Saranghae, Couple Outfits & Oppa; Etiquette in Korean Dating Culture

Whether you are a study abroad student, an ESL teacher or just someone visiting the wonderful Land of Morning Calm, love can certainly come knocking on your door! 

What’s It Like Dating a Korean?

But don’t let some cultural and linguistic barriers stop you from finding your one and only! Korean dating culture is certainly unique, and some may be wondering, “what’s it like dating a Korean“? Well, like Korean food, Koreans can certainly be hot, spicy and certainly make you want more! But there are some things of note when courting a Korean woman or man.

What to Say to a Korean Girl?

When it comes to dating in Korea, the phrase “subtlety” will come up rather often! Korea still observes many traditional dating rules of etiquette. When it comes to what to say to a Korean girl, being less direct is a good way to not scare her off! 

While this is by no means universal for all Koreans, being a little bit less direct and even going through an intermediary can go a long way, with guys, too! A common general way young Koreans will begin to meet and start dating follows some common rules and methods. 

Going Through Intermediary

For example, if two people like each other, they will try to meet up in small groups first. Often times they may ask through an intermediary to set up a meeting and gauge the other person’s feelings towards them. Over time the number of people they will meet up within these group hangouts will diminish until it is only the two individuals who like each other meeting up directly. These initial group meetings are all casual and non-romantic, so don’t confuse it for some kind of other group meetings

How to Know if a Korean Girl Likes You?

If one is pondering how to know if a Korean girl likes you or a Korean guy likes you some signs are certainly them contacting you first! Which brings up the next key point.

korean dating etiquette

How to Text a Korean Girl?

Almost everyone in Korea uses the messaging app “Kakaotalk”. If you download this app, you are already in the right direction. Koreans like to use cute emoticons, even men, so the more of these Korean guys or girls send to you, the better sign it is. 

If you like a Korean person but they don’t reply back or respond to you, give them time. Some Korean women may want to see if you are willing to wait for them, so proceed as normal for maybe a few days. 

If a young Korean guy or girl does not respond to your messages or to you in-person after a week or so that is okay. Moving on and trying to find someone else is perfectly fine! 

Which is another key item to address when it comes to dating and trying to date Korean women in particular. If a Korean woman really does not seem interested, please respect her choice to not speak with you or contact any longer and move on. The same applies to young Korean men, but usually more so for women who culturally are taught to be more passive and receptive. 

Many young people, in particular, are more averse to conflict and saving face in Korean culture is still common practice. Thus, if a young Korean does not want to see you or wants to break up, they may stop contacting you completely, and in some cases change their contact ID. While any rejection hurts, do not keep trying to pursue them. And certainly do not pressure young Koreans to drink alcohol or go places or do things that they may seem uncomfortable with doing, saying or taking part in. Allow them the same respect you would like with a possible romantic partner. 

how to know if a korean girl likes you

Suitable Dating Venues

But assuming that a young Korean woman or man is interested in you, and you in them, a great and safe first date is to the coffee shop or cafe. Now, let’s assume your first date went well! And this young Korean man or woman would like to meet again, try to take things slow even though emotionally and title-wise your partner may want them to go a bit fast! 

For example, follow your Korean partner’s lead when it comes to the physicality of any sort. Do not be forceful or insistent with them with physical attention. PDA is not a common practice in Korea, so if your partner does not want to kiss in public respect their choice, they are just being socially conscious. 

They may, however, want to take lots and lots and lots of couple photos! Couple outfits and gifts are common ways Koreans show their partners affection. They also like to count and number everything. From your first date to your tenth, your Korean partner may keep track of these things. They may also want to commemorate seemingly random dates too. 

Discussing Marriage?

For example, a two month anniversary is a thing. Don’t be frightened or threatened by your partner if they discuss marriage and children early on, too. Korean culture follows the general assumption that dating couples will eventually get married. If you feel uncomfortable or unready for such discussions be direct but kind and firm if you want to choose to end the relationship with your Korean partner. 

For some, marriage talks after a few months can come off as too abrupt and diving in too deep, do what is comfortable for you as well. 

But on a lighter side of things, a Korean man or woman will love any cute gift, text, picture or post from their partner. Korean partners are easy to please if their respective partner is a little playful, very trustworthy and makes them feel safe.

Cute Things to Say or Text in Korean

Some helpful phrases are saranghae/사랑해, which is the informal form of the word saranghaeyo/사랑해요 meaning, “I love you”. While this phrase carries very heavyweight in Western relationships, it is more cute and playful in Korean. Make sure to use it only after your partner has told you that they agree to be in an exclusive relationship with you. Certainly don’t start off a conversation with it! 

Some other helpful phrases are oppa/오빠 which literally means “older brother” but is used to refer to males older than a woman. Meanwhile, for males, Nuna/누나 means “older sister” and is used to refer to women older than them. Using these phrases will make your Korean partner smile even if they are younger than you! 

dating in korea

What about LGBTQ+?

For individuals who are LGBTQ+, these phrases may be reversed, follow your Korean partner’s lead as to the proper etiquette in LGBTQ+ relationships. Korea is only starting to become more conscious and welcome to LGBTQ+ people and relationships, so be patient with Korean culture and your partner’s choices. 

Jealousy

Some Korean partners get very jealous very easily, and so they may be unhappy with you spending time with people of the opposite sex, so keep this in mind. Meeting a friend one-on-one for lunch, though platonic, may thoroughly upset your Korean partner.

Social Status

Another somewhat unpleasant reality that may come up when dating Koreans is the social competition factor. In some parts of Korea, particularly Seoul and Busan, but certainly regardless of region, some Koreans may only be interested in exclusive or serious relationships with people of high wealth or class brackets. 

If you notice your Korean partner asks or talks a little bit too much about wealth or status, or asks what kind of car you drive, perhaps opt to see other people instead. Then again, if you happen to drive a car up to that individual’s standards, or just so happen to be in a high wealth and education bracket then go right ahead and follow all the other advice and tips we’ve listed! 

Korean Parents and Dating

Our next topic of interest would certainly be Korean parents and dating. Just like the rest of our advice here, being subtle, taking things slow and following lots of your partner’s lead will go a long way. 

Learning Korean and Korean culture are big ways to earn your partner’s parents’ trust and respect. Only use formal Korean if you know some phrases. While saying anyang/안녕 or “hi” is cute for your partner, instead, say anneyanghaseyo/안녕하세요 which is “hello” to his or her parents. 

Your partner may be a little reluctant to introduce you. This is not because you have done anything wrong, but some Korean parents may not be happy to know their son or daughter is dating a foreigner. As mentioned before many times, Korea is still a considerably traditional country, but certainly, one that changes day-to-day. 

This also changes if you demonstrate you know some Korean phrases and show them proper respect. Bring a gift when you first meet your partner’s parents, even if your partner insists not to, which they probably will. 

Dating Etiquette

As mentioned before Korea still observes a mostly traditional dating culture. This includes things like; 

  • The man makes the first move i.e. will ask a woman out first. 
  • The man will also pick out the venue. 
  • The man will pay on the date. 
  • The man will buy gifts and take the initiative in pursuing the woman and proposing becoming exclusive, etc.
  • When ordering food, WAIT until both of you have your meals and are ready. Do not start eating ahead.
  • Also in regards to food, some Korean partners may want to feed you or have you feed them to be cute, so be ready for that!

Love, Korean style

Now assuming you and your Korean partner, either a Korean girl or a Korean guy have fallen deeply in love. Well, the next move would be marriage! But we will save that exciting and momentous occasion for next time. But for now, some key takeaways include, being patient, taking things slow, and certainly learning Korean language, customs, and culture in a wider sense.

Sources:

Tteokbokki: A Korean After School Staple

Leaving home after a long day at work. Though it is late at night, there are still many businesses open and people out and about. You see some plumes of steam rise from a stall nearby. Approaching you are greeted with a rejuvenating and savory wall of vapor from the many different boiled, broiled and steamed dishes available. But it is a deep vat of deep reddish-orange that catches your eye. There’s Tteokbokki! A Korean spicy rice cake dish.

Tteokbokki Taste

You order a small batch of this dish. You are handed a tooth pick with which to eat each of the thick, plump morsels awash in the red, steaming sauce. The smell is both sweet and spicy, and the soft, sometimes wiggly cylindrical morsel you just tried is a rice cake. You are first taken by the softness of the rice cake, biting into it, it’s almost like a marshmallow it is so soft and chewy! Then, you are quickly greeted by the sweet and incredibly spicy sauce! Some layers of fish cake also can be found and you soon find your cup completely empty. You have even taken a big gulp of the sauce! 

Tteokbokki Loved by Students

Experiences like these are very common in Korea from students leaving school and en route to the many different academies and after-school activities they take part in as well as adults, either out late drinking and feeling in the mood for a sweet yet bitingly spicy treat or en route to home from a busy day at work. This is the wonderful ways people enjoy tteokbokki (떡볶이). Also Anglicized as “Tteok-bokki” or “ddukbokki”, this dish is a real treat and has a ton of different variations and served at a few different types of venues. But be aware! No matter what your tteokbokki preferences are, the sauce will be both hot temperature wise as well as in the spice department!

Tteokbokki History

One may be a bit surprised to learn that tteokbokki, a humble food sold at street stalls and a mainstay for hungry children after school, was actually a dish prepared for the royal court. Though this version involved many other ingredients like sirloin and high quality soy sauce. Over time, the other ingredients like beef and pine nuts would vanish from the basic preparation of tteokbokki but soy sauce and tteok (rice cake, in this case cylindrical cuts of it).

The first modern version of tteokbokki is believed to have been invented from a lucky accident. Ma Bok Lim, after having accidentally dropped tteok in a vat of hot sauce found that the combination was actually rather tasty. And so she decided to sell the first modern and commercial ttoekbokki in Seoul’s Sindang, which is still a place to grab choice tteokbokki to this day. The dish was popular because it was cheap, quick and easy to make. This was all during the 1950’s in the wake of the Korean War and the painful post-war eras for Korea, when the economic situation for the country at large was in a desperate place. Remarkably, after the economic recovery and subsequent higher level of affluence many Koreans enjoy today has not stopped this dish from maintaining its popularity.

Today it can mainly be found at bunsik restaurants, which serve other snack type dishes like kimbap and at pojangmacha, which are street stalls, some of which operate out of the back of trucks. 

Tteokbokki Recipe: Some like it hot…

The basic recipe for tteokbokki includes the white, cylindrical rice cakes stir fried with gochujang, which is a thick, spicy red pepper paste sauce. Some other ingredients one may find in their tteokbokki may include eomuk, with are thin layers of fish cake, hard boiled eggs and scallions. The resulting dish has an aroma that is sweet and savory and a flavor that is salty, sweet, spicy and savory, too. The texture of the dish is chewy and at times thick, depending on how thick the tteok is! Other styles include…

  • Ra-bokki: This variation on tteokbokki includes throwing ramyeon (hence the “ra” part) noodles into the broth. This gives the dish some additional noodles, and sometimes a slice of cheese is even added on top and allowed to melt along with the natural heat of the dish.
  • Jeukseok-tteok-bokki: This “hot pot” style of tteokbokki is a more substantial meal and may see certain veggies, Korean dumplings and ramyeon noodles added in, too.
  • Cheese tteok-bokki: This type can be one of two things, either tteokbokki with cheese added into the dish itself, or tteokbokki made with tteok that has cheese inside of it!
  • Gireum tteok-bokki: This is tteokbokki stir fried in “gireum” which is cooking oil. Famously found at Seoul’s Tongin Market. Because this variation is stir fried and uses a little bit less sauce, the resulting dish is “drier” in comparison, but certainly still delectable!

Tteokbokki anytime!

If you ever find yourself in Korea, whether it is mid afternoon or 3 in the morning, keep your eyes peeled for this stunning dish. From the royal court, to a snack on the go, tteokbokki is there whenever and wherever you may be hungry! Just remember, that sauce is tasty, but very spicy, so be prepared, too!

Sources

  • hui, Jing, et al. “Tteokbokki (Spicy Rice Cakes).” My Korean Kitchen, 23 May 2019, mykoreankitchen.com/tteokbokki-spicy-rice-cakes/.
  • “Tteok-Bokki.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Nov. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tteok-bokki.

An Introduction to Korean Shamanism Modernity, Manshin and Mudang

Shamanism in Korea has a long and deep history and connection to the peninsula even today in the modern era. It’s spiritual tradition that is deeply ingrained in society, unique, and rich with colorful and fascinating rituals, costumes and beliefs. While the term shamanism “shingyo(신교/shindo(신도)” does not necessarily refer to a rigid, set of beliefs or organized religion in the Western sense, Korean Shamanism does maintain a level of common rituals, rites and practices. Some of these rituals may differ from shaman to shaman or for different clients or for different situations but they have some similar themes in most cases. Shamanism is practiced in both North and South Korea with different traditions based on regions.

What is Korean shamanism?

Shamanism was the first religion of the Korean people and goes back to prehistoric times. It is important when discussing Korean shamanism to remember that despite the fact the practices themselves are prehistoric, the religion is by no means “primitive” as it is perfectly complementary to modern living with people from all strata of society and of all levels of education and socioeconomic status seeking out shamans. The shamans themselves may hold multiple degrees from institutes of higher learning and even be highly active on social media.

Shamans throughout Korean history have almost always been female and are known as “mudang” while male shamans are “baksu”. In some areas of Seoul and the northern regions of Korea shamans may be known as “manshin”.  When new religions such as Confucianism came into vogue in Korean society, the role of shamans and of women in general went into decline, but today shamans have regained a relatively high status and position, many shamans receive government support in order to keep alive important intangible cultural heritage. 

In Korean shamanism, a shaman will act as a guide and medium for clients upon special request and payment. Special rituals shamans conduct for a number of purposes are known as gut rituals. Gut rituals are meant to contact the gods or deceased ancestors for a whole wide range of purposes. During a gut a shaman will become possessed by the spirit of a deity or an ancestor. Some gut rituals are small, while other rituals will be very colorful and elaborate, with the shaman wearing a costume akin to the clothing a god or ancestor would wear. Ritual implements like tridents and in particular, knives are used as symbols of authority and power. One of the most riveting parts of a ritual is when the shaman will sharpen their knives and then dance and stomp on top of the blades barefoot. The shaman is not harmed by this action. Musical instruments, songs, chanting and dance are all important parts of a gut ritual and are believed to help summon a deity and allow the shaman to pass into an ecstatic trance state. Shamans in training act as assistants during these very dramatic, energetic and theatrical rituals and a shaman may change their costume several times. Costumes are generally very colorful and resemble stylized sets of Korean hanbok with different headgear and implements according to what deity is being summoned. 

In Korea, one can become a shaman in one of two ways depending on which side of the Han river they are on. In the southern regions of Korea one could become a shaman through heredity. While in most of the peninsula and in particular North Korea and overseas Korean communities in China, one can become a shaman through initiation. One discovers they are ready to start their journey of becoming a shaman when they receive “shinbyeong” which means “spirit sickness” and is a state of intense physical and psychological illness which can only be ameliorated when the individual accepts their deity and enters into the role of shaman. Mountains are of particular spiritual importance in Korean culture in general and shamanism in particular. In fact, the mountain deity and legendary founder of Korea’s first kingdom, Gojoseon, is a major deity in Korean shamanism to this day. 

The history (thus far) of shamanism & its relationship to other faiths

As the first religious system of the Korean people, predating Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism’s presences on the peninsula, Korean shamanism has influenced and even in many cases become intertwined with these later faiths. Initially, shamans were patronized by kings and rulers and shamanic temples did once exist. With the introduction of Buddhism, however, many of these shamanic shrines became Buddhist temples. In fact, many current Buddhist temples found on mountainsides were just converted from shamanic shrines and temples. Buddhism and shamanism mostly have had a complimentary relationship, with Korean Buddhism preserving both Taoism and shamanism in its beliefs, art and practices. Almost all Korean Buddhist temples still have a special shamanic shrine dedicated to the deity “Sanshin”, the mountain god. Shamans may even go to Buddhist temples to bow, chant and perform rites, especially for the spirits of the deceased as Buddhist temples also preserve the cremated ashes of deceased individuals. Many of the deities found in Korean Buddhism and shamanism are the same deities such as the spirits of the Seven Stars, Sanshin and other Bodhisattvas and Devas of Indian origin. 

During the Joseon dynasty (1300-1800) Confucianism and then Neo-Confucianism were the state religious philosophies. During this time shamanism initially began to be seen as primitive and regressive and began to be persecuted more heavily. Modernization and the influence of Christianity, in particular Protestant missionaries at the end of the 1800’s led to an even wider persecution of shamans and destruction of shamanic shrines, temples, totems and other sacred sites. During the Japanese occupation period, the military government tried one of two methods to suppress shamanism, either by trying to incorporate Korean shamanism into State Shinto or to eradicate shamanism and replace it with State Shinto altogether. Shamanism survived this travail as well only to be subjected to the tumult of the Korean War. 

The Communist North put to death shamans and their families with the intention of eliminating shamanism among other religions. In South Korea, the strong influence of evangelical Christians saw a widespread destruction of shamanic practices and anti-superstition policies that destroyed both tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Today, while some more radical movements within Korean evangelical Christian circles take drastic measures like burning down shamanic shrines and lobbying the government to “modernize” the country by trying to outlaw shamanism, Korean shamanism has been experiencing a kind of renaissance. Some places are rebuilding ancestral shrines and temples and taking part in shamanic rites and rituals that were lost almost centuries ago. Many new religious movements, evangelical Christian ones included, borrow or are steeped within shamanic thinking, shamanic practices and shamanic rituals. This can usually be seen in the charismatic and otherworldly role some new religious movement leaders and even pastors conduct themselves with among their followers.

How to visit a shaman

Today, many shamans are very public with their role as mudang. To visit a shaman is rather easy, and in Seoul there is a massive number of active shamans. Often times, shamanic shrines or temples resemble standard apartments with the exception that some colorful banners, depictions of deities and the use of a Buddhist swastika or Korean Yin and Yang symbol will be displayed. 

When one visits a venue like this one can ask the shaman to read or predict their fortune and future, ask the shaman to heal some ailment or problem in their life or to consult their ancestors or gods in regards to other matters. In some cases major companies and businesses will hire a shaman to perform a ritual to purify an area before opening or if an accident has occurred and they would like the area and its spirits to be appeased. In cases where a major company holds a shamanic rite, most workers will participate by bowing and placing money on an alter or in the mouth of a severed pigs head or on piles of meat that will be used as offerings to the gods. Individuals who identify as Christian usually also take part for cultural and social reasons but may choose to not bow or may choose not to place any money, instead participating as respectfully as everyone else but as much as they feel comfortable in doing so. In the case of rituals where a severed pig’s head is traditionally used, some may opt to have a bakery prepare a special “pig’s head” made from bread instead.

Spirits in the age of Wi-Fi

This has only been a short introduction of Korean shamanism. There are volumes one could report back on in regards to one or multiple aspects of shamanism in Korea. Some of the takeaways and extra caveats are;

  • Shamanism is viewed as both compatible with modern society as well as “primitive” by modern Koreans depending on the perspectives of whom one chooses to ask. Though a large number of Koreans will still consult shamans no matter their stance.
  • To be a shaman one is either born into a lineage or is initiated, both will receive a prophetic illness.
  • It is the oldest religion of the Korean people and is mostly compatible with other religions due to it being non-dogmatic, non-proselytizing and not having a real official hierarchy or power structure.
  • Shamanism isn’t going anywhere! In fact it is experiencing a new era of recognition and popularity.
  • If you’d like to visit a Korean shaman, bring cash, an open mind and lots of questions! You don’t have to travel up a mountain there are plenty of shamans right in Seoul!

Hopefully this introduction has sparked an interest in a broader reading of this fascinating subject. Please feel free to seek out more information on Korean shamanism and don’t be afraid to have a dialogue with a shaman if you ever do meet one! Many shamans are regarded as being incredibly friendly and kind, though they may become a bit scary if they are possessed by the spirit of an angry deity! So be respectful and be prepared for a one-of-a-kind experience.

Sources:

  • Eng, Karen Frances. “In 21st-Century Korea, Shamanism Is Not Only Thriving – but Evolving.” Medium, TED Fellows, 8 Mar. 2018, fellowsblog.ted.com/in-21st-century-korea-shamanism-is-not-only-thriving-but-evolving-f1a8862a7bc8.
  • “Korean Shamanism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Dec. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_shamanism.

Jeonju Hanok Village: Korea’s Past, Present and Future All in One!

Go back in time at Jeonju Hanok village located in Jeonju found in South Korea’s North Jeolla Province! And what is so special about Jeonju? Located in Korea’s west side Jeonju is a unique city among the ultra-modern, ultra-fast and ultra-tech of many other metropolitan hubs on the peninsula. From the spiritual center of Korea’s grand Joseon dynasty period, to the home of many “hanok” style buildings that go back hundreds of years, Jeonju is a historic site that is alive and well.

The history

Once the capital of the Later Baekjae kingdom during Korea’s medieval period, Jeonju was seen as a type of spiritual heartland during the later Joseon dynasty (1392-1898). This is because Joseon’s ruling clan, the Yi clan, originally came from Jeonju. Korea’s illustrious Joseon era is immortalized in Jeonju today through the architecture, tea houses and of course, the wearing of Korean hanbok! Today Jeonju is one of the top three tourist destinations in all of Korea and is even a designated Slow City in recognition for the slower, more traditional pace of life the city’s people enjoy.

jeonju hanok houses street

Hanok and other fantastic buildings

To begin, hanok refers to “Korean houses” generally of the Joseon style. These houses are distinct due to their striking, slanted roofs and frames built from wood. In Jeonju one can enjoy the interior of a hanok in some of the many restaurants or traditional style teahouses in the village. At hanok restaurants, traditional food can be enjoyed, such as bibimbap, which is prepared in a unique way in the Jeonju area compared to other parts of Korea. 

hanok house roof

Some other buildings include…

  • Pungnam Gate: Once the provincial governor’s capital building during the Joseon dynasty and was also one of four additional gates, all of which have been destroyed. Luckily, Pungnam has remained and has been restored to its original glory.
  • Jeondong Cathedral: Some visitors to Korea are surprised by the high number of Christians who live in the country. Christianity has a long history in Korea, going back to the Joseon era, too (with possibly some Nestorian Christians coming along with the Mongols during their invasions of Korea). The Jeondong Cathedral was built in 1914, and bears a unique and colorful exterior much different than many contemporary churches in Korea, being a mix of Byzantine and Romanesque design similar to a cathedral one may find in Central or Eastern Europe. The church was built on the site where the first Catholic martyr in Korea, Yun Ji Chung died, and he is commemorated at the Cathedral today.
  • Omokdae: Once the site of a grandiose banquet hosted by the founder of the Joseon dynasty, Lee Seonggae, Omokdae is a great place to take in the view of the village and some of the natural scenery of the area.
  • Hyanggyo: During the Joseon era, Confucianism and later, Neo-Confucianism, became the state religious-philosophies and modes of state craft. And the Hyanggyo found in Jeonju is a great example of the Confucian temples and state operated schools that once were found in Korea during Joseon.
  • Gyeonggijeon: Come and pay your respects to the founder of the Joseon dynasty at the Gyeonggijeon hall. A portrait of the noble ruler is enshrined here and open to guests coming in to pay homage to the ruler’s legacy, right in his home town!
hanok house courtyard

Hanbok and Hanok

And besides the great attractions, Jeonju is also famous for its hanbok rentals! You can travel back to another time here at Jeonju and enjoy tons of food, drinks, games, souvenirs and handicraft stalls, too! The best times of year to visit Jeonju and rent some lovely hanbok are in Autumn, when the Korean mountains and their multitudinous trees unveil a Monet-esque pastiche of vibrant colors. Another perfect time to visit is in the Spring, when the cherry blossoms, apricots, crabapples and other flowering plants are in full display.

Living History

While South Korea prides itself on its modernity, fast-paced and hi-tech society that does not mean history and tradition are forgotten! On the contrary, places like Jeonju are rather more testimony to the fact that for Koreans and foreign visitors alike, the past and the present are both alive and worthy of our attention. So while you visit Jeonju village, wearing period clothing from the 1500’s and viewing buildings that have been standing for over 500 years, don’t forget to take a photo or two on your latest Samsung model smart phone! Or to upload your pictures of the ancient heritage on your favorite modern social media site using the readily available modern Wi-Fi prevalent all over Korea! In these small ways, the past, present and future are in harmony. Have fun when you visit Jeonju, and make sure to try the grilled squid on a stick! It’s delectable.

Sources

  • “Jeonju Hanok Village.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Oct. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeonju_Hanok_Village.
  • “Weather 01-04-2020.” Jeonju Hanok Village [Slow City] (전주한옥마을 [슬로시티]) | Official Korea Tourism Organization, english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264285.

Yogiyo! & Other Ordering Apps: How to Order Things Online in Korea!

Ordering with no fear

One of the great things about living in Korea is the ease, speed and convenience of things around you. The transportation is quick, efficient and simple to navigate. Learning Hangul, the Korean alphabet is said to take about 2 hours to learn if one sits and studies it diligently. So even down to core cultural traits like language, there is an emphasis on ease. And that extends to ordering things here in Korea, whether it be clothes, electronics or most importantly, FOOD. But for many, mostly expats, English teachers and study abroad students, ordering food can be anything but convenient, easy and simple. It can be downright scary! But have no fear, here is your way to enjoy the convenience of getting that fried chicken from the restaurant halfway downtown to your apartment door faster than you can say ppali ppali (빨리 빨리/quickly, quickly)!

A Handy Glossary 

Now, it is important to note that some of these apps are all in Korean, so knowing some Korean and reading Hangul will be very helpful. But for those who aren’t proficient in these areas, have no fear, once you create an account, put in your address and email you will be set to order just fine. Here are some important terms in Korean and what they mean so that you can order seamlessly. For foreigners and expats in Korea, to find your Korean address, look on the back of your Alien Registration Card (ARC) card. Your address will be listed on there. It will all be in Hangul however. And while it is certainly more than fine to ask a Korean friend, coworker, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, etc for help on any of this, the purpose of this guide is to hopefully assist you in being a bit more independent with your ordering. Because there will be some days you may not have that buddy or partner who is fluent in Korean by your side to help you out.

Glossary

  • Korean/한국어/English/영어
  • 메뉴/Menu
  • 주문하기/Order
  • 결제하기/Payment
  • 카드결제/Pay by card
  • 만나서 카드결제/Pay with card on delivery
  • 만나서 현금결제/Pay with cash on delivery
  • 배달/delivery
  • 체류지/Address
  • 구/District
  • 동/Neighborhood
  • 아파트/Apartment
  • 호/Room number   

Also note that addresses as shown on your ARC will be in the order of province, district, neighborhood, apartment building and room number!

The Korean Apps!

The next thing to take a look at would be what apps that are out there. Korea has a wide variety of apps and more being developed every day. Here are a few choice apps for ordering that are popular with both Koreans and foreigners alike. Feel free to try more than one to zero in on which one is perfect for you.

Yogiyo

This app is all in Korean but it is a great and multifaceted delivery service app to use. Yogiyo also offers one of the widest selections of restaurants to order from and is one of the most popular delivery apps amongst Koreans. What’s cool about Yogiyo is you can use it almost anywhere. Seoul is a great city, but there’s more to the peninsula than Seoul, and for many first time English teachers in particular, you may not be living in Seoul but a province outside of Seoul!

Shuttle

This app is sort of the opposite of that last statement! By which I mean, it is a Seoul-centric app. The other benefits of Shuttle includes the fact that the website, app and all the staff at Shuttle can speak English. The downside to Shuttle is that it is, as mentioned above, available mainly only in Seoul, though locations have opened in Pyeongtaek and Busan as well! Shuttle offers a great deal of international food like Indian food and Halal food to choose from.

Baedal Minjok

While Baedal Minjok is another great app because of the wide array of things on offer to order, it is only available as an app. This is in contrast to some of the other names on here which can also be accessed on the computer, too. It is a bit more streamlined than Yogiyo, though but it is the payment method includes requiring a facebook of Naver login ID that can trip some users up and be a bit more confusing than Yogiyo. 

Baedal Tong

Another delivery app, albeit one that is available only in Korean. The benefit of the Korean apps includes a wider area to choose from and a wider array of restaurants, too. Like Yogiyo and Baedal Minjok, this app may take some time to figure out if your Korean skills are still more in the beginner area.

Uber Eats

Similar to the Uber taxi service (which will be hard to find in Korea) Uber Eats features drivers picking up your orders and dropping them at your house. Sounds convenient, right? The benefits of Uber Eats includes some of the filter options available for things like vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free meals. One can also order from café chains too for those days you would love an iced Americano from Holly’s or Tom & Tom’s but would love to stay nice and comfy in your apartment even more.

Order and eat, drink and be merry!

Language barriers can be a tough one to circumvent at times, but that is no reason you can’t enjoy Korea’s convenient, fast and efficient delivery options and get to savor some delicious, hot, spicy, vivacious and marvelously delectable Korean food too! And perhaps the quest to order food will also encourage you to learn the Korean language, too. Ones experience really changes for the better and truly comes alive when your Korean skills and understanding increases. Really! And for those who have only just begun to learn Hangeul, once you put in the time, the effort, the possibly wrong translations and the prayers to every deity imaginable that your order went through and then it does! You will feel one of the greatest feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment, and the fried chicken or jjajangmyeon you just ordered hot and ready to eat will be the perfect reward for your intrepid endeavors. So, don’t feel as though pizza is out of reach while you live in Korea. Let one of these apps make your stay much more pleasurable!

Sources:

  • Dewey, Laura, and Loraine Scott. “Ordering Takeout in Seoul.” Teach English in Korea – Korvia Consulting, 19 Apr. 2018, www.korvia.com/ordering-takeout-seoul/.
  • “Food Delivery In Seoul: How To Order Delivery In Korea.” Be Marie Korea, 4 Dec. 2019, bemariekorea.com/food-delivery-in-seoul-how-to-order-delivery-in-korea/.
  • Kim, Albert. “Top 5 Korean Delivery Apps and How To Use Them: 10 Magazine.” 10 Magazine Korea, 26 Sept. 2019, 10mag.com/top-5-korean-food-delivery-apps-and-how-to-use-them/.

Korean Talisman Paper What is “Bujeok”?

You’re never too modern for a little luck…

South Korea. One of the most advanced nations in the world, with one of the fastest internets on the globe and a leading powerhouse for technology, science and engineering. But that doesn’t mean that the average Korean doesn’t want a little bit of extra luck now and then! That is where the bujeok talisman paper comes in! But what exactly is bujeok paper, what is it for and how can you get some?

Where bujeok comes from 

The origins of bujeok come from the similar talisman papers that originated in China. Within various sects of Chinese Taoism, these magical papers emerged and were spread throughout Asia. The first recorded evidence of bujeok in Korea can be found in the Samguk Yusa, a historical text compiled during the Middle Ages and reporting on Korea’s previous historical eras. According to this text, early evidence of bujeok in Korea goes back to around 2000 BC. These earlier forms of bujeok included carvings and inscriptions found on cave walls, on rocks and even on clothing. Today bujeok is typically a small to medium sized sheet of rectangular yellow paper inscribed with red ink. Similar talismans can be found in China and other places in Asia.

The symbols and uses of talisman paper

Just about everything regarding the bujeok paper is symbolic. The yellow of the paper is believed to ward off evil spirits. The red ink is believed to represent good luck, good fortune, and auspiciousness. It also is said to represent fire and blood, which are the animating powers of human life and emotion. 

Next, bujeok is generally decorated with Classical Chinese characters, symbols found in Buddhism or Taoism, esoteric designs and pictograms and even pictures of various animals. Many examples of bujeok talismans may even include a mix of all three. The pictures and symbols included depend upon what type of talisman paper one is getting. A talisman paper for good health will include different Classical Chinese characters, esoteric symbols or animals than one asking for wealth. And as for the esoteric symbols? These are regarded to be “spirit writing” which can only be understood, deciphered and written by the shaman, monk or fortune teller who has inscribed that particular bujeok paper. 

Some animals that are common on bujeok include the tiger, a popular and auspicious symbol in Korean culture to begin with, but also one associated with warding off bad luck and chasing away negative energy and evil spirits. Another common animal found on bujeok is the “three-headed one-legged hawk”. This symbol protects one from the “three calamities” which include disaster by fire, water and wind or from war, plague and famine. 

In regards to how, when and where one should display or use their talisman, once again depends on what talisman an individual has acquired. For example, personal bujeok can be carried in the wallet, or even in ones cell-phone case, as is a common practice for many modern Koreans.

To make it even more fun, you can even paste on on the windshield of your scooter:

There are also bujeok talismans that are displayed in the home, around doorways or even on the door itself, on the ceiling, on pillars and support columns. Talismans can also be displayed seasonally, like the talismans that are specially made for good fortune during the winter solstice or lunar New Year.

Here’s an example of a paper next to the doorbel:

And here’s one above a door:

How to get bujeok talismans

While such a mysterious and magical item sounds like it can only be found by scaling a secluded mountain and finding the hidden abode of an immortal or purveyor of magical goods, bujeok talismans are actually pretty simple to come by. 

One option is to purchase one at a Buddhist temple. Because Korea’s forms of Buddhism also developed to harmonize with native Korean shamanism, Taoism and Confucianism, talisman papers are made by Buddhist clergy and can be made on special request or sold in temple gift shops. These range in price and usually come in small red envelopes that include a laminated picture of a Buddhist saint, celestial or deity and a copy of the talisman on the obverse side. In addition, the actual bujeok paper will also be included. Another option is to seek out a Korean shaman or mudang. Korean shamanism has been a spiritual tradition since prehistoric times and is still alive and well today. Shamanic shrines or places of residence of shamans can be spotted by their display of a sign or of a Sanskrit style swastika (NOT associated with the Nazi swastika). Shamans can also double as fortune tellers and astrologers. This category of bujeok-inscribers can also be found in relative abundance. This category of spiritual advisors consult massive tomes of astrology, physiognomy and other ancient arts to advise curious individuals on things like career, romance or health. They too can inscribe bujeok. And the last category of bujeok that one can acquiesce is digital downloads. That is not a joke! SK Telecom, a major telecommunications company in Korea even offers bujeok that can be specially downloaded and kept on one’s phone. Talk about ancient wisdom meeting modern technology!

Good luck!

For those who may have been wondering what those yellow sheets of paper are in Korean houses or are interested in procuring some of these talismans for their own luck and fortune, hopefully this article has served to demystified the mysterious world of bujeok talisman papers. There are many other spiritual, lucky, unlucky, auspicious and miraculous things, objects, places, pictures and symbols in Korea and Korean culture at large which are ready to be explored. And for those who are in need of a little extra luck, perhaps a bujeok paper is exactly what you need!

Hanbok; Korean Folk Clothing

Germany has lederhosen, Japan has the kimono, Connecticut has Polo shirts and Korea has hanbok(한복). But what exactly is hanbok and most importantly, how can you get your hands on some of these wonderful articles of clothing and wear some for yourself?

The origins

The true beginning of these wonderfully designed and fabulously colorful sets of clothing are said to go back to the Joseon era (1392-1897), which is what modern hanbok is usually a reflection of, but the precedents for hanbok go back much further in Korean history, over one thousand years ago.

During the Joseon era though, hanbok and clothing of this style were worn every day. The different colors, symbols, designs and levels of intricacy of ones clothing reflected profession and social status. The general design of hanbok and the special rules, shapes, fabric, materials, colors, patterns, symbols and accessories all tell a story and all have symbolic and spiritual significance.

These rules and significance are mostly drawn from Confucianism and later Neo-Confucianism, which were both the official state religious philosophies and forms of government during Korea’s Joseon period. Symbolism from Taoism, Buddhism and Korean shamanism also play a role in hanbok’s unique, beautiful, lavish and exotic appearance. 

Hanbok: When To Wear?

Today, hanbok has made a big comeback thanks in part to Hanryu/Hallryu(한류) or “Korean Wave”. Hanbok inspired modern fashion pieces as well as traditional style hanbok are relatively common-place throughout Korea and other parts of the world today.

Baby Birthdays, Weddings

Hanbok is typically worn during holidays like Chuseok and Seolnal, during a baby’s Dol, which celebrates a baby’s first birthday, or a couple’s wedding, in which friends and family may wear hanbok and the bride and groom will wear a set of hanbok designed in the style of a Joseon king and queen as well as slightly more casual hanbok during the wedding reception.

Funerals

Black and white hanbok may also be worn during funerals. Hanbok is known to be bright, vibrant, vivacious and expressive and so black hanbok in particular is almost only ever worn for funerals, while white hanbok was the tradition color worn by most social classes during the Joseon era.

Tea Ceremonies, Cultural Events

In addition to these events or gatherings, people can be found wearing hanbok at Korean tea ceremonies and other cultural events, around Gyeongbokgung palace and at many of the hanok villages like in Jeonju. Near the latter sites, hanbok rental shops are common place and one can have the fun experience of wearing hanbok of various styles, patterns and designs. One can dress like a king or queen, like a scholar-official, a royal guard or even a gisaeng, a type of female entertainer of the Joseon era. 

How to wear hanbok

As mentioned above there is different hanbok for different events and there are particular ways to wear each article of clothing found in each different set of hanbok. So let’s take a look at a few different outfit sets and how the items are all worn in an ensemble.

Men’s hanbok

For men’s typical hanbok the outfit will usually consist of a wide sleeved shirt called a jeogori , a vest or jokki and baji or baggy pants as well as special slipper-like shoes. A traditional round, black horsehair hat known as a gat may also be included as well as a large, wide overcoat known as a durumagi. For those renting hanbok these additional items may cost a bit extra. To wear men’s hanbok properly, the baji, or pants should go on first. There may be some strings to tie around the waste along with a Velcro strap and a zipper to fasten the top of the pants. The ankles will also have short, thick adjustable strings to fasten the openings around your ankles. Next, one can put on the top shirt. This may also have fabric pegs to fasten the neckline. After this, the vest is put on. This one may be a bit tricky because the tassels that form the bow on the front should be tied a special way, while a pin or fastener can close the vest up. The vest is meant to be a bit shorter and tighter, while the pants and shirt and baggy and long. As for the gat, it will be tied and fastened on the head with special tassels, too. And the durumagi is also to be pinned off to one side and fastened with a belt. 

Women’s hanbok

women hanbok

Women’s hanbok includes a large, wide, flowing skirt known as a chima. Another garment is the wide sleeved jeogori shirt and then a short vest as an overcoat. Some style of hanbok may include an intricate woven wig or a wide brimmed circular hat that is fastened with ribbons and strings. A hairpin and other ornaments that have spiritual and symbolic significance may also be included and are different based on the occasion, ones age, ones marital status and ones social status. A long pair of white socks and slightly curved and sometimes heeled shoes may also be included with women’s hanbok.

To wear this hanbok properly, first, put on the long white socks, next put on the chima skirt, this will usually be attached to a thin sleeveless top garment. This is not a complete outfit though without a jeogori over the thin top garment. Fasten and zipper the back of the chima and then put on the top long sleeved jeogori. Like the men’s shirt, this one will be able to be fastened and strapped to one side in order to keep it closed. Next, the vest is put on over the long sleeved shirt. And its fabric tassels can be tied into ribbons and fastened accordingly. Traditionally, a women will wear their hair braided and bound in a certain style, again depending on age, rank and marital status. Usually young and unmarried girls and women will wear their hair in a single braid in the back. Married women can have their hair bound or in an up do similar to the Joseon era styles. Both men and women can wear a magoja, which is a type of jacket worn over the jeogori and the vest.

Children’s hanbok

The hanbok for children is of course similar to that worn by adults with a few distinctions. Children may wear what is called a ggatchi durumagi, which is a long and colorful overcoat fastened in the front with a ribbon. These coats are very splendid and have colorful sleeves decorated with alternating color patterns. In addition to this little overcoat, a cloth head wrap known as a bokgeon may also be worn. This cap is usually black and has a peaked top and fabric that extends down the back. Girls may wear a gulle, which can be black or very colorful and wraps around the head and ears. 

Wedding hanbok

Wedding hanbok resembles the clothing worn by the king and queen during the Joseon era. Colors can vary but the traditional colors are blue for the groom and red for the bride. The blue represents the dragon and the red, the phoenix. The dragon and phoenix represent the harmonious pairing of the male principle, represented by the aerial and amphibious Eastern dragon and the fiery and airy feminine principle that the Eastern Phoenix conveys. This is a more animated expression of the concept of yin and yang which is a philosophical tradition that extends throughout Korean society and even into the design of hanbok, too. This type of hanbok is often worn during a couple’s p’yebaek or during a whole wedding ceremony depending on how traditional the service is! 

For more information about Korean weddings, please visit the below page:

The Groom’s hanbok

This hanbok includes a large overcoat that is worn over another outfit, most likely standard hanbok. This overcoat is adorned with a vestigial belt around the waste that is hard and more ornamental than functional. A headdress similar to the one Korean kings would wear is also worn atop the head and a pair of black boots that reach to the knees may also be worn.

The Bride’s hanbok

The bride’s hanbok is truly exquisite. Her hair may be braided in a particular way and she will wear many hairpieces, like one long hairpin in the back just below her ears that holds flowing tapestry-like fabric adorned with intricate designs. She may also wear a large black headdress atop the head that is rounded and black and covered with gems and special pins. Over the bride’s standard hanbok or other clothing she will wear a red, flowing gown with large, wide sleeves that are lavishly ornate. The bride will also usually have two small red blush marks taped or painted on her cheeks. Another key feature is the large white fabric sheet that may be plain white or embellished with designs or Classical Chinese characters. This sheet is used to catch jujubes and chestnuts during the p’yebaek. 

Traditional electrifies the modern

Come and discover the amazing and rich cultural tradition of hanbok! Whether you are exploring the palaces of Seoul or enjoying the cherry blossoms in Jeonju, or even celebrating Korean Lunar New Year, wearing hanbok is the perfect way to immerse oneself in Korean culture. Thousands of years in the making have crafted and weaved life into hanbok. A life which is as rich and illustrious today as it was during the height of the Joseon dynasty!

Sources:

  • “Hanbok.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Dec. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanbok.
  • Ladner, Mimsie. “Hanbok: An Introduction to South Korea’s National Dress.” Culture Trip, The Culture Trip, 25 Jan. 2017, theculturetrip.com/asia/south-korea/articles/hanbok-an-introduction-to-south-koreas-national-dress/.
  • “Weather 12-18-2019.” Visitkorea, english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/AKR/AK_ENG_2_2.jsp.

Pungsu-jiri; Korean Feng Shui

Feng shui is a system of spatial rules that govern the flow of energy (chi). These rules often used in interior design and architecture in South-Korea.

Ancient meets modern in more ways than one in Korea. It may be worth noting that I am writing this from my south-facing apartment. With a view of mountainside via the balcony window. Right above the entrance of our door is a yellow talisman paper marked with whirling lines of red calligraphy and alchemical symbols. And we aren’t the only ones who have assembled our living arrangements and places of work to follow Pungsu-jiri (풍수지리/Korean Feng Shui). From some of Korea’s top international companies, to ancient kings, to the old couple who run the fried chicken place around the corner, to even Korea’s great flag, the Taegukgi (태극기), Pungsu-jiri is alive and vibrant!

Wind and water

Also known in English as geomancy, Pungsu-jiri is the Korean adaption of Chinese Feng shui. In fact, pungsu is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters for feng (風) and shui (水). Pungsu “wind-water” or alternatively pungsu-jiri, “wind-water-earth principles theory” is a system that involves either using compasses to calculate elaborate esoteric, astrological and numerical information, or deep spiritual intuition from a master of pungsu-jiri, to identify and appraise topographic features of the land. The purpose of this system of divination is to identify geographical features, especially mountains and the flow of water, that promote auspicious and harmonious energies.

Master Doseon

The major development of pungsu-jiri is attributed to the 9th century Buddhist monk and Daoist master, Doseon-guksa (도선 국사). Doseon had travelled to Tang China to study esoteric Buddhism and Daoism. It was here through studies into Daoist mysticism, that he expanded his understanding of the feng shui system before returning to Korea. Thanks to Doseon, pungsu would become deeply intertwined with Korean Seon (禪/선/Zen) Buddhism, where it is still practiced by monks and also used to determine the ideal site for temples to be built. Doseon-guksa’s theories influenced every strata of society, with even kings and Confucian scholars and bureaucrats also studying, following and expanding upon pungsu-jiri theories and ideas. Doseon-guksa developed the concept of bibo-punsu-jiri, which emphasized harmony with nature and using pungsu energy for the prosperity of the nation.

Pungsu-jiri has been believed to contribute to the harmony of humans, nature and heaven. It was said to maximize the positive fortune and advancement of individuals, the community and the nation as a whole. Chinese feng shui often focuses on interior design and furniture placement to increase the auspicious and material fortune and wealth of an individual. Pungsu-jiri on the other hand, emphasizes a communal harmony that includes not just an individual household but also the city and country at large. In fact, the capital of Seoul was constructed following pungsu-jiri theory!

Vital energy for life and prosperity

In order to maximize positive gi (/vital energy/life force) energy from powerful areas and ameliorate or minimize their negative gi, Doseon advocated for the construction of temples, shrines and stone pagodas. These were believed to contribute to the flourishing and preservation of the kingdom.

The energy spine          

Doseon’s idea of Korea’s Baekdu-daegan(白頭大幹), a mountain range energy spine was highly influential. The idea holds that Korea’s mountain range spine emits essential energies that flow and permeate throughout the mountains, ebbs through the waters, vitalizes the plants and food that grows, whirls in the air and is imbued and innervates human beings as a result.

The right spot on the mountain  

Each mountain also possesses one or more hyeol(穴/ 혈) which are believed to be where the energies of Heaven and Earth meet and consort in a harmonious font of power and energy. The gi of hyeol are believed to whirl in a clockwise motion, and can sooth the winds and draw water to the area. Hyeol are often utilized as the building sites of Buddhist temples or shamanic shrines. Those lucky enough be within proximity of the hyeol are said to have improved physical, mental and spiritual health.

How to find auspicious places

When pungsu-jiri is not being determined by the innate spiritual abilities of an ascended master geomancer, monk or shaman, an advanced compass and arcane maps and charts are utilized. Some of the factors that are used to help calculate pungsu-jiri are based on the calculation of numbers, stars and constellations, as well as the Five Classical Chinese elements (五行/ 오행) earth, water, fire, metal, wood as well as Yin (陰/음) and Yang (陽/양) and the reading of trigrams from the I Ching (易經/역경). An ideal topographic area, household or city will try to harmonize these various factors according to pungsu-jiri as best as possible to maximize beneficial energy and sooth negative energy.

The Taegukgi

The Korean flag (태극기/Great Ultimate with “기” at the end meaning “flag”) is even an example of Pungsu theory at work. The red and blue swirls in the center represent a type of Yin and Yang, but with the red representing yang and the Heavenly principle and the blue representing Yin and the Earthly principle. They represent the harmonious balance and constant motion of these two seemingly opposite concepts. The trigram (three black lines of various breaks and solids) at the top left represents “heaven, spring, east and justice” while the corresponding trigram at the bottom right represents “earth, summer, west and vitality”. The top right trigram represents “the moon, winter, north and wisdom” while the corresponding bottom left trigram represents “the sun, autumn, south and fruition”. These four all rotate in a balanced fashion as well, just like the seasons. The white background, an important color in Confucianism, represents purity. The flag combines symbols and colors important to Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and shamanism, just like pungsu-jiri itself, which is a synthesis of all of these great religious and philosophical belief systems

Pungsu-jiri for a rapid and modern world

As for modern pungsu-jiri, Seoul is still a great modern example. Seoul was constructed based on the calculations of pungsu-jiri masters, who found an auspicious place between 4 energy rich mountains. Today, we can see the results of Seoul’s auspicious placement, perhaps it was the energy of the mountains and waters that helped this city continue to flourish and grow over the centuries?  Many other homes, towns, businesses and cities are constructed with the aid of pungsu-jiri. In fact, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, our apartment faces south, and facing a mountain, both auspicious traits. As for the yellow talisman paper above the door, that is a folk belief for another article. So for this article, may your gi be strong and may you be in harmony with Heaven and Nature!

Magkeolli, Korean Rice Wine: Ancient and Humble

My wife opened the door to our apartment. Her umbrella pouring off straggling raindrops. She had just come home from work after a long, rainy and cool day. I had wrapped up another writing project myself and we were both looking forward to two things on this rainy evening. Pajeon (파전/Korean “pancake/pizza”) and makgeolli (막걸리/Korean rice wine). Two staples of rainy day dining in Korea. But it’s the slightly fizzy, tangy, sweet, chalky, milky and altogether satisfying and nourishing makgeolli that I look forward to the most.

An ancient yet humble beginning

While soju is largely seen as Korea’s trademark alcohol, it is actually soju’s humble and modest older cousin, makgeolli that is the oldest recorded booze in Korean history. Rice wine, especially of the murky and cloudy variety, have been mentioned since Korea’s Three Kingdoms Period (삼국시대/samguk-sidae) which began in 57 B.C. The brewing and enjoyment of rice wine is attested to in the Jewang Un’gi (제왕운기/ Songs of Emperors and Kings). “Cloudy rice wine” is mentioned in the Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms (삼국유사/samguk yusa). And Korean sources aren’t the only ones detailing the ancient Korean’s mastery of milky-cloudy rice wine.

The Chinese Records of the Three Kingdoms (三國志/삼국지/San Guo Chih) remarks the Korean people’s adeptness as fermenting foods, including wine. And in the Japanese Kojiki (古事記/ Records of Ancient Matters) a brew master from the Korean kingdom of Baekje (백제) is mentioned as being associated with rice wine preparation.

Makgeolli eventually took on the name ihwa-ju (이화주) meaning “peach blossom alcohol” because makgeolli was brewed when the pear blossom trees bloomed. Ihwa-ju isn’t the only alternative name for makgeolli, there is also takju (탁주/opaque wine) and nongju (농주/farmer’s wine).

It’s this last title, “farmer’s wine” that became most strongly associated with makgeolli for most of its history. Makgeolli had been brewed at home and either enjoyed after a long day or used for various Confucian rites and rituals. Because each household and village would brew their own batch of makgeolli, each region has a diverse and unique variation, taste and terroir to their rice wine.

After the Korean War and the rebuilding period, makgeolli went from the most consumed drink to being over shadowed by foreign liquor. Food shortages and rice rationing decreed by government law further stifled the brewing of makgeolli with its traditional ingredients. Lower quality makgeolli was mass produced instead, using wheat and barley. This also turned people off from this once time honored booze, and increasingly built an aura around the beverage being an old fashioned, cheap and un-classy drink. A highly unfair and untrue designation if I may be frank!

But luckily, makgeolli has been seeing a big comeback, both domestically and abroad. Makgeolli is enjoyed not just due to its unique flavor and lower alcohol content compared to soju, but also its ability to be easily paired with lots of bar food, and of course, it’s cheap cost!

Nuruk for fermented fun!

The special magical ingredient in makgeolli is a fermentation brick called nuruk (누룩). The brick is usually made from rice, barley, wheat, or mung beans. It is moistened, rolled into a large, round brick and hung up to ferment. This goody is then thrown in a big clay onggi (옹기), the same type of jar used to ferment kimchi. The nuruk is joinedin the onggi by steamed rice and then possibly some other herbs, spices, fruits or nuts to ferment for about a week or so. Fresh makgeolli is said to have a milder and creamier taste and consistency.

A cloudy drink for a rainy day

With all the science aside now is the part you’ve been waiting for! How does it taste, how do you drink it and what does it go good with? There are a few different ways to enjoy this ancient and legendary alcohol.

The nobility of a plastic bottle     

The first, is to get it at any convenient store or supermarket. Here you will typically find it in plastic bottles. Now here’s the special part. Because makgeolli’s contents separate, with a yellowish clearer liquid rising to the top and the thicker, rice sediments drifting to the bottom, it is important to shake your makgeolli the hell up! You read that correctly. Shake or jiggle the bottle around until you can see the contents of the bottle take on a more solid and consistent color. Now, be careful opening the bottle as it can explode (another fun trait of makgeolli. Great at parties!). My technique is to use quick twists of the cap, opening and closing it in swift intervals. Be sure to watch the contents inside if they are rushing to the top or not. If you see bubbles and wine rushing to the opening, seal the cap shut and wait a few seconds before giving the cap another quick open and then shut twists. Do this until the cap is off. And hopefully your wine hasn’t exploded! This took me a few years to master myself.

Canned rice wine

Makgeolli can also be found in cans. This incarnation is interesting because it also usually comes in unique flavors. The sweet potato flavor is absurdly good, it is almost like a dessert! The cans are usually sold upside down, and when you turn them right side up to open them, the contents are already pre-shook. So no (possible) explosions!

Wine from a kettle

One of the more traditional ways to enjoy makgeolli is out of a copper kettle. The kettle resembles a tea kettle and is served individually in matching copper bowls. The wide bowls help keep the liquid from separating from the thicker rice sediment.

A clay bowl for rice wine

            The other traditional way is makgeolli served in a massive clay or earthenware bowl. A ladle is used to serve the contents into smaller individual clay or earthenware bowls. This way is particularly fun because it is such a unique way to drink alcohol.

What should I eat with it?

Whichever of these splendid ways you choose, makgeolli is best served chilled. As for food to go with it, pajeon, kimchi-jeon (김치전) or haemul-jeon (해물전/seafood “pancake/pizza”) are the most common choices, consumed together on rainy days. The reason being that the sound of the pajeon frying resembles the sound of the rain on the rooftops.

Innovation on the ancient

Makgeolli is also a popular base for cocktails and more modern variations that include ice or fruits. A makgeolli place in our home city of Ulsan (울산), for example, has a menu that includes magkeolli mixed with milk, yogurt and ice and blended into a smoothie. Some of the flavors they offer include banana, green tea and even Oreo flavored! In regards to natural flavoring, as each region had its own distinct makgeolli recipe and flavors, as one travels throughout Korea, different cities will have some unique styles. For example, while hiking some mountains near Gwangju (광주) in South Jeolla Province (절라남도) we encountered a blazing golden colored bottle of turmeric infused makgeolli. And yes, it did taste like curry. And it was superb!

That night as we fried up the pajeon, and opened a tangy bottle of Taehwa (태화) brand, Ulsan’s native makgeolli. The gloomy weather went from a real drag to a real source of revelry. Any reason to be able to sit inside, all warm and cozy, with family and loved ones. Enjoying a delectable, unique and amiable drink with delicious food. What else could anyone ask for?

Korean Greetings: To Bow or Not to Bow?

Korea has a long history of Confucian and Neo-Confucian thought that permeates society and day-to-day culture even into the modern era. Concepts such as humility, respect for elders and deferring to seniors within a hierarchy are everyday concepts and can be found even in ways to say hello and goodbye. So, for those who speak no Korean, there are proper social rituals that can be observed and mastered as well!

The very formal bow

Many countries in Asia practice bowing. And each country has a different set of rules and customs for their bowing practices. Bowing is meant to demonstrate humility as a sign of greeting. Bowing is also perfect for germaphobes, as there is no touching required like when shaking hands or hugging.

The levels of bowing say a lot. For example, people may perform a full prostrating bow. This type of bowing, which includes prostrating all the way to the ground to touch the forehead on the floor, is used in very serious and grave situations. CEO’s or other famous people who have broken the law or disgraced themselves may do this as an act of contrition to the public.

In a Buddhist temple, shamanic shrine or jesa ritual table during Chuseok (추석/ Korean Harvest Thanksgiving) and Seollal (설날/ Korean Lunar New Year), people will perform this full body prostration a number of times in an act of devotion.

This full body prostration is also reserved for greeting very highly respected or elderly people, like grandparents. Men may also do this to the parents of their potential bride to ask for her hand in marriage. Whenever my wife and I visit her grandparents we almost always greet them both with this full body prostration bow.

Medium formality or standard bow

This is the more standard bow that most people are familiar with. Where one or both people tilt slightly from the waist, with their hands at their sides. The depth of the bow, the length of time one holds the bow and which person bows first are all determined by rank, title, age and status. For example, if I were to meet president Moon Jae-In, I should bow first to him, very deeply and hold the bow for a few seconds. Meanwhile, he does not have to bow at all to me if he chooses not to. The younger or lower ranked person should bow first. Students may bow to their teacher by placing both hands on the their stomachs, right over left or left over right depending on their gender, and bow from the waist. If the teacher is particularly scary they may bow deeper and longer! But this depends. Customarily one should not look up or tilt their face when bowing. Today many men, especially in professional settings may shake hands. This too includes grabbing the other person’s forearm or shoulder or other hand with their free hand.

Informal bows and quick greetings

This does not mean if you come to Korea you must give a formal, deep bow from the waist to everyone you meet. Once again, age, status and rank all matter and so does the social situation. Entering Lotteria to grab a Bulgogi Burger probably won’t require you to bow deeply from the waist and hold for a few seconds to the employees. They may even become very uncomfortable if you do! But to give a nice but less formal greeting, one can simply tilt or nod their head forward slightly. This is very common, especially among friends. In less formal settings the head nod is a polite way to greet or acknowledge someone. These bows can also be used to say “goodbye” too.

Hugs, kisses and handshakes

In Korea there are many taboos about touching and being too physical in public. Especially with members of the opposite sex or people you do not know very well! Try not to initiate hugs, kisses or handshakes with people who you do not know well, and especially if they are the opposite gender. This may make them very uncomfortable and feel too forward for them. Of course there are exceptions, but when in doubt, follow the common customs, and if someone tries to greet you by hugging, let them! Unless you don’t want them to hug you, then, perhaps run! Some observers may notice among young Koreans, two young men or two young women may walk down the street holding hands. Though Korean society is becoming more tolerant of same-sex couples, it is common for heterosexual people of the same gender to hold hands. This is probably because they are very close and trusted friends, and for many Koreans they may feel more comfortable doing things like holding hands or spending time together with people of their own gender. Of course couples who are dating or married may hold hands in public, too!

Bonus greetings, Anneyangahseyo, Anyang, Yeoboseyo!

I would like to include these ones because as some readers may know, anneyanghaseyo (안녕하세요) is Korean for “Hello”. But what about these other ones?

When my parents visited here from the United States they were so excited to finally use the new Korean phrase they learned, “yeoboseyo/여보세요”. They had looked up on Google translate how to say “Hello” in Korean so they could greet my wife’s parents. A very noble and sweet intention, and they were heart broken when we told them “yeoboseyo” is only for saying “hello” on the phone!

Luckily, they eventually got the hang of “anneyanghaseyo”. But what about “anyang/안녕”? This is the shortened form of anneyanghaseyo, and is also informal. While anyang might be much easier and quicker to say, it is not polite to say it to older or higher ranked people or strangers necessarily. A teacher can say “anyang” to their students, but the students should not say this to their teachers. When in doubt with a new language, use the formal form, in which case anneyanghaseyo is perfect!

In sum, the most standard, but polite way to greet people in Korea, is a slight bow or tilt of the head and “anneyanghaseyo”. So give these a try, and if it is not perfect everytime that is more than okay! Many Korean people appreciate the effort to try and may even give you some tips as well.

Korean Dining Customs: More Than Just Good Chopstick Skills

My parents had finally come to visit my Korean fiancée and I for a week for our wedding. After a day of walking through Ulsan’s Daewangam Grand park (대왕암공원) and taking in the lovely sights off the sea and pine trees we walked down towards Ilsan beach to enjoy dinner.

We decided on a marinated pork barbecue restaurant and after entering and promptly ordering the meat and drinks, the servers then began setting up the table with dish after dish of different assorted pickled and fermented as well as fresh fruits and veggies. “Who ordered this?” asked my mom, “are these appetizers?”, “Yeah, in a way” I replied.

My parents had never been to a Korean restaurant, even in the United States, and this was a truly unique experience for them. It also begins to tell the story of Korean dining customs and etiquette. It doesn’t matter if you are in Hongdae in Seoul or Nutley, New Jersey, here are a few things one can expect ( and what may be expected of them) when it comes to Korean dining!

What are banchan?

To start, my parents were surprised by the servers bringing us all these little dishes of veggies and other goodies. They thought these were appetizers, like ones that must be ordered (and are billed) separately from the standard entrée one orders. They were actually banchan (반찬). Banchan deserves its own article, but to keep it simple for now, these are the extra side dishes that include sauces, sometimes dried fish, sometimes soy bean paste, lots of veggies (and fruits like peppers) both fresh and fermented, and usually, the king of banchan, kimchi.

Banchan has a long tradition believed to go back to Korea’s Three Kingdom’s period. They are eaten with just about every meal. As to their role as appetizers, yes. They are. But they are also relish, sauces, accoutrements and digestion aids, as much as they are appetizers, too. As to ordering them separately, there is no need to! The server or your host, if you are dining at a Korean person’s house, will provide these to accompany the meal, free of charge! Even for refills, in Korea there is no charge to refill banchan, though, you may have to ask your server for a refill or get it yourself, depending on the restaurant.

Some banchan include soups and stews, both hot and cold. These are usually enjoyed during the meal in lieu of water. While eating, other beverages are enjoyed, but drinking water with a meal is conveying to the chef that the food is not tasty. Water is usually consumed after a meal.

No need to pass plates!

The next fun thing my parents did (this is not at their expense, but just really great anecdotes to illustrate how different American and Korean dining customs are!) was begin to pass the banchan around. I had to explain to my fiancée and again to my mother-in-law at another barbecue restaurant (that seems to be a theme, here) that in many American households, the different plates of side dishes are passed around, during the Thanksgiving meal. Luckily, my mother-in-law found this very charming and decided to play along, passing kimchi and the greens around as well! Typically, the long, steel chopsticks of Korean dining are used instead to just reach for the banchan or dish you want.

Grill power

korean barbecue meat customs traditions

Now for the next anecdote about my parents at barbecue, in the same restaurant nonetheless! As the server handed me the pair of steel tongs and large scissors to cook the cuts of beef that I promptly threw on the grill, I felt my mother-in-law’s eyes fixate on me. Watching for any slight mistake. Naturally, I choked, the meat began to char and burn. And, she commandeered the cooking utensils from me and began grilling the meat herself. And doing a much better job, honestly. My mother, sitting next to me whispered, “Why are you making Mrs. Park cook?! You should be doing that!” and I didn’t argue because, well, she was right. For Korean barbecue, the proper etiquette is for the youngest male to grill and cut the meat up. As Korean barbecue often entails drinking lots of beer (맥주) and Korean rice wine, soju (소주) this leads to the next part of Korean table manners, drinking.

Pour me a drink, junior!

Just like other social interactions, there are rules for drinking too, and because Koreans usually enjoy drinks with some food (안주/bar snacks, drinking food), it has a place being discussed in this article. Korea’s culture is deeply intertwined with Confucian social values and roles. Thus, age and station hierarchy are strictly observed. Korean drinking culture is another topic that deserves its own article, but to keep this one brief as well, the younger or lower ranked people at the table should keep the older, or their superior’s glass or cup full. They should pour with both hands and should turn away when drinking. They should also drink when their elder/superior drinks, too! Observing and being receptive to the actions of elders and superiors at the table is a nice segue to the next custom!

One famous alcoholic beverage is Soju (which is a distilled beverage made from potatoes).

soju korean food traditions

Wait to begin eating

When eating in Korea, it is customary to wait to even touch any silverware until the eldest person or highest ranked person begins eating. Luckily for my dad, he happened to be the oldest person at the table, and so he had the honors to set the pace of our family dinners both times our families met. A privilege I am certain he relished!

Tableware par excellence

Now to address the title of this article, that Korean table manners are more than just good chopstick skills. So, to wrap up this introduction to Korean dining culture, it will be with an overview of the silverware. And I do mean silver, or rather steel ware. Korean tableware differs from other Asian countries because instead of wood or bamboo chopsticks, Koreans use steel chopsticks. These chopsticks are flatter and often times engraved with symbols of longevity and luck like cranes and ginseng roots. Alongside the chopsticks the tableware will include a large, wide, steel spoon. The origin of the steel chopsticks is said to have 2 major theories. The first is that this practice was started by the aristocracy during Korea’s tumultuous Three Kingdom’s period. The king and nobility feared poisoning and thus used silver chopsticks. The silver was believed to change color if exposed to certain poisonous chemicals. The common people, in hopes of emulating the royalty, made their own shiny steel chopsticks, too. There is also the theory that because Koreans eat their rice with a spoon (another table manner, rice is eaten with a spoon, not chopsticks, unless the rice is being scooped with chopsticks to be added to other dishes!) the need for wooden chopsticks, which are easier to grip rice were not needed. The steel chopsticks are a point of pride for Koreans and perceived as more hygienic and sustainable, as they can be washed and reused multiple times.

Here are just a few, but all important, dining customs and traditions from Korea! As for my parents, their first experience of Korean food was a hit! By the end of their trip, my dad was ordering soju at every restaurant we went, and my mom’s chopstick skills went from asking for a fork, to being able to scoop kimchi with ease using the steel chopsticks, a quick improvement for sure! For Koreans, just like all cultures, food is a very integral part of life. Food isn’t just something to stay full, but it is the basis of existence. In fact, a common greeting similar to “what’s up” or “how are you?” is “have you eaten yet?” or a variation thereof. This isn’t a literal question, it’s one meant to inquire about another person’s very core being, are you okay? How are you doing? Have you had some good food? This is the true meaning of such a phrase. I hope this article was informative and encouraged some curious readers to go out and try some Korean food firsthand!

Sources:

Budae Jjigae; Korean Army Camp Stew

The tenacity and persevering nature of the Korean people have been a hallmark of culture on the peninsula for centuries. One may be surprised to learn that a relatively seemingly modern dish is a testament of this will to endure and to adapt to circumstances, no matter how tough they may be.

The History

During the Korean War, food was incredibly scarce. After the war came to an armistice agreement in 1953, the civilians residing in what was then to be called “South Korea”, were forced to look for food wherever they could, as much of the population was starving or at risk of starving constantly. In the Uijeongbu (의정부) area, local people began to gather around the American army base present there. It was the surplus food from this base, with the processed meats like hot dogs, ham, and SPAM, as well as the canned baked beans, issued as rations to the soldiers, that local people began using to supplement their diets. Sometimes frying them along with other veggies and enjoyed with drinks like makgeolli (막걸리/thick rice wine). Over time anchovy sauce, gochujang (고추장/thick red spicy pepper sauce) and kimchi (김치/spicy fermented cabbage) were added to the dish. This is when the meal began to take on its more recognizable appearance. It also completed the name! Budae (부대) means “army base”, named for the American army base where a bulk of the ingredients came from, and Jjigae (찌개) which means “stew”. Supposedly the name was even called, “Jonseun-tang/존슨탕” named after President Lyndon B. Johnson who is reported to have tried the stew and loved it during an official visit to Korea. There was even a black market for a time, selling some of the army surplus ingredients, as they were outlawed for civilian consumption during this period. Luckily today, budaejjigae is more than legal! There is even a budaejjigae street in Uijeongbu that specializes in the army stew.

Ingredients

Korean Army Stew

For those interested in making some at home, or just generally curious about what makes this stew so special, here are the following ingredients. Korean food culture is very dynamic, deeply tied to tradition but very willing to adapt and try new things. Hence why this list is just the most classic type of budaejjigae. But I have been to restaurants that serve it with squid, shrimp, with different types of noodles and sometimes with mozzarella cheese thrown in!

Budaejjigae will almost always include most of the following; kimchi, hot dogs, SPAM, tofu, onion, mushrooms, spicy pepper, scallions, anchovy broth, gochujang, red pepper flakes, soy sauce, garlic and instant ramen. You read that correctly! Instant ramen, hot dogs and SPAM. All together in one place and they are delicious! Other ingredients can be swapped in or out to fit an individuals taste or creativity.

Preparation

As for cooking, well I am not a chef! My wife makes sure to remind me that almost every time I cook, so checking out recipes online at sites like maangchi.com and other great sources for Korean food are much wiser. The basic run down is, to chop and dice all the ingredients. Add them all together in a pot and pour in the broth for the stew. Let the stew boil until the pork and some of the other ingredients like the onions are a bit soft. Then add the ramen and stir it in. Some budaejjigae has slices of American cheese placed on the broth when the ramen and other ingredients are finished boiling, or even boiled together with the other ingredients.

Taste!

As for the taste, “amazing” isn’t very objective, and so to try and give an unbiased review, it can be described as certainly a bit spicy, salty, savory and the broth can also occasionally be sweet. This dish is often enjoyed by students, especially college students and young adults (or anyone, its delicious!) who are hanging out and drinking together. It goes great with soju (소주) which is hard Korean rice liquor. Budaejjigae is also a group meal, so finding solo dishes of it are uncommon as far as I know. However, there are instant cup ramen and packaged ramen that are flavored like budaejjigae.

Deceptively simple at first glance, budaejjigae is a testament to Koreans and their tenacity and strong will to survive and persevere. Budaejjigae represents a staunch and noble pursuit of a better life and yearning for happiness, despite the pain and impoverishment caused by a cataclysmic war. For budaejjigae, the army stew, we salute you!