to make my favorite breakfast food. Remember when I said it was a quick, on-the-go breakfast? Yeah, not so much when you make it yourself. I failed my first two attempts and ripped many crepes that couldn’t be saved and had to be thrown out, but I’ll share what worked and what didn’t work so you can avoid making those same mistakes. So it may not have been quick but it was still cheap! Most of the ingredients were things I already had in my kitchen and the only ingredients I had to go out and buy were bread flour and scallions.

 _1460862These are the ingredients you will need.

Dan Bing

Makes 3

½ cup bread flour

2 tablespoons corn starch

Salt

1 cup of water

3 eggs

¾ tablespoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons chopped scallions

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Mix the bread flour, corn starch, a pinch of salt, and 1 cup of water in a small mixing bowl. Mix it well and let it sit for 10 minutes.

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For each dan bing, beat one egg with ¼ teaspoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon water, 1 tablespoon chopped scallions, and a pinch of salt.

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Heat a large pan on medium heat and spray generously with cooking spray. Pour about a half cup of the batter onto the pan (be sure to stir it a little first) and tilt the pan around to spread the mixture evenly into a nice big circle. Be sure to work quickly because the bottom of the mixture will start to solidify fast. Let it cook until the top has set and then flip it over.

Tips: Once you think the top has set, I would recommend waiting an extra minute before flipping. If you have difficulty flipping it over, try flipping it onto a greased up plate and then carefully sliding it back onto the pan, cooked side up, with the help of your greased up spatula. I would also re-spray the pan before sliding the crepe back on. After my first few failed attempts, I learned that cooking spray is your best friend for anything that comes in contact with the crepe otherwise the crepe will cling on and rip.

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Once you’ve flipped the crepe over, pour the egg mixture evenly onto the crepe. Try not to let the egg mixture spill over the edges but it’s no big deal if it happens. Let it cook until most of the egg has set and then flip it over to the other side to cook for an additional 10-20 seconds. The crepe should be sturdy enough to flip with a spatula this time. _1460950Now flip it egg side up onto a cutting board and roll it up and then cut into one inch pieces. The dan bing will be hot so I suggest dipping your fingers in a bowl of ice water right before handling.

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And there you have it! A delicious traditional Taiwanese breakfast. You’ll want to serve it with some sauce. You can use sweet chili sauce or make an amazing dipping sauce using 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce, 1 ½ teaspoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. I drizzled the dipping sauce I made on top of the dan bing and then dipped it in the sweet chili sauce and it tasted phenomenal!

_1460954 _1460955I also made tuna dan bing because that’s what I always ordered in Taiwan. I just mixed some canned tuna in with the egg mixture and it actually made the mixture more controllable when I poured it onto the crepe.

_1460956In this photo, I have the tuna dan bing on left and original dan bing on the right.

Big thanks to my sorority sister, Raisa Buenaventura, for taking these photos for me and being patient with me as I struggled to figure this out.

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Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the recipe!