Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Seaweed and Soy: Korean Thanksgiving

This weekend is Chuseok (Harvest Fest), which is Korea's very own Thanksgiving. It's a huge celebration, much much bigger than Christmas. Most Koreans return to their hometowns and visit their ancestor's graves and have a feast with their extended family. The difference is, instead of turkey and mashed potatoes they eat kimchi (pickled cabbage) and uh, rice cakes. Those rice cakes always fool me. They look so good: little colorful pastries, resembling macaroons. The pleasure is only visual, though. Once you take a bite, the glutinous rice texture and bean filling kills all hopes of a normal cake. I really don't like them at all, and I don't think most foreigners do. Today we each got a huge box full of rice cakes from the parents. I cringed at the thought of having to waste them, so instead I brought them to my afternoon class and offered them to the kids as a snack. They love rice cakes so much, it's a real treat for them. They started shrieking in delight when they saw the box. I think that's their version of cupcakes or something.

Chuseok is also an occasion to exchange presents, mostly food-related. I was secretly hoping to get more Dior makeup from the kid's moms, but instead I got a HUGE box of soy drinks of all kinds: tomato, strawberry, honey, ginger, chocolate... modified soy products, that is. I also got a huge package of dried seaweed. When I saw the package arriving, wrapped in clear plastic, I thought it was a blanket. No kidding. Turns out it's just a big pile of seaweed, which is usually boiled in water to make soup broths. Hmmm, might try to use it somehow, although I'm not feeling too creative with that one. This was a "only in Korea" moment.

The good thing is, we get 5 days of vacation from school. Too bad we can't sample a traditional family meal, but I'm sure we'll make our own version of Thanksgiving somehow. Most people travel outside of Seoul, so it's a bad idea to leave the city and get stuck in the worst traffic of the year. Instead, Seoul might be quite empty and quiet, so it's the perfect time to fully enjoy it, at a rare peaceful moment. The weather is still hot, but not humid, which makes it bearable. I'll spend my free time seeing friends, going out for brunch, reading books, and re-arranging the apartment. In fact I discovered an amazing place to have brunch, it deserves its own entry.

Oh, and right now, I'd kill for some "pate chinois", a typical quebecois dish: ground beef, potatoes, and corn. It's that time of the year when certain flavors seem so far away... in fact I'd eat anything that is baked in an oven (we don't have an oven, it's not very common in Korean homes). Weird cravings, I never thought I'd miss that. Or baking brownies (from a Betty Crocker packaged mix, of course).


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Emily said...

wow, the thought of a seaweed blanket kiiiind of makes me cringe, but i guess it's considered a delicacy? and as for brownies, i don't know how i'd survive without them, betty crocker is always consistent!