Category Archives: Markets

Budget Yeti: Veggie Shopping in Korea

That old myth about going out in Korea being cheaper than cooking at home keeps cropping up and it always bothers me. Granted, many food items here are expensive, and costs keep going up. But it’s still cheaper almost every time to cook at home.

In Seoul, it pays to shop seasonally here. Unlike North America (and probably other places) there is a seasonal shift to produce prices here. Apples are super cheap in September, for instance, and now is Hallabong season. I think this is a good thing, environmentally of course but also habitually. Now some of these seasonal surpluses are strange to my eyes (why oh why is strawberry season in January?) but overall it’s a good system.

The area I live is kind of adjumma central–there aren’t really any bars or even noraebongs. In their place are lots of little markets though, and many good places to stock up on fruit and veg.

And stock up I do. The below list was all purchased at a biggish mart, which isn’t the very cheapest place around but it has good selection. Here’s a look at a week’s worth of veggies for two people. The total price is a little high because it’s a big bag of garlic but even still you can see how cheap it is.

Now this isn’t a complete meal, of course. You’d probably want to get a carb like rice (around $5 for a kilogram, or maybe $7 for 800 grams of brown rice) or udong (about 50 cents a package) or pasta (about 2.50 for 450 grams) or if you venture into Itaewon you can even get something exotic like basmati rice or couscous, though those start to get more expensive.

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A Typical Vegtastic Meal

The shiitake give you a little less protein than your standard mushroom, but not to worry. A big block of fresh tofu is about 2 dollars or the smaller, packaged ones are usually around 1 dollar.

Add it all together and a big, healthy meal with local produce is only a couple of dollars. There’s just not any restaurant that can compete with that. The cheapest comparable is a bowl of kalgooksu, which at a cheap place is around 4 dollars for a big bowl. For less than 4 dollars, this equals 4 bowls so it’s quite a bit cheaper.

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By contrast, this meal from Osegye Hyang, which had mandu, soup, and a gluten/rice dish (plus banchan) costs about 22 bucks.

Now I understand most people want a little more variety in their lives than daily iterations of the same meal. And not everyone is willing to make the effort to cook every night, even when they’re tired. Those are different reasons, though, from the tired old falsism that it’s much cheaper to eat out than cook at home. (And not very good reasons, either, in my opinion, although that’s neither here nor there.)

Yes, things are considerably more expensive now than they were 5 years ago but it’s still possible to cook for yourself and still not break the bank. That’s all for this installment of my rant. Thanks for listening!

Random discoveries at a Korean Grocery store

There is a small Home plus close to my new place. Home plus is partly owned by British super giant Tesco, which means you can find some Western things that the other big Korean markets (Emart, Lotte) do not have.

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This neighborhood, however, is rather Korean, especially as I was just in HBC (the most western part of Korea) for the last 2 months. So you can find things like Sweet Pumpkin/Yam tea.

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A cider that I have not seen anywhere else but might be fun to try in the summer time.
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And my favorite. Korean “Black Beer Stout” which is decidedly average. But this particular promotion comes with a a free toothbrush and mini-toothpaste. Perhaps to erase the bland taste as quickly as possible?
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Yeti Daytrips: The Farm Cooking Class

A cooking class has long been on the list. I would have taken one in India, for sure, but it was off-season in Rajastan and few if any were actually open. So Chiang Mai represented the last chance, and lucky it was too for there a great many cooking schools.

The most famous is The Farm. Normally I shop around a bit, but the promise of visiting an organic farm 17 k out of the city was too enticing. Also they promised it was easy to cook vegan, even substituting mushroom sauce for fish sauce. Even though it was quite expensive–1100 baht (34 USD) we learned too late that you can save 100 baht by booking with a tour agent rather than directly with the place itself (which is the complete opposite of how it usually works.)

Was it worth it? Yes and no. To begin with, we went to a market much worse than the one we visit daily. It was filled with people from other cooking schools and had few Thais in it. This was more on us though; if you were in town for only a couple days, it would be really nice. It’s not their fault we go to the market every day.

So much veg

So much veg

Because of the high cost, your classmates fall more in the “tourist” class than the “traveler.” (Stupid designations, to be sure, but sometimes useful.) It was hard to talk with the other people in our class because they were rich westerners in thailand for only a week or two–our sets of shared assumptions and experiences were quite different.

Wandering the farm

Wandering the farm

And the tour of the farm, while very nice, is quite underwhelming. You get to stroll a small patch of the grounds and see all the foods growing in nature. But it’s a very small area, right next to the cooking rooms, and full of other groups that day.

Also, there are teams of assistants who wash your dishes and bring you the prearranged food. This might be a bonus for some, but it made it feel kind of simulated to me.

The legendary Embee

The legendary Embee

One of the biggest pluses was our cooking instructor. Embee was instructive, charming, helpful, and hilarious. She had us cracking up all day, and was just a very positive person.

All kitted up

All kitted up

We got to put on aprons, and as you saw wore Thai farmer hats for our 10 minutes of wandering the farm. You know you’re really cooking when you’re wearing an apron.

Steaming Sticky Rice

Steaming Sticky Rice

We cooked jasmine and sticky rice. The jasmine was just rice-cookered, but we steamed the sticky rice in a basket I’d seen in Asian grocery stores but never quite understood the use. Embee explained to us why the Thais eat white rice even though they know brown rice is healthier. (It has to do with texture.) I also got to say sticky rice in Thai, which is fun and sounds quite a bit like a meow.

Coconut and Tom Yum Soup

Coconut and Tom Yum Soup

The first dish was soup. You got to choose between Tom Yum, Coconut Milk, and Thai Vegetable, with meat or tofu options. I went with Coconut Milk (mainly because I erroneously thought we’d make our own.) It was quite easy, and involved nothing more than heating up coconut milk with added galangal, lemongrass, tomatoes, and kaffir lime leaves.

Next came the curry round. I had a hard time choosing, as I like green, yellow, and red all the same. (And Panang and Massamun much better, though sadly they were not options.) In the end, I chose green, kind of at random. If I were to go again, I would go with yellow–you get potatoes and use turmeric and indian curry powder.

Still, it was not a sad thing to make greeen, as I got to pick some leaves and also added a huge green chili to my paste. It was fun to use the huge mortar and pestle and gave me an appreciation for how much work it is to cook traditionally.

Making the Green Paste

Making the Green Paste

When she asked us how hot we wanted it, I answered pretty confidently Thai spicy. Thai spicy isn’t usually too bad, although some places do try to punish you. Most other people were Canadian, who in my experience shy away from spicy more than maybe any other country. She was pleased and gave me a whole heap of peppers.

This was how many chilis I put in my curry.

This was how many chilis I put in my curry.

I tried to leave 3 or 4 behind but she found me and helped me to crush them into the paste. At this point, I was genuinely worried that I wouldn’t be able to try it. Embee kept looking at me and laughing, and said she wanted to try it when it was done.

Red and Green Curry Paste

Red and Green Curry Paste

Mine doesn’t look so great, but Rach’s red looks professional, I reckon. We let our pastes sit for a while and moved on to the next round. Here we had the choice of Sweet and Sour, Cashew Nuts, or Holy Basil. It doesn’t take a genius to realize how delicious cashew nuts are, and that’s what I went with. The pineapple in the sweet and sour looked pretty cool though, and holy basil is truly delicious.

This bit was pretty much what I do for lunch and dinner every day, and in the end I like my home version of it much better. If you hadn’t cooked for a while, or didn’t have much experience with stirfry, it would be quite fun.

Finished curry and cashew stirfry

Finished curry and cashew stirfry

And then we ate our curries and stirfrys (the soups having been slurped down an hour before.) My curry was spicy, man, let me tell you. I asked Embee if she wanted a bite. She took some and winced. “This is spicier than Thai style,” she said. “I am from Issan, and this is spicier than Issan food too. It is good.”

In Portland, a friend and I tried a spicy challenge at Fire On the Mountain. This wasn’t nearly as hot as that, but otherwise was one of the spiciest things I’ve eaten. I really enjoyed it though, as the taste of fresh green pepper is one of my favorites.

We were really quite full after soup, stirfry, and curry, but there were two rounds to go!

For the dessert round, we got to choose between mango and sticky rice, bananas in coconut milk, and pumpkin in coconut milk. All good choices, to be sure.

I knew that mango and sticky rice was pretty much cut up mango on sticky rice, and so picked bananas over pumpkin for my desert. I’ve ordered this a few times and wondered at how it was made, because there were subtle flavors of the non-banana, non-coconut variety.

Bananas in Coconut Milk

Bananas in Coconut Milk

It turns out that you add pandan leaves, a green vanilla-esque leaf that you see everywhere. That and a scoop of cane sugar. Simmer those in coconut milk until the banana is soft and you’ve got a pretty amazing desert. I’m not sure, but you could perhaps add some agar agar and make this into a pie filling too.

The last course was take-out, as even the mightiest of appetites was satiated at this point. We were presented with another good trio of choices: Pad kee mao, Pad Thai, or steamed spring rolls. If I hadn’t been in Thailand for 6 weeks, it would have been harder, but seeing as how I cook lots of big rice noodles it was easy to choose spring rolls.

Spring roll ingredients

Spring roll ingredients

We were presented with the ingredients, which we stir fried with some mushroom sauce and soy sauce and sesame oil and then wrapped in gloopy rice noodle shells. From there, we steamed them, in a setup rather like the sticky rice.

Finished Spring Rolls, of assorted quality

Finished Spring Rolls, of assorted quality

Embee made the first and none of us quite nailed it like she did, but it was fun and the rolls came with a dipping sauce and instructions in Thai ziplock.

They drove us home after a full day of cooking. While expensive and not quite living up to their promises, my advice is that the Farm is well worth it. That, and maybe don’t go with Thai spicy.

Yeti Shops: Central Market, Phnom Penh

I’ve never met a market I didn’t like. Even when there’s absolutely nothing I’m remotely interested in buying (which is quite often the case), markets are an amazing window into how shit gets done in a particular city; in Jodhpur, men are the principle salespeople, advertising their spices, tea, and in rhythmic, unceasingly calls. In Mandalay, locals – ignoring foreigners, for the most part – cluster on plastic stools around plastic covered tables, waiting for bowls of steaming noodles and plates of fresh, spicy tomato salad. Mmmm, tomato salad…

What was I saying? Oh yeah: markets.  Like I said, they’re all good, but Phnom Penh’s Central Market wins the (highly coveted, you understand) award for Rachel’s Favorite Market in Asia (caps and underlining to indicate extreme importance).

Central Market has the perfect mix of strictly-for-tourists stuff (like elephant purses, bamboo balls, and silk everything) and mostly-for-locals stuff (produce, still-wriggling fish, and elaborate flower arrangements). The crowd, too, is mixed; fanny-pack sporting, wide-eyed tourists mingle with bustling, haggling locals.

The market is an easy 20 minute walk from the river and backpackers’ district, which centers around 172nd street. It’s covered – especially important during the frequent deluges of monsoon season – and houses enough food, clothes, souvenirs, and flowers to keep most people (well, me) happy for a couple of hours.

Clothes, bags, and a lovely monsoon-proof roof

Clothes, bags, and a lovely monsoon-proof roof

Directions: Head away from the river on Street 172. Turn right onto Preah Norodom Avenue, then take the third left onto Street 136. Hopefully, you’ll see a rather odd yellow dome looming in front of you — tada! Central Market!

Central Market

Central Market

Produce galore!

Produce galore!

Nap time!

Nap time!

Photo of the Week – Kid playing Sax, Dude playing Leaf

This was taken at a Rotorua christmas market.  The kid was really good, and deserved every dollar he earned that day.

But I’ll never forget the guy who, upon seeing the sax-playing kid, picked a leaf off the tree and joined him.

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What can 8 bucks buy you in South Korea?

The answer is … a lot of things.  8000 won (roughly 8 bucks) can buy you 8 bottles of soju, a cocktail at a club in gangnam, or a used novel  at What the Book?

It took me a while to learn, but fruits and veggies are cheaper the further you get from the supermarkets.  Buying from the back of a truck, or an adjumma on the side of the street is the way to go.  Recently I bought 12 kiwis and 10 bell peppers (capsicums to the Kiwis) for 2 dollars each.

But this haul is one of my best ever.  5 onions, two ginormous peppers, a head  of lettuce, 4 kiwis, a mondo bag of garlic, and 2 carrots all for under 8 bucks. Perhaps it’s not Central America/SE Asia cheap, but for a huge city, it’s rather pleasing.

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When Kimchi Just Isn’t Enough: The Yeti’s Guide to the Western Markets in Seoul

Seoul has always had a fair few things to offer expats: bars that stay open until you leave, liberal liquor laws, hiking, noraebangs on every corner, 24hr coffee shops, streetfood, and $5 t-shirts. However, Seoul has (up until recently) been relatively lacking in good western groceries and booze.

Since Ahi and I first came to Seoul (early 2009- jeepers!) the number of foreign markets in Seoul has more than quadrupled (perhaps less impressive when you take into account the initial number- one.) and microbrews are increasingly available (though, for now, remain stubbornly expensive).

We expats no longer have to rely on care packages to get our twizzler/vege-meat/fresh bread/hummus/oatmeal/deli meat/fancy cheese/pesto/cadbury black forest chocolate/reese’s pieces/IPA fix.

As our time here grows, so does our desire for, well, non-Korean stuff. Here are a few places we like to get it:

Foreign Food Mart

Foreign Food Mart

In a nutshell: The original. ‘Nuff said.

Deodorant galore!

Sweet finds: The cheapest chickpeas in town ($3.50/kg), a wall full of deodorant, cadbury chocolate, vegan ramen, fresh naan, cumin…

Getting there: Itaewon Stn, Exit 3. Walk straight for a bit. Turn right at the first real road. Wander up the hill. FFM is a little way up, across the road on your left.

National Food Mart

National Food Mart

In a nutshell: A shiny new version of the Foreign Food Mart, with slightly cheaper tempeh.

Ahi browsing the ramen aisle.

Sweet finds: Quakers oats, $1.50 tempeh, frozen vegetables, rooibos tea, vege samosas, weird soy curl things…

Getting there: Go to the FFM. Look across the street. Tada! 

High Street Deli

High Street Deli

In a nutshell: The most western atmosphere, the highest prices.

Forking out almost $40 for a six pack is a scary thought for us, but an inevitable reality…

Sweet finds: Reese’s pieces, peanut butter pretzels, fresh ciabatta, hummus, a decent (or so I’ve heard) selection of deli cheese* and meat, weetbix, corn tortillas, 6 packs of microbrew, organic hibiscus ginger ale…

Getting there: Itaewon Stn, Exit 2. Walk straight for about 500m. HSD is above the first 7-11 on your left. 

Pinoy Mart

Pinoy Mart

In a nutshell: Teeny shop, a few rare, rad items, a super friendly owner.

Aga-ve! Aga-ve!

Sweet finds: Wholemeal sliced bread, soy lunch meat, twizzler, diet mountain dew, agave, root beer…

Getting there: Noksapyeong Stn, Exit 2. Walk for about 300m, until the road forks. Veer left at the kimchi pots. Meander past a bunch of (for want of a better word) funky bars and cafes for a few minutes. PM is across the road, on your right.

*Word on the street is that High St Deli also carries vegan cheese and almond milk. F yeah.  Click through the below slide show to see all the goodies available.

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