VIPS

I first discovered the delights of VIPS in my first year here. Being a professional overeater, I am a big fan of the all you can eat buffet. So what better news could I hear then, that there is a chain of all you can eat western buffets with locations all over Korea.

To those not in the know VIPS is a steak and salad bar restaurant. When you arrive you can choose to eat just the salad bar or to buy a steak, rack of ribs or a variety of luxury meat or fish items that then come with access to the buffet.  I usually tend to buy the steak as it only costs an extra 10,000 and you can have it wrapped up and taken home, it is served with a little jacket potato that I love too. If you take your steak home not only do you have a delicious meal ready to eat later, you also have more room for the salad bar.

Calling it a salad bar is actually underestimating it, as it has so much more than that to offer. Starting with the salad they have a station with all the raw ingredients so you make your own with various dressings to top it off. They also have about 8 premade salads. These change every few months depending on their current theme but as a guide they have chicken salad, roast vegetables, potato salad, pasta salad, crab salad etc.

On to fish  they always have fresh smoked salmon which my boyfriend loves which comes with various accompaniments and fresh king prawns (although you do have to peel them yourself). They used to have a make your own taco stand which was great because they always had guacamole but the last time we went they had changed it to make your own hot dogs (this varies from location to location though).  Up at the hot plate they have 2 different thin crust pizzas, fried chicken, corn on the cob and various other roasted vegetables and french fries. You are also given a choice of two different pastas, tomato or carbonara. Lastly they have 3 – 5 main dishes which vary seasonally but I have seen, fried rice, mussels, sweet and sour chicken, and sweet chilli battered prawns.

There is also a Korean stand which has some kind of soup which you can add noodles or various vegetables and things too plus rice and maybe mandu (Korean dumplings). You can get 3 regular soups corn, broccoli and mushroom which come with fresh bread or rolls.

If you have room left by the time you get to dessert they have a make your own ice cream bar, various fresh fruits, and a selection of cakes and cookies.  An assortment of teas, coffees and sodas are also all available within the salad bar. If you want something a little stronger they have a selection of wines and Korean beer on tap which you must pay for separately.

Vips has a website http://www.ivips.co.kr/ click on store to bring up a map and find the location nearest to you. Prices vary – weekday lunch 17,800 weekday dinner 23,400 weekend 24,400.

Veggie Burgers

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I first made these when we went to Muido island for the weekend and I volunteered to make and organise all the food. Then I found out one of my companions was a vegan!! I didnt want my friend to be left out and set about scouring the internet for vegan burger options and in the end just decided to make my own version using the guidelines of others. I had only attempted to make a veggie burgers once before using tofu and the result was sadly less than perfect . It wasn’t so much the taste as the fact they just fell apart. The secret to this recipe is using the potato to bind everything together instead of eggs, which is obviously a no no for vegans.
Ingredients
300g dried chickpeas
1 carrot
1 courgette (Zucchini)
1 onion
5-10 cloves of garlic (depending on how much you like it)
1 Aubergine (or egg plant to Americans)
1 green pepper
2 large oyster mushrooms
6 potatoes boiled
bread crumbs
3 table spoons of cumin
2 table spoons of ground coriander (cilantro)
1 tea spoon of paprika
1 tea spoon of garam masala
1 tea spoon of celery salt
1 tea spoon of black pepper.
Directions
Soak your chickpeas (if using the dry ones) over night then cook them for 1 1/2 – 2 hours in the rice cooker. I have found that cooking the chick peas in the rice cooker saves a lot of time and worry as you dont need to keep topping up the water. Meanwhile grate your carrot and courgette and chop the onion, garlic, aubergine, mushrooms and peppers as finely as possible then mix togther in a bowl with the herbs and spices and a splash of oil. I then roasted this mixture in the oven for around 20 – 30 minutes in the oven until the vegetables are golden brown and soft but you could just as easily do this in a frying pan if you’re sans oven. You can use any kind of herbs and spices you like in this recipe, I went for cumin and coriander because I have a big tub of each but anything would work really. If you like your food hot you can add chili pepper or fresh chilis. Its really just about giving some flavor to the chick peas which are rather bland on their own. (You can also vary the vegetables, sweetcorn, sweet potato, mixed peppers or tomatoes would all work too) When your chick peas are cooked (they should break apart easily with tthe back of a fork) you need to mash them in a bowl, if you have a blender or food processor then that will save you a lot of time if not use a bit of elbow grease. Once the vegetables are cooked mix them in a bowl with the boiled potatoes (you should mash them first) then add to the chick pea and stir together. Pick up the mixture with your hands and form into to burger shapes, if the mixture if too dry you could add some oil or egg or even a little bit of peanut butter ( it really adds a nice flavor) if its too wet stir in some bread crumbs. When the burgers are shaped roll them in bread crumbs and cook either in the oven or frying pan with a little oil. If you made far too many like I did cover them individually in cling film and put them in the freezer so they’re available whenever you need a quick dinner or if a vegetarian friend unexpectedly pops round. Since I made so many I have been taking them to work to eat with salad for a delicious and healthy lunch, although in a bun and covered with cheese is also an excellent way to go.

Pho Roi

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Last night I found myself in Sinchon feeling rather hungry. Not fancying Korean I decided to do a quick search online and see what my options were – Thai, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, etc. all came up. I wasn’t really sure what I was in the mood for so we decided to just walk around and go wherever we found first. Then like a shining yellow beacon we found Pho Roi. We are going to Vietnam in a month so I thought it was about high time I had my first Pho experience.

We had a look through the menu and eventually decided on a steak Pho 13,000KRW (Vietnamese rice noodles in a broth) and a plate of mixed starters for 13,000KRW (spring rolls, wedding shomai, cha goo and garlic chicken drumsticks.) The pho came first it was in an enormous bowl just  how I like it. I would definitely recommend sharing one of these as we did; it could serve up to 4 people if you had other food too. The pho was a little bland at first but once we had added the various accompaniments chillies, bean sprouts and hoi sin sauce it got pretty damn good. I could write a paragraph on the hoi sin sauce alone it was so good I wanted to take the bottle home with me (sadly my boyfriend frowned on this behaviour and I left without the sauce, although next time I will be sure not to make the same mistake again. I’m sure I would be a lot happier today if I knew that bottle was in my cupboard).

The starter plate was also rather good. It reminded me of the ones you can get in the Chinese back home. The spring rolls had a nice fresh taste as they weren’t deep fried, the wedding shomai and cha goo were deep fried which is always a winner for me and the chicken wings were a great bonus. This plate also came with a soy dip and a nice little peanut one, although there was not nearly enough of it, thank god for the hoi sin sauce.

All in all I left the restaurant feeling full and happy, it wasn’t the most flavourful food I have ever eaten ( some fresh cilantro certainly would have enhanced some of the dishes) but it made a nice change from Indian or Korean Chinese food which we can all agree leaves a lot to be desired.  Pho Roi has 8 different locations around Seoul which you can check out on their website along with the menu. www.phoroi.com

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Couscous

In the summer months couscous is always a staple in my house and I always miss it when I’m in Korea. Thankfully they stock it in the foreign food mart 5,000 for a 500g box. Couscous is very easy to make and all your friends will be very impressed that you have managed to procure it. Its also been widely enjoyed by all the Koreans I know too. The secret of couscous is making it flavourful I do this by adding a stock cube to the boiling water.
Ingredients 
200g of couscous
200ml of boiling water
1 chicken or vegetable stock cube
1 – 2 table spoons of mixed herbs
Directions
If you do not have any scales then just use a cup or any container and fill it with the couscous then add the same amount of boiling water/ stock. Leave it for 5 minutes to absorb the water then fluff it up ( or break it up to you and me ) with a fork. Then stir in the pepper and the herbs. At this point you can jazz up your couscous by adding some vegetables. If you have a toaster oven within you posession chop up vegetables into small pieces. I would recommend, onion, garlic, peppers, corgette, mushrooms, tomatoes and eggplant then roast them with a splash of olive oil until golden brown then add to the cooked couscous.
If you are without a toaster oven then you are clealy not a dedicated eater (they cost 20,000) then you can use salad onions, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and mixed peppers, chop into small pices and mix into the couscous. If you have any fresh herbs available you could add them along with a bit of lemon juice for good meassure.

Herbs

It can be very difficult to find fresh herbs in Korea so this guide should hopefully help you find what your looking for.

Rosemary – Rosemary is very easy to find in Korea in dried and fresh forms in all of the big supermarkets such as Homeplus, Emart, Lotte etc. You can also find the fresh plants in flower and plant shops and is possible the most available herb in Korea.

Basil – Dried Basil like Rosemary is easy to come by in supermarkets but the fresh variety requires a little more work. I have seen the fresh plants once or twice in Homeplus although they are usually only available for a short time and you can never find one when you want one.  If you live near a large flower or plant store it is worth enquiring to see if you can find one. I found mine on a truck in Kyungnidan near  Napsopyeong station, he has small (3000) and large plants (12,000) for those who really love fresh basil.

Mint – Fresh mint is quite easy to find, I’ve seen the plants at Homeplus and Daiso and various plant markets. Dried mint can be found at the foreign food mart in Itaewon, but why have dried when you can have fresh.

Cilantro/ Coriander – Finding fresh coriander has been my biggest challenge in Korea, I’ve searched high and low with little success. The coriander seeds and powder form can be found in the foreign food mart and occasionally in Emart . In the end I decided to give up the search and grow my own. My seeds had sprouted and I could see those glorious little leaves when out one night in Kyungnidan I came across the herb truck. The herb truck had fresh coriander plants for 3000 it made my day.

Sage – When I first came to Korea I was very eager to find dried sage for the Christmas stuffing however none could be found in time and I had to do without.  The next Christmas I came prepared but whenever I looked for sage I could still never find it. My mother sent me some seeds from home which have actually grown into a very hearty plant. However there is good news for all you sage lovers out there, the foreign food mart in Itaewon is finally stocking sage in dried and powdered form. They do a very large container which I bought for about 9000 which should last the whole year.

Thyme – Dried thyme is available in the foreign food mart and the fresh plants are on sale on the herb truck, the next time I go there I will get the guys number so you can contact him if he is unavailable. I also purchased a grow your own thyme from Daiso this week which I have high hopes for.

Dill – I’m not a fan myself but one of my co-workers was desperate for some. We scoured the shelves at the foreign food mart but we could only find the seeds and ground versions. There was none of the dried green stuff that she wanted. Although later that week in I found a grown your own dill pack in Daiso

The best option for herb lovers is to grow your own. Daiso has a large range of packs that come with a pot the soil and the seeds for a bargain price of 2000-3000. The range often changes but so far I have seen, Basil, Thyme, Mint, Dill and Rosemary. They also sell soil and pots cheaply if you get seeds sent from home like I did.

BBQ Chicken

In the summer months theres nothing more I love to eat than a good old BBQ.  The more food the better.  Sadly when in Korea sometimes people forget about all the lovely things we eat at home and just end up cooking meats Korean style.

In any supermarket in Korea you can find chickens that have already been cut up into small pieces for 5000 – 7000 won.  If you buy these already cooked from the fried chicken shops they will cost you 14,000 +. However it’s very easy to make simple and cheap marinades yourself that are far tastier than the Korean versions. You can cook these pieces in your toaster oven at home or on the BBQ (although a good tip is to cook the marinated chicken in the oven or microwave first to speed up BBQ cooking time and to make sure no one gets sick.)  My current favourite is a Chinese style BBQ sauce.

Ingredients

100g of brown sugar
1 table spoon of Worcestershire Sauce
2 table spoons of garlic powder
2 table spoons of Chinese 5 spice
6 table spoons of soy sauce
2 table spoons tomato ketchup .
3 table spoons of sesame seed oil or peanut butter.

Directions

Mix all of these ingredients together  in a bowl and blend until they form a paste. Then put in the chicken pieces and leave for 30 minutes to marinate. If you want your chicken particularly flavourful then marinate overnight. If I’m taking the chicken to a BBQ I prefer to put the chicken in a zip lock bag rather than worry about a container that I need to bring home after wards.

Another easy option for a marinade is to use the red or green Thai curry paste which you can buy at the foreign food mart. Just mix 2 or 4 table spoons of the paste with a couple of spoonful’s of soy sauce and sesame seed oil and coat the chicken.

For a Mexican flavour mix some fajita seasoning currently found in Homeplus or Burrito seasoning found in the foreign food mart or Lotte department store with some oil until it forms a paste.

I am currently obsessed with Chicken Tikka, so this is another one I have been banging out. If your spice rack is bare or you are just plain lazy you can buy various brands of premade Tikka spice blends that you can mix with oil or yoghurt to coat the chicken from the foreign food mart. If you are feeling a little more adventurous you can try this recipe which I thought tasted great.

Ingredients

6 teaspoons coriander
6 teaspoons cumin
6 teaspoons garlic powder
6 teaspoons paprika
4 teaspoons garam masala
3 teaspoons ginger ground (fresh is fine if you cant find ground)
3 teaspoons dried mint (optional)
2 teaspoons chili powder

Directions

Mix all the ingredients together and then you can keep the spice mixture for when you need it. This mix is enough for at least two times. You can also reduce or increase the amount of chilli if you wish. When using to coat you chicken mix with oil or yoghurt to form a paste.

Ensalada Capresa

I was first introduced to this culinary delight by my boyfriend when travelling in Venezuela and I’ve been in love with it ever since. Big tomatoes are in season at the moment and this is the perfect recipe to use them, It may seem a bit costly for a salad but the taste is so fresh and amazing you wont regret investing in it.
Ingredients 
1-2 beef steak tomatoes (or really big tomatoes as I like to call them.)
I bag/ ball of fresh motzerella about 100g
8-10 fresh basil leaves or as much fresh basil as you have.
A glug of olive oil
A splash of balsamic vinegar (optional)
A pinch of salt and pepper.
Directions 
Slice the tomatoes and motzerella into to 5mm thick slices. Sprinkle the salt and pepper onto the tomatoes then arrange on a plate alternating between the tomatoes and motzerella and basil. Drizzle the whole thing with the oil and balsamic vinegar if your using it. Voilà a tasty and easy salad. If your feeling flush you could also add some fabulous fresh olives from the deli.

Honeycomb

This is a recipe I found on Nigella Lawson’s website and its perfect if your craving a crunchy. Its actually surprisingly simple and cheap to make. The more you practice the better you will become and you can always pass off any dodgy batches on to your students

Ingredients 
150g white sugar
4 table spoons of syrup (ottogi pancake syrup works perfectly)
1, 1/2 tea spoons of soda powder.
100g chocolate (optional)
Directions
Put the sugar into a saucepan and stir in the golden syrup while the pan is not on the heat.
Turn on the heat and put the sugar mixture on to it. Resist the urge to stir this mixture as it will make the texture too crumbly , although you can shake the pan. Cook for around 3 minutes until the syrup is starting to go a golden brown colour.
Take the mixture off the heat and stir in the baking soda quickly, you will see the mixture turn into a yellow foam.
Once your sure the baking soda is all mixed in you can pour it out on to a baking tray, its easier to remove after if you rub this tray with little oil first.
Pu in the fridge and leave for 20 minutes – 1 hour. Then smash into beautiful little shards with something heavy and enjoy. If you want to kick it up a notch pour melted chocolate over the top and let it set once again. It may take you a couple of tries to perfect this recipe but once you crack it its a great one if your craving sugar and feeling lazy to the walk to the nearest 7-11 . My boyfriend especially likes it crushed up and added to ice cream.

Salsa

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Cherry tomatoes are in abundance at the moment, 2000 for a giant basket full here in Oryu dong. Apart from roasting them and using them in salads my preferred use is to make Salsa. I miss being able to buy good quality fresh salsa from the supermarket, the stuff in the jar just doesn’t cut it so Ive been making my own healthy version all summer long.
Ingredients
500g cherry tomatoes
1/2 onion (red if you can find them)
1-3 chilli peppers ( I use 2 of the green ones)
2-5 cloves of garlic
1 green paprika pepper
6 green salad onions
The juice and zest of 1 lemon or 2 limes if you find them.
1 bunch of fresh leaf coriander or cilantro
A pinch of salt and pepper
1 tablespoon white sugar
Glug of olive oil
Directions
Chop the cherry tomatoes finely into about 8th or 16ths depending on how chunky you like it. Put them into a bowl with the salt pepper, olive oil, and sugar, this will help draw out the juices of the tomatoes. Meanwhile finely chop the chilli’s , green pepper salad onions, onion, garlic and cilantro and mix with the tomatoes. Stir in the lemon zest and juice and voilà. Serve with chips (I can recommend cheesy Doritos which have finally come to Korea- Yay) or vegetable crudities if your on a diet, which I almost always am.

Tuesday Roast

In all of the world of food there is still  nothing better than a roast dinner – eaten at home, your mums or at the pub this is the meal to top all meals. However, living in Korea a roast dinner is not so easy to come by. Despite numerous Irish and English Pubs dotted around the peninsula I’ve still yet to see one on a menu. What’s a hungry girl to do? With no other options I’m forced to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

This being a Tuesday I’m not really in the mood to spend 2+ hours cooking a roast with all the trimmings (stuffing, yorkshire puds, roast potatoes and cauliflower cheese etc) This is a quick and easy  (yet no less delicious) version for a quick weekday tea or for those lacking an oven.

The Chicken – If your lucky enough to have a chicken man on your street then you would be well advised to make use of this wonderful resource. The chicken man is a guy selling freshly cooked rotisserie chickens out the back of his truck for between 4,000 – 6,000 each. The chickens on my road are particularly delicous as the are stuffed with garlic and rice, a welcome adition to any chicken. Buy 1 or 2 if your as greedy as me. If you dont have a chicken man near by then you can buy pre cooked chickens at home plus and all the other big supermarkets. Although they generally aren’t as tasty as the ones from the chicken man. If you truly live in the back of beyond you will have to roast the chicken yourself.

The Potatoes – No one loves a roast potato more than me, but in need of a quick fix I opted for crushed potatoes. More or less the same as mashed but they still have the skins on, it saves peeling them first, just make sure you give them a good scrub to remove the mud. Boil them until soft with a pinch of salt then strain them, add a knob of butter (or 2) some black pepper a splash of milk and some chopped up spring onions and mash with the back of a fork.

The Veg – I went for carrots and broccoli , generally because they are the cheapest to buy. If your feeling flush you can easily find frozen peas, asparagus, green beans and  cauliflower in your local homeplus. Just roughly chop and boil in water.  Keep your left over water after you have strained the veg and put the chicken carcass and bones in with some extra water to make a fabulous stock for a soup for tomorrow.

The Gravy – This is where most people are going to fall short and sadly for you I have no easy quick fixes. When it come to gravy you need to follow the boy scouts motto and be prepared! Luckily before coming to Korea I had travelled a bit before and had found that gravy in other countries leaves alot to be desired. Therefore I filled my case with Bisto and I bring  back  more every time I venture home.  If you’re English and have some loving friends or family ask them to send you some tout suite. If not then you can get hold of some Mcormicks gravy powder in the foreign food mart in Itaewon, though past experience has taught me its not a patch on Bisto.  The only other option is to make it from scratch, a prospect for a future post perhaps?

When everything is really assemble on a plate and enjoy!